December 11, 2011

Bearers of the Promise

During this six-week blog-study we’ll be unpacking the story of the Nativity with reference to scripture (the Gospel of Luke) and snippets from Mary, My Love by Cynthia Davis. You do not have to have read the book to enjoy the blog. If you do want to order a copy, email me.

The first week of Advent we saw Mary accepting the call of God on her life. Call is where our woundedness meets God’s love and where we offer ourselves to move the Kingdom of God forward. Joseph, Mary’s betrothed husband, had to struggle with whether he could or would accept the call on his life. It involved accepting and claiming a child not his own and giving up his own plans for his life. Often God’s call is like that. God challenges us to move beyond ourselves and outside our comfort zone.

We cannot live into our call alone. God made us to be social. From the beginning, God said “It is not good that the man should be alone…” (Genesis 12:18) Mary knew that she needed the affirmation of someone who could understand her experience. Gabriel had told her “Your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has conceived a son; and this is now the sixth month with her who was called barren.” Despite the distance and danger of travel, Mary “arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah.” This is a journey of 60 or 70 miles, as the crow flies, and longer on winding mountain roads. It probably took the young girl over a week to arrive in Hebron (the traditional home of Zechariah and Elizabeth).

The trip was worth the effort though. Both Mary and Elizabeth realized that they were truly servants of the Lord and burst into praise. Elizabeth tells Mary, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) She could have said the same thing about herself since she, too, had accepted God’s call on her life and the gift of a son in her old age and barrenness.

Friends in faith can affirm our call and help us with support and encouragement. The song “You Raise Me Up”* written by Brendan Graham in 2002 says “You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas; I am strong, when I am on your shoulders; You raise me up: To more than I can be.” That is what a friend in the Lord can do.

We hear that “Mary remained with [Elizabeth] for about three months and then returned to her home.” During that time the two women probably shared many joys as each prepared to bear a child who bore the promise of God. When Mary returned to Nazareth she news of her visit with Joseph (from my book Mary, My Love):

“Why? I would think she would want to share her news.” I frowned, confused by the older woman’s actions.
“I wondered that, too. Elizabeth said, ‘They would have stolen away my secret joy.’ When she finally did venture to the market after five months, the comments were full of amazement.”
“I am sure they were.”
I could well imagine the stir that Elizabeth’s pregnancy and Zechariah’s muteness caused in the small town.
Mary smiled, “When I arrived, Elizabeth was so glad to see me. I think the whispers and speculation were tiring her out.”
My mind turned to the gossip around the well in Nazareth. I drew my wife closer wishing to protect her from the inevitable comments that would start again now that she was back. Mary understood my silence.
“Joseph, we cannot stop the mouths of the neighbors. You and I know the truth. That will be enough.”
“My love, I wish I could spare you. If they knew that you carry Messiah…”
The vehemence in my tone made the girl open her eyes wide with surprise.
“God will make the truth known,” she assured me, “just like God did for Elizabeth, when I arrived.”
“Tell me.”
Mary snuggled close and continued her story. Her face glowed with serenity.
“Elizabeth started across the room to greet me. Then she stopped suddenly and put a hand on her belly. She said, ‘Blessed are you. Who am I that the mother of the Savior comes to me?’ It was a final piece of proof that this baby is of God.”
A sigh of contentment slipped out as my wife smoothed her gown over the tiny rounding of her figure.
“My cousin told me, ‘When I heard your voice my baby leaped with joy.’ God confirmed my child through Elizabeth’s baby.”
I laid my rough hand over the girl’s small fingers. “Yes, and your presence affirmed her child also.”
“You do understand! Our joy was so great that we sang together, praising God for raising up salvation for the people.” Mary began to sing softly. She slipped from my lap to pirouette around the shop as she repeated the joyous chant, “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
I marveled at the radiance of my wife and smiled, “Surely just so did Sarah and Rebecca proclaim their joy when they conceived. This child is the fulfillment of their longings and the longings of all Israel.”
“Yes, my husband, our son is the One promised from the beginning.”

We are not meant to be solitary beings, but to live in community. We are supposed to share our joys and sorrows and fears. We support one another when we are in need of support and encouragement. Mary & Elizabeth affirmed each other’s child as a gift from God. God gives us friends who ‘sit awhile’ and who ‘raise me up.’ God acts through our friends who support us.

Have you ever been supported by those who believe in you because they are your friends or because they are fellow servants of God in a similar ministry? Who do you look to when you need affirmation? Conversely-who have you lifted up and helped with their burden?

As the song says, “When troubles come and my heart burdened be; then, I am still and wait here in the silence, until you come and sit awhile with me.” Then “I am strong, when I am on your shoulders; You raise me up: To more than I can be.” Look to your community of friends when the call to ministry seems to be too difficult or dim. They will give you the courage to go on-to be 'more than I can be'.

PRAYER: God of Mary and Elizabeth, you call us to be in community with one another. Help me to seek out those who support me so that I can follow your call with joy and eagerness. Let me be willing to be vulnerable to them and to you as I become “more than I can be.” AMEN

Next week we'll see that following the Call of God isn't always smooth sailing.

*You Raise Me up
When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.

There is no life - no life without its hunger;
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
But when you come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be

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