Christmas is my absolute, most favorite season of the year. But, I have to be honest with you; this year is hard. I find myself in the midst of a season that is meant to be joyful, yet, I’ve had many moments when I’ve felt anything but joyful. These past few weeks have been filled with heartache as I’ve watched some people that I love dearly walk through some very difficult circumstances. Circumstances that have left my heart aching for them, and my soul asking God why. Why this? Why now? Why must life take us down difficult paths?
Have you ever had questions like that? As I’ve struggled with these questions, I’ve felt God leading me to one particular story in the Bible. A story of a woman who did not lead an easy life by any means. A story of a woman who we all might agree had the right to question God. A woman who sets a beautiful example for us when we find ourselves in the midst of difficult circumstances, filled with uncertainty, and maybe even questioning what God is doing. That woman . . . is Mary.
Mary lived in Nazareth, in the village of Galilee, which was part of the nation of Israel. She was engaged to a man named Joseph, a Jew just like herself, and a man from the family line of King David. Now, engagements, or betrothals as they were called then, were a bit different then than they are now. It was a several step process that began with the arrangement of marriage by the families of the bride and groom to be. These arrangements were often made when the children were young, and it was common for arrangements to be made within one’s own tribe or family. The arrangement of a marriage was often seen as more of a business transaction between two families rather than a love match.
Once the marriage was arranged, there was the signing of the wedding contract. This was a legal document that could not be broken except through divorce. Once a contract was signed, the couple was considered married. However, the bride remained with her family until the dowry was paid. A dowry was a payment in the form of money, animals, or service for the bride. It was not viewed as the husband was paying for his wife, It was seen as given compensation to the bride’s family since they would be losing a working member of their household. Once, the dowry was paid and the bride and groom were at a suitable age to marry, there was a celebratory wedding feast followed by the moving of the bride to the groom’s home and the consummation of the marriage. Mary is in the first stage of this betrothal process when she receives a special visitor
We find Mary’s story in the book of Luke.
“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.’”
Luke 1:26-37 (NIV)
God sends an angel to Mary to tell her several things. First, he tells her that she’s found favor with God. He then goes on to tell her that she will conceive and give birth to a son, and she is to name him Jesus. Have you ever stopped and wondered what thoughts might have been racing through her mind in those moments? Here she is, a young woman soon to be married. She is going to become pregnant, but not from the one she’s betrothed to. And she’s not just going to have a son. She’s going to have God’s Son! Can you imagine what she must have been thinking?
It’s important to remember that in those times, conceiving out of wedlock was more than just frowned upon. It would have caused a scandal in the village, and she could have faced the possibility of divorce, being banished from her father’s household, or even face death. If I were Mary, I think I would have been extremely fearful: fearful of what Joseph would think, what my father would think, and what the others in the village would think. I might have even been angry towards God for wanting to place me in those circumstances. Circumstances that would prove to be hard. Circumstances that would be painful. Circumstances that if I were Mary might have me questioning why. Why me? Yet, how does Mary respond?
“‘I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.”
Luke 1:38 (NIV)
“May your word to me be fulfilled”. How does Mary respond? She responds by saying, “Yes.” Mary says yes and in saying yes she chooses to believe what God says and trust Him completely with His plan for her life. She also chooses to look for His goodness in her circumstances.
First, Mary believed God. God promises many things to us throughout Scripture, and they are promises that He will always keep. Joshua tells us,
“Not a single one of all the good promises the Lord had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything he had spoken came true.”
Joshua 21:45 (NLT)
The name of God we find in this Scripture is translated as Yahweh. In the Hebrew, this name means that He is the eternal, unchanging one, who is faithful in keeping His Word. If He promises us something, that promise will be fulfilled. Mary knew this and believed it. If God promised something to her, He would fulfill that promise. What are some of the promises He gives us?
First, He will always love us. Jeremiah reminds us,
“Long ago the Lord said to Israel: ‘I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.’”
Jeremiah 31:3 (NLT)
God loves us. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you any more, and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you any less. Do you believe that you are loved?
Secondly, He will never leave us. In the Old Testament we read,
“He will be leading you. He’ll be with you, and He’ll never fail you or abandon you. So don’t be afraid!”
Deuteronomy 31:8 (VOICE)
“Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”
Isaiah 41:10 (MSG)
Do you believe that He will never leave you and that He will always be there when you need Him?
Another promise, God has for us is that He has a plan for us and it is good.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Eternal, ‘plans for peace, not evil, to give you a future and hope—never forget that. At that time, you will call out for Me, and I will hear. You will pray, and I will listen. You will look for Me intently, and you will find Me.’”
Jeremiah 29:11-13 (VOICE)
“Never forget that.” Verses 12 and 13 are often left out when people quote this Scripture, but I feel that they are most important. God has a plan for our lives, but what must we do to understand it? We need to be in communication with Him. He says, “Call out to me and I will hear. Pray and I will listen. Look for me and you will find me.” To be able to understand His plan and trust Him, we need to be in communication with Him.
Mary believed in God’s promises. She believed she was loved, she knew God would never leave her, and she trusted that He had a plan for her and that it was good. When we find ourselves walking a difficult path, do we believe that God is everything He says He is? Mary believed so.
Mary also trusted God. Proverbs encourages us to,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB)
To trust in someone is to believe in their reliability, truth, ability, or strength. To trust God is to believe that He is reliable, believe what He says is true, believe that He is able, and believe that He is strong enough. Mary trusted knowing the road ahead might be difficult. She trusted because she knew that God was reliable. She trusted because she knew that what He said was true. She trusted because she knew He was able. She trusted because she knew He was strong enough. When it comes down to it, do we do the same? Do we trust God? Do we really trust God?
And, lastly, Mary chose to say yes and in doing so she chose to see God’s goodness.
“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’ And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”
Luke 1:39-50 (NIV)
We don’t find Mary complaining to her cousin Elizabeth about what God has asked her to do. We don’t find Mary expressing worry or anxiety about what is to come. We find Mary giving thanks for being chosen to be the mother of God’s son. We find Mary choosing to see the good in her circumstances. When life gets difficult, are we still looking for God’s goodness? Are we still looking for evidence of His hand working in our lives?
Mary’s life was likely very different from what she imagined it might be. Her life was likely more difficult from what she imagined it might be. But, she chose to believe what God had promised to her, to trust Him, and to see the good within her circumstances.
Do we do the same? When we face difficult circumstances, uncertainty, or immeasurable pain, do we respond as Mary did? Do we believe that God is good and that we can trust the plan He has for us, or do we focus on the pain, the fear, and trying to understand why? Do we look for the good He is doing around us or do we focus only on the negative? How different would our lives look if our first response was to reach for Him when life gets hard? Reach for Him instead of your anxiety, your fear, or your anger towards the difficulty of your circumstances. I don’t understand why God allows us to walk through difficult seasons. But, I do know this; in those times of difficulty, God never leaves us, God’s hand is always moving, and He is always working to bring some good even out of the most difficult of circumstances. But, we need to believe Him. We need to trust Him. We need to see the good that He is doing in our lives.
As we move through this Christmas season, I would encourage you to keep your eyes focused on Him. Keep your eyes focused on the gift we were given through His birth.
Biblegateway. https://www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.
Howard, Kathy. “Mary Believed.” Kathy Howard. https://www.kathyhoward.org/mary-believed/. 2 Dec. 2019.
Schauss, Hayyim. “Ancient Jewish Marriage.” My Jewish Learning. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ancient-jewish-marriage/. Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.
“The God I Know”. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDvmBqHqZHQ. Accessed 3 Dec. 2019.
“What Was Betrothal in Biblical Times?” GotQuestions. https://www.gotquestions.org/betrothal.html. Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.