Monday 23 October 2017

Be thankful for Mary's life-changing decision


SOME days change your life forever. The day your boyfriend proposed to you, or you decided what course to take at college. The day you signed for your house or accepted a new job. The day your child was born. The day you were let go by your employer, or you were diagnosed with a serious illness. The day a loved one died.

Days like these can change the whole course of our lives, some in a way we would like and some not, some of our own choosing and some imposed upon us. But often it's not so much the event itself that determines how our lives will unfold; the bigger issue is how we choose to respond to these life-impacting moments.

A little over 2000 years ago, an ordinary young girl from the country had a day like that. Her name was Mary. We don't know very much about her family background, though she almost certainly lived with her parents, and we know she was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. It was common in the day for girls as young as 11 or 12 to be preparing for marriage, and Mary was probably no different.

But one day she got the shock of her life. In the Gospel of Luke chapter 1, we read that the angel Gabriel pays her an unexpected visit, and has some rather important news. "Mary," he says, "you're going to have a son, Mary, he's someone very special. Call him Jesus. He will be great, known as The Son of the Highest."

As if a visit from an angel wasn't unnerving enough, Mary learns that she has an unplanned pregnancy, instituted by none other than God. Yet what strikes me most is how Mary chooses to respond to this staggering news. She simply declares that she is the Lord's servant, and that she is willing to go with the flow of God's plan. That's quite some faith for a teenage girl, wouldn't you agree?

Mary learned enough from the angel to be sure that this was going to change her life forever. She would have quickly surmised that her pregnancy would make Joseph and her the talking point of the village; there was the risk of being shunned by her family and her community. But more than that, she was going to have a son who would be quite unique, the ruler of a kingdom that is without end. Perhaps she and Joseph had been planning for a relatively 'normal' life, with a comfortable home and in time a family of their own. I'm sure Mary now suspected that all her plans were about to change dramatically.

The angel told Mary so much – yet there was so much more that Mary wasn't told. So many unanswered questions remained. How could she tell Joseph and her parents this incredible story? How would she make sure her son did what he was meant to do to become great? How could an ordinary girl give birth to a king?

Yet despite the inevitable upheaval, despite the great unknowns, Mary chose to accept what the angel said. She was submissive. Why? Because she knew it had come from God. It was His plan for her life. And that was enough for Mary.

Mary's decision would turn out to be more costly than she could ever imagine. One day she would watch her son be tortured and stretched out on a cross to die a cruel death he didn't deserve. He would be despised and rejected by his own people.

And yet, her decision would also turn out to bring more blessing than she could ever have imagined. We can look back and see that through her obedience, God brought his Son Jesus – your Saviour and mine – into the world at the first Christmas time. Mary's submissiveness would open up a way back to God for damaged goods like you and me. Thank God for Mary's obedience! It literally transformed the world.

God is still able to use ordinary people to transform the world – including people like you and me. But like Mary, we need open, obedient hearts and wills, especially at those like-defining moments. I wish you a very happy Christmas, and trust that you will know all of God's blessing as we recall and receive afresh His greatest Gift.