It’s time again for OneWordAdvent, and this week’s word is peace.
Last time, we looked at John the Baptist’s parents – how they struggled with childlessness until finally, God answered their prayer. We never hear from them again. It seems they had their happy ever-after and rode off into the sunset.
But there are some for whom when they’re called by God, life goes anything but smoothly. One of those is Mary. When Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John, Mary was visited by Gabriel – the same angel who’d visited Zechariah. The angel had similar news for her: She too would bear a son, but Mary was a virgin. Far from rejoicing at her son’s birth, people would be whispering and questioning the boy’s paternity. Mary was aware it could cost her the man she was due to marry. His obvious conclusion would be that she had broken their commitment with another man. Despite this, Mary submitted to God’s plan for her life. “May everything you have said about me come true,” she told Gabriel, and the adventure started.
Joseph cared deeply about Mary. Her pregnancy gave him the right to stone her to death for her supposed adultery, but he had no desire to. He would settle for ending things quietly, perhaps resigned to the fact he had lost her to the father of her child, but God stepped in. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him the truth. One storm over: Joseph stood by Mary, helping her to parent Jesus.
At the end of her pregnancy, the unanticipated census sent everyone to their hometowns to be registered. There were no postal votes in those days. Mary had to go with Joseph to the town of his birth, Bethlehem. As she made the long and gruelling journey, did she reach out to God in prayer? Was the memory of Gabriel’s words a comfort, helping her to trust God for her baby’s safety? They were taken care of when a kindly innkeeper offered them a roof over their heads in his stable, where Jesus was born.
In their Jewishness, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple at the appropriate time to fulfil the Law. They were probably keen to show Him off, like any other new parents with their baby, but one old man stood out among the rest. Simeon seemed particularly eager to hold Jesus. The Holy Spirit had led him there that day and shown him who Jesus was – the Saviour of Israel and a Light to the world. Then Simeon turned to Mary. Perhaps in his voice, she heard another impending storm: “A sword will pierce your very soul.” What would this soul-piercing be? And when would it come?
Was Mary’s response to give in to anxiety, or to cling to the truth she had already learnt – that peace comes when you put your life in God’s hands? She had seen Him speak to Joseph’s heart. She had seen Him take care of her during her pregnancy, but when Jesus hung on a cross – hands nailed behind His back, it must have been impossible to imagine how God could work that out for good. Impossible, but maybe somewhere in the recesses of her mind, Gabriel’s words rang out. “Your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.” Nothing was impossible with God …
And He proved it again with an angel, sent to roll away the stone from the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. God raised Jesus from the dead, and as she ran from the open tomb to pass on the angel’s message, Mary met Jesus (Matthew 28:1-9). No questioning her response this time, as she saw the One who’d conquered death to become our Saviour: She worshipped Him.
Perhaps this Advent season, we can thank God for Mary’s story – the way He controlled events and took care of her. Perhaps, as the angel’s words helped Mary, her story can help us to follow her example and trust God with the events in our lives.