Mary’s Blessedness

Today we begin the second week of Advent. Advent is the beginning of a new year. Of course, we tend to think of January 1st as marking the beginning of a new year. However, part of the way Christians are distinct from the rest of the world is we live according to a different time. Before the changing seasons or even the night turning to day, our life is ordered by Jesus’ life. We organize our time around receiving him. We allow his life to arrange our life.

Advent, then, becomes a penitential season, in other words, asking forgiveness. The truth is we have lots of things competing for the arrangement of our life – jobs, family, hobbies, and friendships. Lots of things are asking us to make time for them, and often times they are very good things. However, even good things are not Jesus. In fact, it’s only as we allow our lives to be arranged around Jesus’ life do we make time well for the good things that are a part of our lives. But that’s the challenge isn’t it? How often do we get this backwards? How often because we don’t want to disappoint our friends or family will we accommodate their demands on our life? How tempting is it, because we want our kids to have every opportunity to be well rounded, for our schedules to become dominated by chauffeuring them to every extracurricular activity imaginable? It’s easy, in our attempt to accommodate the people we see standing right in front of us, to crowd out Jesus, who we don’t see. That’s why Advent ends up being a penitential season, and the Church calendar becomes a gift. It calls us back to the real source of our life. It reminds us to examine all those relationships to see how we might better arrange them around Christ. That rearranging is called repentance, and that is how we prepare the way for his advent into the world and into our lives.

Today we are looking at Mary, who is called blessed because her life was so arranged. I want to look at Mary’s life and this word “blessed.” What is it about Mary that makes her a good example of a blessed person? Certainly, she is the mother of our Lord. However, this text precedes Christ’s birth, and therefore, Mary’s blessedness does as well. What does her life and Luke’s Gospel tell us about blessedness?

Mary upon hearing the announcement from the angel that she was to give birth to the Messiah, visits her relative, Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s news Elizabeth, now fully showing at six months along, is filled with the Holy Spirit. The baby leaps in her womb, perhaps, reminding her of the miracle performed in her own body and delighting in the good news of the miracle promised to Mary.

Can I say that even under “normal” circumstances believing you are pregnant as a couple is hard to do? And try finding out using a pregnancy test that has instructions printed in French. Caroline and I happened to find out we were pregnant in Paris of all places. I remember sitting in our hotel room surfing the Internet trying to figure out what we were going to do that day. Then, Caroline emerged from the bathroom with this white stick showing two plus signs. As if to say, “Just in case it’s not clear, we’re going to hit you with it twice. No really, you’re pregnant.” Even then though, I pulled up the translation widget on my computer, and I asked Caroline for the pregnancy test instructions. I typed them in and watched the translation stumble along, “You…are…pregnant.  You…are…pregnant. You know what pregnant people look like? That’s going to be you in a few months.” Even then, you persist. “But how can we be sure?”

We went downstairs and sat outside a café for about an hour and drank milk and coffee. We must have looked like a couple of deer in headlights. Then, we noticed an insane amount of people with babies. Who knows how many passed by before we started counting, but we counted something like 37 babies in an hour. We had every reason to believe we were pregnant, but when there are no other indications it’s hard to believe. I remember, even when there were signs that Caroline was pregnant, saying that it might not be until we’re in the midst of labor that I would admit, “We’re having a baby!” If it was hard for us to believe I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have been in Mary’s position.

God’s favor and the assurance of his faithfulness to fulfill his promise is Mary’s blessedness. Mary has been told she is pregnant by an angel. Perhaps we think that would be sufficient, but let’s really consider her circumstances. Mary has nothing else to go on. Her body doesn’t indicate she’s pregnant. These aren’t exactly normal circumstances. She hasn’t even slept with her husband yet. Elizabeth’s baby, though a miraculous conception, is still Zechariah’s baby. Mary couldn’t rely upon the luxuries of modern technology. She didn’t have pregnancy tests, sonograms and ultrasounds. How many of us would accept on faith the word of an angel? How many of us would long for some sign of our blessedness? Not Mary. Mary hears the word of the Lord from the angel and goes “with haste” to tell Elizabeth. Mary isn’t assured of her blessedness because of her circumstances. Mary also doesn’t assume God has blessed her because Elizabeth, a respected woman of God, who has experienced her own miraculous pregnancy has called her blessed. Mary is blessed because God said so. God looked on her with favor, and she assumed he would fulfill his promise to her.

Throughout Luke’s Gospel we see this time and time again with those who are blessed. The blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. Those who Christ finds awake, prepared and ready when he returns. You are blessed when you do something for those who can’t do anything for you in return. It’s those who are currently poor, hungry and weeping that are blessed, Jesus says. He continues by saying not only are you blessed when people hate, exclude and revile you on his account, but you also ought to “rejoice in that day, and leap for joy.”

Is Jesus a masochist? No, Jesus is telling us not to be so susceptible to what we can see. He is warning us not to base whether we think God loves us and is with us on current circumstances. He is not telling us to inflict pain on ourselves, he is reassuring us that when we do experience poverty, hunger and pain that these are signs that God has not yet fulfilled the promise he has made to us.

What is that promise? God loves us more than we can ever think or imagine. He is for us and he is with us. In Christ we are God’s children, and if children then we inheritors of God’s kingdom. What does that mean? It means that we are no longer subject to the sin that ails this world.

I had a wonderful dream this week. I dreamed I was late for 2-a-day football practice. As I ran to the locker room I looked onto the field and saw the coach already running drills. I don’t do things like this, I thought to myself. How did I let this slip up on me? I knew the coach was going to be disappointed with me. I ran into the locker room and luckily found a jersey and some cleats hanging outside a random locker. I grabbed them and ran for the field. Right as I reached the threshold of the locker room door I stopped. What am I doing? I thought. I don’t even like playing football. I’ve never liked hitting nor being hit. I turned around and walked back to the locker. Whose jersey is this anyway? I thought. I hung the jersey back up and walked out of the locker room. I remember having a fleeting concern that the coach would be disappointed in me, but then I realized it didn’t matter.

Mary was blessed because God looked on her with favor. We are blessed because God has looked on us with favor. How much of our lifetimes do we spend scraping for signs of favor from everyone and everything other than God? We want the approval of coaches, teachers, employers, friends, parents, children, or spouses. If it’s not people, we look for signs of our favor in financial security, a successful marriage, promotions or the fact that people just want to spend time with us. Because of that we are quick to put on the jerseys that we know will elicit the favorable response for which we long.

All the time we spend clothing ourselves in those jerseys is time we spend forgetting that we are clothed with Christ. We are no longer slaves to the idolatry of peoples’ opinions of us. What if instead of lamenting over not being invited to the party or feeling anxious over financial difficulties despite doing what we thought was God’s will for our life, we ran with haste, like Mary, to tell of God’s promises over us? What if instead of trusting our body, our circumstances, to indicate our blessedness we trusted God to fulfill his promise?

What other promises has God made to you specifically? Of course, it’s sufficient to know we are his children, but perhaps God has been asking you to make some decisions about your future. Perhaps God is asking you to trust his faithfulness and step out in faith to pursue something you don’t yet see. That is what this season is about – receiving the gift God has for you. God has looked on us with favor, and rest assured God is faithful to those he favors. Fight against the temptation to let uncertainty over which way to go, that disappointing conversation or difficult circumstances convince you that maybe a baby really isn’t coming. Don’t be so quick to put stock in what you can see. Hold on instead to God’s word. If you are in Christ, you are God’s child, and like Mary Jesus is coming to you.  Any confusion and pain you now feel will melt away both today and for all time when he comes again and completes the work he began in the cross and resurrection. Resting in that assurance is freedom. That is what it means to be blessed.

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