Saturday, December 3, 2011

Journeys of Christmas 2

Second Sunday in Advent
            “There’s no place like home for the holidays” is a popular song and sentiment, but I discovered that the participants in the first Christmas were all far from home. During my Advent blogs, I will tell about some of these long-ago travelers. Maybe they will teach us something about our own journeys.
            Our first traveler was Gabriel, the angel who journeyed to deliver God’s messages to Zechariah and to Mary. Gabriel’s example encourages us to spend time in the presence of God this Advent season.
            Our second traveler shares her ancient name with a brave Hebrew woman. The original Miriam defied the command of a cruel tyrant and saved the life of her infant brother Moses, who was later used by God to deliver the Hebrew people from Egyptian slavery. The first century Miriam, young Mary of Nazareth, was also entrusted with the life of an infant, who would become the redeemer Moses foreshadowed.
            Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, that she would be the mother of the Son of God, caused the young woman to begin a series of journeys. First, she traveled to the hills of Judea to visit her relative Elizabeth, joyfully pregnant with John. Then, Mary headed back to Nazareth in Galilee, thirdly, to Bethlehem in Judea, where she gave birth. Then she escaped to Egypt, fleeing from Herod’s plot to kill her son. Finally, when circumstances became safer, she returned to Nazareth. The possible total of seven hundred miles may not seem challenging in our age of autos and airplanes, until we remember that Mary trekked on foot or on donkey, first pregnant, then with a toddler in tow.
            Further even than the geographical mileage was the distance from the commonplace life of a first century Jewish wife and mother, which Mary had expected, to the extraordinary calling to mother God’s son. Mary journeyed from being a naïve teenager to becoming a sober woman who waited for a sword to pierce her own soul, as the old prophet Simeon warned her. (Luke 2:35)
            How did Mary feel years later, seeing her son cheered and loved by thousands…and hated by a powerful few? While other women her age looked after grandchildren, Mary looked upon her son, executed like a dangerous criminal on a Roman cross. 
            Only God himself shared the intensity of Mary’s pain, because he, too, gave his son, “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
            Mary is last mentioned by name in the first chapter of Acts, where she waited, praying, in a large upper room with her younger sons, the women disciples, and the eleven apostles. Fifty days after watching her son’s lifeless body lowered from the cross, Mary was filled with his life-giving Holy Spirit.
            What insight can we glean from Mary’s Christmas journeys? Mary’s first reaction to Gabriel’s visit was to feel greatly troubled, but her final response was to say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38) Perhaps Mary tells us to agree with God, even if we don’t fully understand his actions.
            After she gave birth in a less than ideal location, and received a middle-of-the-night visit from shepherds, the Gospel tells us that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Perhaps by treasuring and pondering, Mary was able to live in obedience to God’s sometimes painful plans.
            May Mary’s example guide us to that quiet place where we treasure and ponder the works and promises of God, and from that quiet place to the journey God has for us.

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