A pastor friend of mine was sharing the story recently about an afternoon early in his ministry when he and another minister friend were relaxing on a bench looking out across a church campus. The church was quite old and had gone through multiple building additions and renovations over the years. As with many churches of its day, the cemetery sat immediately next to the sanctuary and so the rest of the campus had been built up around these two original structures. While the two men sat looking out across the campus my friend was letting his eyes and mind wander among the tombstones, imagining the men and women who were buried there. Had they lived long, productive, influential lives? Or in the eyes of the community had their lives been cut short, robbed of opportunity? Had they been blessed with good work and happy marriages? Children? Were they prayer warriors or troublemakers? Interrupting all these thoughts the other minister commented, "Man, I would give anything to be out there right now!" Shocked and more than a little concerned, my friend responded, "Whoa! Wait a minute, brother. Things aren't really that bad are they?"
At that moment each of the men realized what the other had set his eyes on. My pastor friend was looking at the cemetery. The other minister was looking just beyond at the playground.
While Christmas centers on the birth of the Savior, I find myself spending lots of time thinking about Mary. Barely grown past childhood, this tender young woman was chosen to carry the son of God in her womb. Out of all eternity, God chose her. GOD. And morning sickness, swollen feet, and backaches. I look at my own daughter, almost 13, and wonder: if she came to her father and I with the news that she was pregnant - but adamantly maintained her virginity - and told us that an angel had visited her to announce that she would become pregnant by the Hoy Spirit, what would we say? My first inclincation in 21st-century lingo would be to look at her and sarcastically ask, "Really?" My husband would probably be tempted to look at me and exclaim, "She's your daughter!"
Surely, Mary knew from that first moment of the angel's visit (which probably would have landed me in the funny farm) that a hard road awaited her. Shame, humiliation, gossip, rejection, finger-pointing and murmuring as she walked through town and attended services at the temple. What would the news of her pregnancy do to her family's good name? Did anyone really believe Joseph had been visited by an angel as well? Or was he simply trying to orchestrate a cover-up of his own immoral behavior? Was Mary able to share with her mother her fears, her cravings, the first little butterfly of movement in her womb? Did she laugh or cry when the son of God rolled over in her belly and kicked at her ribs?
In the face of all these questions I am reminded of a simple, yet profound statement made by Mary immediately upon the angel's revelation of God's incredible call upon her life. "I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled," Luke 1:38 NIV. Mary's eyes were set on her Redeemer, the Author and Finisher of her faith. She didn't question whether or not God was able to do what the angel foretold (as did the elderly Zechariah upon the announcement that his barren wife Elizabeth would bear a son). Mary didn't doubt what God was going to do, she simply asked in childlike faith to understand how He was going to do it. God's messenger answered her and Mary embraced the first step of a journey that brought the world a Savior.
As the calendar moves us closer to the day we celebrate the giving and receiving of gifts, food and family, and the wonder of Christmas morning, let us remember that the most excellent gift of God came through one woman who had her eyes set on eternity.
May the word of the Lord be fulfilled in us this Christmas season and throughout our lives.