“Not by might and not by power, but by Spirit alone shall we all live in peace.” – Zechariah 4:6 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Zechariah%204:6&version=ESVUK)
God Surprises the Weak With Good Things – ADVENT 3 – Devotional
Once again the internet at the house has been down which explains the delay in getting this week’s devotional piece up.
This week’s devotional is based off of Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2:1-11) and Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-56).
God often shows up in unexpected places and in unexpected ways, sometimes using the difficult places in our lives for good. Think of Hannah. She was a young woman who was not able to have children even though she was married. She desired nothing more than to have a baby in her arms and as the years progressed her desperation grew more and more. Not only did she have the maternal instincts that many women have, but she also lived in a culture where childbearing was one of the most important roles a woman held. In his commentary The Letters to the Corinthians, famous author William Barclay notes, “Seven were said to be excommunicated from heaven, and the list began, ‘A Jew who has no wife; or who has a wife but no children.’ God has said ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ and, therefore, not to marry and not to have children was to be breaking a positive commandment of God.” Hannah likely then found herself in theological and spiritual desperation. As we see in 1 Samuel 1 Hannah cried out to the Lord and asked Him to give her a child. We aren’t told much about her spiritual state, but we know that she still had some faith in God because she went to the Temple to beg the Lord even putting her own image on hold. How often we turn away from God when things get difficult in our lives, but Hannah maintained her trust in God even when she underwent the most difficult period of her life. All around her people mocked and accused her. They pointed fingers at her and judged. Eli himself when he saw her weeping out didn’t approach her in the way a pastoral counselor would but rather reprimanded her for not being with her husband and kids for he thought she was drunk! How often in our lives do we point our finger at others and judge them because of how we perceive them rather than taking a moment to understand their difficulties or a few minutes to pray with them for healing to happen?
Even though Hannah went through a difficult period in her life (emotionally, spiritually, and relationally) in the end God’s love prevailed and He granted her a son. Once Hannah was given a Son she praised God for His faithfulness to her. Rather than be embittered by her past, she joyfully exulted in how God richly blessed her life! Her faith was so strong, in fact, that once God gave her the greatest desire of her heart she returned it back to Him in thanksgiving. She gave her firstborn son, her greatest treasure to the Kingdom of God.
It is so easy in our lives when God answers the desires of our heart to not serve Him to our fullest capacity. We become enslaved to the things of this world – to our finances, to our professions, and to our status. Sometimes we seek worldly things so much that it clouds out our view of our Heavenly Father. Still at other times we take something that is truly God given (such as a deep relationship) and we begin to serve that person more than Christ. God may call us to do something but we do not engage in it because we fear what the impact of our service would be to our parents, our children, or our grandchildren. Yet, Jesus said very clearly that if anyone loves their relatives more than they love Him that’s a big no-no! Obviously when we are considering something as life-altering as a career change, move, or beginning missions we should consult with our partners and families. Their input is invaluable to our discernment process. But in the end of the day we need to still address our calling rather than not even bringing it up with your family for fear of how they will react! In fact, they might surprise you by also feeling the same urge from God or by encouraging you to be faithful to the direction He is placing you in. They may even become your biggest support network!
Fast forward a few thousand years later. A young teenage girl named Mary unexpectedly finds herself pregnant with the Son of God. Unlike Hannah, Mary is not at all ready to bear forth a son. She is young, she is engaged, and she is a virgin. She lived in a culture which did not take too kindly to premarital sex and which was quick to point the finger at a woman who seemed to get herself into “unnecessary trouble.”
When I was younger I used to be quite cynical of Mary’s story. My Sunday school teachers would say that she was only about 12 years old, but I always reckoned that at this time period that her age was so much different than the pre-teens of our society. In many ways this is true. People in Bible times did get married much younger and at 12 Mary would already be considered a full-fledged adult by Jewish customs (similar to an 18 or 19 year old in our society), but now that I am slightly older I look at this story with fascination. Mary was only 12. Regardless of what Jewish society taught at that time, she was a very mature 12 year old. Psychologists say that our pre-frontal cortex isn’t even fully developed until age 25… so it’s not until 25 that we reach full maturity and adulthood. Perhaps this could explain Mary’s impulsiveness. She right away said yes to the angel without even thinking it through. BUT I would argue that it was so much more than that. I do believe that Mary knew what she was getting herself in to. She knew that people would point accusatory fingers, that they would treat her differently, and that she would be an outcast. Yet knowing this full well, she chose to bear the image of God inside of her and then after going through labour gave her Son up to the service of God just like Hannah gave up Samuel. She truly showed courage and maturity in how she responded to the voice of the angel.
Joseph was no less mature in the way he handled things. At church today the pastor suggested that Joseph would have been about 15. Once again Joseph was an adult and he had way more responsibility than the 15 year old boys in North American society, but he was still only 15. When he found out that Mary was pregnant his first inclination was to divorce her quietly, not to make a big show of it, and to protect her image. Joseph showed great compassion and love in this decision. He probably felt disappointed and hurt, but rather than seek revenge he chose the mature way of handling the situation by not getting others involved. Joseph cared deeply about his fiancé. When it was revealed to him in a dream that Mary was carrying the Son of God within her womb, Joseph took up the challenge to expedite his marriage to her and to raise a son who had none of his DNA. It takes profound courage for a man to do that! In our society it’s so easy for men to run from responsibility, but here Joseph showed what a Godly husband looks like. I can’t imagine any other 15 year old doing something like that. In fact, even if by our standards Joseph was 20 or 21, I can’t imagine many people in their early 20s doing that either!
Not only did Mary and Joseph show courage in bringing Jesus into this world but they also showed courage when they had to undertake a gruelling journey from Judea to Bethlehem because of the census. Traveling when you are pregnant is very difficult and Mary was in the full term of her pregnancy – the last trimester. Yet they did not have a choice but to go to the census because of the legal repercussions that would ensue if they did not. Tradition teaches that perhaps Mary rode on a donkey or on a caravan which made her journey easier. In actuality, that might have made it tougher! As the pastor at the church I attended today pointed out caravans didn’t have suspension in those days like cars today do. That would mean Mary would have felt every bump along the road. Can you imagine? As for the donkey… well… when I was in Greece I went on a donkey ride. It was considerably faster than walking down the path but still it was not an easy ride! Regardless of her method of transportation the journey would have taken her about 10 days. Mary showed courage in this time by not giving up and Joseph showed courage by supporting his wife.
Finally they reached the stable where Mary gave birth. It was smelly, dusty, and filled with straw, hay, and manure. The animals were the only witnesses to the event. As far as we know Joseph, this 15 year old boy who was trained as a carpenter (not as a nurse or doctor) acted as the midwife of his wife’s first child. The conditions were definitely not ideal for birthing a son, but they did what they could in their circumstances.
Some people argue that Mary did not feel any pain during her labour and birth because Jesus was the Son of God and pain comes as a result of sin. Since Jesus was sinless Mary felt nothing. I believe this to be highly unreasonable. I truly believe that because Jesus entered this world in the same way that all of us did that Mary experienced pregnancy, labour, and birth in the same way that every mother does. I believe she was probably screaming out in pain and that she might even have been gripping Joseph’s hand so hard that he thought it would fall off. I can even imagine that it might have been even more painful for her than for most women because she was still a virgin! So from beginning to end we see that Mary was an extraordinary person. Nothing about her calling was easy, but she stuck with it because she knew that all of humanity rested on her shoulders (in a sense).
When we are tempted to give up we can find inspiration through the stories of Hannah and Mary. Like these two women we can seek to be courageous and to value God far above anything this world offers us. This Christmas, God is calling us to give Him the entirety of our hearts. To fully surrender all things to Him. Let’s not hold back. Let’s move forward knowing that even in the most difficult experiences of our lives God still has a plan and will still make a way.
 William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 68.
To access the 1 Samuel passage: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%202:1-11&version=ESVUK
To access the Luke passage: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%201:46-56&version=ESVUK