Most of us fail to understand or take the time to comprehend the grave disappointments Mary experienced throughout her life. No sooner had she expressed her deep faith in Gods ability to do right by her as a result of her willingness to be “the Lord’s servant” and thus glorify Him (Luke 1:38 & 46), than “trouble” started.
In telling her betrothed of her pregnancy – by God’s design – which he obviously didn’t believe (who would?), he prepared to divorce her. (Matthew 1:19) Upon his own visitation from on high, he relented and took her as his wife. (Resigning himself as well as Mary to ridicule for celebrating their honeymoon before the marriage.)
If that wasn’t enough, the couple then had to trek to Bethlehem – a long arduous journey for an expectant mother – in obedience to Caesar, where they were indeed visited by shepherds after Mary gave birth to Jesus – in a barn. At some point Magi came bearing gifts, which came in handy as Mary and Joseph were forced to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath and save Jesus’ life. (Luke 2:8-20 & Matthew 2:1-23)
All this happened in spite of their doing all that was expected of them as parents. (Luke 2:21 – 40 & 41-52) Mary marveling at what was said concerning her son, pondering and treasuring it all in her heart. (Luke 2:19,33& 51)
Later came the endless days of confused anxiety, as he who would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), was predominantly accepted by the less revered elements of society but shunned or plotted against by the “elites” of religion and politics. How could this Messiah resurrect the Kingdom if he couldn’t even convince his own people as to who he was? She still believed, with possibly a bit more understanding of his real mission, but nobody grasped the full import of what he said and did until his death – and resurrection; not even Mary.
She undoubtedly became increasingly confused, disoriented and disappointed, not because of who Jesus ultimately was, but because at the moment her expectations of God – and His son – weren’t being met as she or anyone else had expected.
But, as Adam Hamilton writes, “In the midst of the hardship that was with Mary and Joseph’s journey, amid the deferred dreams and dashed hopes, God was working to redeem the world. (As) God forces every circumstance… to serve his purpose.”1 An example of what William Barclay called the “paradox of blessedness.” For, “The piercing truth,” says Barclay, “is that God does not choose a person for ease and comfort and selfish joy but for a task that will take all that head and heart and hand can bring to it.2
Consider the people Jesus later characterized as “Blessed.” The poor and hungry, those who are reviled, hurt and weep. “Blessed are you, because great is your reward in the kingdom of heaven.” (Luke 6:20-22) Highlighting the fact that we are often blessed most when we “see” it least. Jesus assuring us that God can and will bless us through adversity, using it for his purposes and our sanctification.
Mary’s journeys to Bethlehem, Egypt, and finally to the cross were not journeys of her choosing. But like our own detours in life, “God does not abandon us while we’re on these journeys. Somehow, in ways we never anticipated, he even works through them. We look back years later and can see how God took adversity, disappointment, and pain and used those very things to accomplish his purposes.”3 (See Romans 8:28)
When an already unpredictable life gets even messier, we would do well to remember Mary and Joseph, who just when it seems everything was was going awry, realized – if only dimly – that God was doing something remarkable that they simply couldn’t fully comprehend yet. If Joseph, upon hearing Mary’s confession of “infidelity” – compounding the problem by claiming the child was special because it was God’s – had indeed divorced her and walked away that day; imagine the blessings he would have missed out on as the surrogate father to God’s son. A major theme of Jesus’ ministry being that of “Immanuel” – God with us – ensuring that no matter how dark our circumstances might appear, no matter how afraid we might be, no matter what is happening in our personal lives or around the world – God is always with us.
We all take unwanted journeys throughout our lives; some self-imposed, some inflicted on us by others. But God always accompanies us on those journeys, working through them and redeeming them so that those particular side-trips won’t represent our actual journey through life. (Consider Abraham, Joseph, David, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel; Stephen, James and Paul; and even Jesus himself.)
In hindsight, we can see what Mary couldn’t as she told Joseph her story, made the arduous trip to Bethlehem, enduring birth in a stable, and then fled to Egypt. In the moment, she couldn’t hear the angels singing nor see the shepherds approaching, she didn’t know Magi would soon be visiting – bringing gifts that undoubtedly supplemented their exile in a foreign land. And she certainly couldn’t imagine that anyone would be contemplating her story 2000 years later; reflecting on her courage, resilience, faith and hope – and her story’s meaning for our lives.
Years before, Zechariah had characterized his exiled compatriots as "prisoners of hope.” (Zechariah 9:12) Not quite exiles, we have all never-the-less been alienated from God by our sin and seek a return to fellowship with Him, likewise making us “prisoners of hope”, inspired in our quest for heaven, unable to let go of our dream until it becomes a reality. Hope – as well as joy – being a decision, a choice we make to believe God will do what he says he will do, even when we can’t quite understand all that’s happening around, or to us at the moment.
Believing God can, and will take the adversity we all may face, the disappointments we all experience, the heartache we all suffer from time to time and use them to accomplish his purposes gives the long journey of our own lives joy, blessing and meaning.
1From The Journey – Walking the Road to Bethlehem, Abingdon Press
2From Barclay’s commentary on the Gospel of Luke
3Adam Hamilton, The Journey, Abingdon Press
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