I've been identifying with Mary lately, expecting a boy, the inconvenience of being pregnant and having to travel. Nazareth is 80 miles from Bethlehem, a distance in the first century that she could have covered in one week at best.
Today, Mary's journey to Bethlehem would be tantamount to me learning that a new tax law required Dale and I to fly stand-by to Alaska for registration a week before my due date. The kicker--there's no room in any inn, so we'd have to stay, and give birth to our firstborn son in the janitor closet of a Motel Six.
If that was what God had in store for his son I'd certainly wonder, "Couldn't you, the Maker of all things, orchestrate the arrival of the Son of God a little more majestically?"
Mary only got one dream from the angel Gabriel, only one customized message for her ears only, ordered by God to explain this Holy-Spirit-produced baby in her body.
Joseph got four dreams, explaining where to move, when to leave, how to find safety and what God was up to. I think I would have felt a little gypped, but Mary didn't.
How did she do it?
How did Mary have the strength to bear the Son of God and the serenity to respond to Gabriel's shocker of a newsflash with, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me according to your word"? (Luke 1:38).
Mary was not just a teenage woman pregnant outside of marriage. She was a good Jewish woman pregnant outside of wedlock.
As a Jew, she would have been familiar with one passage in the Jewish Scriptures that must have made her last minute trip to Bethlehem a little easier to swallow.
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (TNIV, Micah 5:2).
Mary could see how the pagan Roman census was actually accomplishing God's promise for Israel. Mary knew about the God of Israel, the God who was faithful to Abraham, the God who could lift the humble up out of the pit. Mary knew her God, she also knew what her God wanted out of her.
Around Christmas time, I notice women running around with lists of things to do. Minute Rice put together an advertisement in 2008 that summed up the way I often feel around the holidays. Surrounding a package of Minute Rice with a Santa Hat are hundreds of things to do, including things like:
get decorations out of the attic, sew angel costume for Molly's pageant, write annual holiday letter and try to sounds modest while bragging about the kids, drop off food at church, buy poinsettia plants, hang candy canes, try not to eat candy canes, clean house, keep tinsel away from cat, shop online during lunch hour, buy stocking stuffers, drive around and look at lights, plan menu for Christmas Eve, make punch for party, have patience when visiting in-laws, read "Night Before Christmas" outloud, attend candlelight service with family, remember reason for the season, pray for peace on earth.
Minute Rice, however, is here to help.
That last item on the list makes me stop and wonder,"How on earth can you pray for peace when your life has no peacefulness in it? There's no shalom, the kind of peace that envelops every dimension (spiritual, physical, political, economic, emotional, social) in this ceaseless running-around living.
I think that if Mary had a Minute Rice list, she must have scrapped it so she could make time for the Son of God to enter her life.
I recently found that Micah doesn't merely contain prophecies about Bethlehem, it also has a better to-do list. One that I'd like to recommend this Christmas to all those women (and men) out there who find there is just too much to do.
"He has shown all you people what is good. What what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly
to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God."
What would it look like if we acted with justice this Christmas?
Even though I'm a fan of all the work for justice and social equality (Many of my posts are about the inequalities I see specifically with regard to women), one way I see women in particular refusing to act justly is in the manner in which we make time for ourselves. Women are perhaps the worst at taking a day off, of honoring the Jewish law of the Sabbath. Womens' souls are impoverished and run down because we try to love others so much we have no idea what Jesus means when he says, "Love others AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF." We don't know how to love ourselves, to let God love us one day of the week so we can love others the other six.
I don't think Mary had this problem with refusing to rest.
As soon as Mary learned she would carry a child without a husband she left her hometown of Nazareth and took a retreat. Not for a weekend or even a week, but for three months. Mary spent this time with her cousin Elizabeth (who was miraculously pregnant in her grandmother years) and I'm sure they cried and talked and grieved and laughed and rejoiced together. I imagine Mary did a lot of processing.
One things is certain, after her time away, resting and thinking, Mary sings a song that has gone down in history as Mary's Magnificat--a testimony to Mary's experience with the God of Israel (read it in Luke 1:46-55). It seems likely to me that Mary's time of rest provided the margin for something like the Magnificant to just bubble out of her.
So my challenge to women: take time to do justice to yourself by accepting God's gift of rest. At least one day in seven, 24 hours of true rest. If you have questions about what this might look like, write me a comment.
Number 2- Love Mercy
Isn't it interesting that Micah writes that we ought to love mercy? This means an ongoing relationship with mercy, not a one-night-stand, or even a hot/cold relationship. Loving mercy means steady dating, maybe even marriage.
I've lately been musing on what kind of relationship I've cultivated with mercy. With others? With myself? Do I love mercy as a friend? Or do I just use it when it makes me look kind and "Christian-like"?
Number 3- Walk Humbly with Your God
I've been doing a little more walking than usual lately, not much jogging at the moment. And often our three corgis come along for the walk. When we are walking together we encounter the same sights, smells and obstacles. Walking with God means much the same thing, bringing God into our days, our hours, our minutes.
So, for instance, Mary noticed that surprising events surrounding her son's birth and Luke says she treasured these things, "pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
This year I learned that I was pregnant with a boy the very same day I learned my husband has a form of skin cancer. I felt torn with two very opposite kinds of expectation. My hope clouded with fear. In sharing how anxious I had been feeling with a friend, I heard some wonderful advice from her.
She suggested I pray, "Jesus, I receive your peace." And then wait for God to show what this "peace that surpasses comprehension" is really like. I've had to pray that hundreds of times, inviting Jesus to walk along side me during the valley and the mountain top of expectation.
In the process, I've found that walking humbly with your God is a gerund, which, for you non-English nerds, means that it's an active verb, we're constantly doing it. There's always a new sight or smell or experience to share with our God.
We all need more of the Son of God in our lives. I imagine Mary as she walked the long road to her next destination (remember it was in Egypt), praying that God would help her do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with him.
Her son gives us the power to do just that this Christmas. Make this list your new to-do list for the next week!
An abbreviated version of this post can be read at Fullfill
"Mary and Minute Rice" originally appeared at the Christmas Banquet at North Coast Calvary Church in Carlsbad, Christmas 2009. To hear the talk visit soulation.org after the New Year.