I love Christmas! It always reminds me of the greatest gift of all, Jesus. It’s a time of joy and blessing, as we focus on Emmanuel, God with us. We are certainly blessed because of God’s amazing gift to us!
This Christmas, I read an article that got me thinking, and rethinking, what it means to be blessed. We often associate the word ‘blessed’ with being happy, prosperous, protected and cared for – and indeed that is true. However, it’s not the only meaning of blessed and often not the mean when it is used in Scripture. A case in point is Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
One day, Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, and he spoke these words to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” And indeed, she was … but maybe not the way we often think. Gabriel then told Mary that she would conceive a child through the power of the Holy Spirit. That had to be cool! However, there was a problem. Mary wasn’t married and being married to God was a bit crazy.
Mary told Joseph what the angel said, and he didn’t buy her story for a moment. Being pregnant out of wedlock was a dangerous thing, back then. In fact, the law said she should be stoned for committing fornication! Joseph didn’t want to see that happen, so he was going to “put her away,” which meant giving her a certificate of divorce. (In that day, being engaged was as binding as being married – requiring a formal divorce to end the relationship.) However, before he could do that, Joseph had a dream in which an angel told him that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. So, she wasn’t lying after all!
Somewhere during all of this, Mary skipped town to visit her cousin Elizabeth. It was a hundred-mile trip on a donkey. (Can’t imagine dealing with morning sickness on that trip…) She spent three months with Elizabeth before returning home looking a little bit pregnant. Soon, she probably became the talk of the town; that wasn’t good.
Shortly before giving birth, however, she and Joseph were required to make a long and arduous journey to Bethlehem for a census ordered by Caesar. Again, on a donkey no less…only this time she is nine months pregnant. What?! That’s crazy; my wife couldn’t even go over speed bumps without crying out in pain at nine months!
Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were told that there were no rooms available at the inn. (After all, it was Christmas, and all the families were visiting for the holidays, right? 😉 So, Mary gives birth to Jesus in a stable…probably not as cool as we make it out to be in our modern manger scenes.
Eight days later, Jesus is taken to the temple to be circumcised. While there, Mary is met by two prophets, Simeon and Anna. When Simeon sees Jesus, he tells Mary, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)
Mary was incredibly blessed! But the story doesn’t stop there… Sometime after Jesus turned twelve, we don’t hear any more about Joseph. Tradition tells us that he died, leaving Mary a widow with seven or eight children to raise on her own. That wasn’t cool…
Several more years go by, and Jesus begins his ministry, only to be rejected by all His friends and neighbors. And by the way, His brothers and sisters reject Him, too. No one believed He was any more than the carpenter’s son. So, for the next three years, Mary watches His rise and fall, only to be crucified before her very eyes. Maybe being chosen and blessed is not so cool after all! God certainly seemed to have a funny way of blessing Mary – or maybe we don’t really understand the meaning of blessing…
We don’t know a great deal about Mary – other than the Catholics worship her and the Protestant seem to ignore her. We do know, however, that Mary didn’t come from a wealthy or a prominent family. It is possible that she was of the lineage of King David, like Joseph, but not probable. More likely, she was a Levite and her father a priest. Her second cousin, John the Baptist, was the son of Zachariah who was a priest, and the Levites were to marry within their own clan. Of course, we don’t know any of this, for sure…
Indeed, the Bible doesn’t tell us much about Mary’s personal life. Was she bright, talented, or gifted? We don’t know. We do know, however, according to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, that God often chooses the weak and lowly to confound the high and mighty. So, God probably wasn’t looking for the most gifted when He chose Mary. She was just a young girl, probably between the age of thirteen and sixteen, excited about her upcoming wedding. So, why did He choose Mary?
We do know that God often chooses people differently than we do. If we were to choose the mother of Jesus, we might look for the fairest among maidens. Certainly, we’d find someone who was incredibly bright to raise King of the Universe! Undoubtedly, she would have to be beautiful to give birth to God’s Son. However, I seriously doubt if any of those qualities were important to God. After all, according the Isaiah 53:2b, Jesus would never have made the cover of GQ. “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.”
God was not looking for the noblest, most gifted, talented, or even the best-looking gal in town. He was, and always is, concerned about the inside of a person. Remember when God chose David? He was the runt of the litter, the least unlikely of the eight sons of Jesse to be the next king of Israel. Even Samuel was taken aback by God’s choice! The truth is, God doesn’t choose by the outward appearance or even our ability; He looks at the heart. Man looks at the outside, but God looks at the inside. David and Mary were just two simple teenagers with big hearts after God.
2 Chronicles 16:9 (CSB) says, “For the eyes of the Lord roam throughout the earth to show himself strong for those who are wholeheartedly devoted to him.” God is looking for those whose heart is devoted to Him! He did not choose Mary for her IQ, wittiness, or outward beauty. He chose her, because her heart was perfect toward Him. When the angel appeared to Mary, her response was, “I am the servant of the Lord, let it be unto me as you say.” It was her devotion to God that made her stand out above her peers. That was the very thing God was looking for, when He chose Mary. When God considered the young virgins in Israel, she excelled them all.
So, what can we learn from this story?
One take away is that God was searching for those who are willing and devoted Him.Throughout Scripture, this has been true of Mary and David – and others, as well. It was also true of the apostles, has been His way throughout all of church history, and is still true, today. If we want to be chosen, used of God, our hearts need to be made ready.
One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my ways…” David knew that the depths of his heart were only known to God, and that it was only the Holy Spirit who could change it. You and I can’t change our heart, either, and we certainly can’t change the heart of others – but God can! He is still in the business of transforming hearts today. That is why Paul tells us, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12b-13)
Another lesson in this story comes from what happened in Bethlehem: There was no room at the inn. When Mary and Joseph arrived, there was no place to stay. What’s with that?! I’m sure God could have arranged a room at the Hilton or Marriott. So why have the Son of God born in a stable?! Paul may offer some insight into this question, when he wrote this about Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2: 6-8 NIV)
Did you catch the word, ‘nothing’ in that verse? Jesus made Himself nothing. Today, everybody wants to be something. Jesus entered this world in the lowest possible way…being born of poor parents in a stable. He was born a nothing. Humility is always God’s way; that’s why we often miss it. The lesson at the inn reminds us, yet again, that His ways are not our ways.
So, let’s go back and take another look at Mary… The angel told her that she was highly favored and blessed among women. It surely didn’t look that way, when you consider what she endured! Mary was rejected, slandered, ridiculed, and looked down upon. She lost her husband and had to raise seven or eight children on her own. And yet, Mary knew who Jesus was – when nobody else did. She knew, when His brothers and sisters refused to believe. She knew, when the religious leaders of the day didn’t! Mary was given the greatest honor ever bestowed on a woman, to carry the Son of God into this world – and yet it was hard, very hard.
Today, everybody wants God’s blessings of health, happiness, and prosperity – a bigger house, new cars, lots of money, etc. Those things seem to fit the popular idea of being blessed, even in much of our Christian culture. God’s idea, however, might be quite different…
This is because we associate the word ‘blessed’ with being happy – and we are happy when we have the things that make people happy. Certainly, ‘blessed’ can be used that way, but its primary meaning is to be made holy, to be set apart unto God to bring Him glory. I’m not so sure Mary was always happy, but I do know that she was blessed.
When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, John leapt in her womb, and she proclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42) Mary was blessed! Think about it… God, the creator of the universe, was alive in her! When she walked in the room that day, the presence of God filled the place. Elizabeth was taken aback, and so was baby John.
Today, we have a similar honor – to carry Jesus in our hearts. Like Mary, it doesn’t mean our life will always be easy. After all, it is His will to bless us by making us holy, and that can involve suffering! Yet, there’s no greater joy than to carry His presence in us… Christ in us, the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:27)
Ultimately, that’s what Christmas is all about: Christ came to dwell in the lowliest of hearts.
So, don’t be like the many who missed the birth of Christ on that first Christmas morning. The world has made it all about fun, festivities, and gifts. However, when you celebrate Jesus’ birth, pause for a moment and make room in your heart for the greatest gift ever given! He still comes when people least expect Him, wrapped in a way that some still find Him hard to see.