Monday, December 06, 2010

More Messed-Up Plans

No, I’m not talking about me.  Imagine, if you will, a young woman in Judea in the first century.  She is betrothed to a man, a carpenter, but they have not had the marriage ceremony and the young woman is still a virgin.  Her life is following the typical trajectory for those times: betrothal in her late teens, marriage, children, etc.  All of the sudden, though, a wrench is thrown into the plan.  The angel Gabriel came to her.  He started his speech with “Do not be afraid.”  I’m sure she was trying not to be afraid, but having an angel standing in the same room and talking with you must have caused her some level of fear.  In any case, Gabriel continued by telling Mary that she was going to conceive and have a son who “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 the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” 

Mary must have been pretty confused right about now.  As she told Gabriel, “How will this be . . . since I am a virgin?”  Gabriel assured her that God was most capable of making the pregnancy happen through the Holy Spirit.  As good and faithful as Mary was, she had to have had some seriously churning feelings right about that time.  All of her plans were completely scrapped.  Even if Joseph didn’t divorce her (as he had every right to), there would surely be talk in the village.  Nonetheless, her answer to Gabriel was “I am the Lord’s servant . . . may it be to me as you have said.”  Wow.  We don’t know what Mary was thinking and praying right then, but, whatever it was, she was immediately obedient.  She saw that the road was swerving in a different direction, but she trusted that God could get her through.  Barclay’s commentary on Luke has a wonderful statement about Mary’s response – she didn’t ask “Thy will be changed”, but rather “Thy will be done.”

Fast forward about 40 weeks, give or take a couple.  Mary and Joseph are told that they must return to Bethlehem to be counted in the census.  Wait a minute!!  Didn’t God see that Mary was in her last month of pregnancy?  And maternal and infant mortality in the first century couldn’t have been real great.  Again, I imagine Mary wondering what this new plan was – and what are we on now?  Plan B, C, D, whatever.  We aren’t told Mary’s reaction to this, but given her response to Gabriel, I imagine that she handled this situation with grace.  The trip was 80 miles – probably not too bad for most people on foot, maybe with a donkey.  But, Mary’s in that stage of pregnancy where walking across the room is a challenge.  And now, she has to accompany Joseph 80 miles.  Did God really know what He was up to?

Yes, indeed He did.  It had been prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, so he was.  But, there was one more little swerve in the road before Jesus’ birth.  When Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem, there was no room for them in the inn.  Instead, they stayed with the animals, either in a cave or a courtyard.  Yet, what looked like a crazy plan to Mary and Joseph was exactly what God had ordered.  We aren’t told Mary’s disposition or reaction at the birth, but I think she did what she had done with all the other odd things that had happened – she trusted God.

I find this story strangely refreshing.  I have a hard time understanding God’s plan for my life.  I can’t see the big picture, and things aren’t exactly working out the way I expected.  Yet, the mother of Jesus was in a similar situation.  Right about the time it seems that things are under control, the rug gets pulled out from under her and she is forced again to rely solely on God and His promises.  About the time people stop talking about the ill-timed pregnancy, she has to travel to Bethlehem in late pregnancy (when any woman would rather be “nesting”).  They reach Bethlehem and are probably getting excited about stopping and getting a place to stay for the night – until they’re told that they have to stay with the animals because all the rooms are taken.

And at the end of God’s “crazy” plan, the Messiah was born.

What kind of roadmap does God have planned out for me?  No idea.  But, I make each step in obedience and prayer (or at least I try).


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