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Let Her Lead Life

Interlude: The Women of Christmas

This was supposed to be the final post to wrap up this series. I’ve tried to write it about a dozen times, but can’t seem to find the right way to end it.

Maybe because it’s not supposed to end.

I’ll write an official conclusion to this series sometime next week (I hope!). Still, look for more posts in the future without any particular regularity or progression. There’s too much I’ve written about that needs more attention. And there are other texts and topics I haven’t even touched on yet.

One particular text that comes to mind is Jesus’ birth narrative. Specifically, something struck me as I reflected yesterday on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45):

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.

Mary entered Zechariah’s home and she greeted…Elizabeth.

It’s not Elizabeth’s home. It’s her husband’s. She’s “just” a woman, after all. But Mary greets her. Of course, I’m sure Mary greeted Zechariah, too. It would have been incredibly disrespectful not to.

But Luke emphasizes this particular encounter for a reason.

Why?

Explicitly, we learn that Elizabeth’s baby (John) leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice (vv 41, 45) because she is carrying the Messiah. This is one way to show that John is filled with the Spirit to prepare the way for Jesus.

It also reminds us that when the right time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman (not just appearing out of no where), to redeem his children (see Gal 4:4-5).

And it’s right after Elizabeth’s encouraging words about Mary’s son that Mary bursts out into song. Her Magnificat (see Luke 1:46-55) is one of the most eloquent and theologically-rich expressions of the coming of God’s kingdom you’ll find in Scripture. It’s as if it finally sinks in that God is up to something special in her life and in the world.

All of that is amazing.

Yet I think there’s also another implicit, unstated reason Luke includes this interaction. I base it on the overall trajectory of his gospel and his special focus on women.

Remember, the angel appeared to Zechariah earlier in Luke 1, announcing the conception and coming birth of John. But Zechariah didn’t believe the news. So his speech was taken away until John was born.

And no disrespect to Joseph at all, but he’s a background character in Luke chapter 1. Unlike with Zechariah, the angel doesn’t appear to Joseph, the man, but to Mary. (Joseph plays a bigger role in chapter 2, but still never says a word.)

Then at the end of the gospel, Luke records that women surround Jesus as he dies (23:27). Women are the first witness of the resurrection (24:1-12). Women share the news with the rest of the male disciples, who refuse to believe at first (24:11).

Bracketed in between the beginning and end of Jesus’ life is the acknowledgment that Jesus had women disciples who helped fund his ministry (8:1-3). Jesus also empowered women, like Mary Magdalene, to learn his ways as full-fledged disciple (10:38-42).

History tells us men should get the spotlight in announcing the good news of God’s kingdom. But God doesn’t play by those rules.

Then we have Acts, part two of Luke’s gospel. Women are there when the Spirit comes at Pentecost. Women like Lydia and Priscilla play an important role in the early church.

Here’s the thing. We know that the Kingdom of God brings about the great reversal in human society. God circumvents the authority structures of the world. He exalts the poor, the hurting, the enslaved, the prisoner (4:18-19). He calls those who are suffering and needy “blessed” (6:20-26). Mary praises God for all this in her song.

The great reversal is another reason, I think, why Mary and Elizabeth stand center stage as Messiah is about to come onto the scene.

History tells us men should get the spotlight in announcing the good news of God’s kingdom.

But God doesn’t play by those rules.

We spend countless hours debating whether or not women can give a 30-minute Bible talk in a Sunday worship gathering or serve on a church leadership team.

Meanwhile, it’s not the men, but the women of Christmas who preach to us the wonders of God’s love in the incarnation of his Son.


Featured image: Marcus Wallis on Unsplash.

Categories
Life

Day 12: The Great Reversal

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:51-53)

Imagine that you are teenage Mary when an angel of the Lord appears to you announcing that you will conceive the Son of God. Yikes! Understandably, Mary is nearly in shock when she hears the news. This is the biggest day in her young life—any young life.

But she recovers quickly. She realizes that God is up to something. Something bigger than her. So she sings. And what does she sing? She sings that in this miraculous conception of her baby, God is making good on his promise to raise the humble and crush the proud. The religious people, the PhDs, the stock brokers, the politicians—they will be brought to nothing. This is the story of how God has always worked in the world. It’s just now happening in the most incredible way possible. A way no one expected. The God of the whole universe is going to become small. Very small.

If in God’s economy, the mighty will be brought down, then it begs the question: do I want this story to be my story? Do I want to be low and humble rather than important and exalted? Mary embraced this. Will you? How did she do it? Her eyes were on her own son—God’s Son. In Jesus, we see the God who not only exalts the humble, but humbled himself to the point of having an umbilical cord—then growing up and going to a cross to die for sins not his own, but mine. Yours. The world’s. It’s the great reversal. And through Jesus, the poor would become rich; the lame would walk; the blind would see; the guilty would be pardoned; the slave would go free; the orphan would find a home.

This is the greatest reversal, indeed. And when you look at the baby who makes it all happen, you will be humbled and ready to embrace God’s story and make it your own.

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Luke 1:46-56

  1. What is so amazing about this prayer from Mary?
  2. Do you want to be low and humble in the world’s eyes in order to be exalted by God?
  3. Read vv. 54-54. Why is it important that God keeps promises? Do you believe him when he promises something?
  4. Jesus flips the values of the world on their head. Where do you see this happening in your own life? Where are some of your values that you need to re-evaluate in order to faithfully follow Jesus?
  5. How does Jesus’ death for you move you toward humility? What pride must you confess?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent

Categories
Life

Day 11: God of the Impossible

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

You are probably familiar with the spy thriller film series, Mission: Impossible. To date, there have been six films in which Ethan Hunt, the main character, goes on a different mission. Take a moment to ponder that. Mission: Impossible. Six different missions. The missions don’t seem to be impossible after all!

The way God entered the world and prepared the way for his arrival, on the other hand, was impossible. At least it seemed to be. God promised he would send one final messenger, before Messiah. The fact that there would be a messenger wasn’t impossible. Just the way he would come. A woman named Elizabeth conceived in her old age—much older than the prime childbearing years. Her child? John, the final messenger. God overcame the laws of nature and did the impossible.

With Messiah, however, God upped the ante. This time, he would use a virgin, a woman who had never been with a man. That woman was a poor, unwed teenager named Mary. When Mary questioned the angel who foretold Jesus’ birth, “How can these things be?” The angel replied, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Nothing.

Later in life, Jesus had a discussion with his disciples about how hard it was for rich people to be saved. Some thought, “If rich people—the most important and successful people in our society—can’t be saved, then how can anyone be saved?!” Jesus’ response harkened back to that simple yet wonderful news the angel declared to his mother all those years ago: “With God all things are possible.” In other words, if salvation is up to people, no one will be saved. Thankfully, it’s not up to people. It’s up to God.

That’s the whole point of the virgin birth. Salvation would not—could not—be a human work. It would be a total, complete work of God for us, from start to finish. From conception to cross. Does it seem too good to be true? Impossible even? With God, it’s not impossible after all.

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Luke 1:26-38

  1. How do you think you would have felt or responded had you been in Elizabeth’s shoes? In Mary’s?
  2. Do you see your salvation as God overcoming the impossible? Why or why not?
  3. What is something hard going on in your life right now that is simply too much for you to handle How can you trust God today in the midst of this seeming impossibility?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent