I tend to think in black and white, good and bad, pretty and ugly, exciting and depressing. I especially find myself placing such stark values on experiences, and I think our Christian culture easily leads to this trap. An experience is either a wonderful gift of the grace of God, or a terrible burden to bear. Somehow we forget that often God’s gifts come disguised. His blessings come wrapped in struggles. His grace whips in on the winds of a tornado.
As I have pondered the Christmas story more deeply this year, I think that is exactly the kind of gift Mary received in being the mother of the Savior. When Gabriel appeared to her and announced the conception of Jesus, the Son of God, Mary immediately knew what everyone would think. Never mind that she knew the babe inside her was a special baby. Never mind that she knew her life had not been marred even once by sexual impurity. Never mind that she was a virgin. Who would believe that? I have to admit, if I had lived back then, I wouldn’t have. Would you? But Mary said to the angel, “I am God’s servant. Let it happen to me just as you’ve said.” She knew she faced possible stoning, and at the very least a quiet divorce–rejection by the man she had hoped to marry. She knew she faced a the ostracism of her community and the toil of raising a child possibly alone. But none of this stopped her from receiving God’s gift. Couldn’t He have announced to the whole town that she was carrying God-incarnate? Mary did not question.
Even more precious is Mary’s choice to rejoice in God’s gift. In response to Elizabeth’s welcome and acknowledgement of the Messiah en-utero, Mary cried out, “My soul magnifies the Lord. I rejoice in God my Savior.” Mary delighted in the gift God gave her, even though it carried with it so many struggles.
How could she have known or counted the cost? She could not. From a stable birth, to the prophecy of Old Simeon, to the odd and wonderful visit by foreign sages that led to a midnight escape to Egypt, Mary could not have fathomed what her life would become. Most of all, she could not have anticipated the sword that pierced her soul at Calvary, even though it had been predicted so long ago. But alas, neither could she have expected the delight and joy of resurrection day, or the glory of Pentecost. Indeed Mary’s gift was one wrapped in many layers of grace and glory, disguised by agonizing pain. Her blessing pierced the soul on so many levels. As I meditate on her example, my black and white expectations are called to account.