Saturday, December 27, 2014

Mary’s Journey – Challenges of Early Motherhood

As we saw last week, God had carefully ordered the steps of Mary’s journey with His perfect foreknowledge from the beginning of time, culminating in the birth of His Son, the promised Messiah, in a lowly Bethlehem manger (Luke 2:7).

Yet for Mary, that was not her mission accomplished, but only the start of her journey as a mother raising the Son of God (Luke 1:32). That would have been an incredible challenge for anyone, particularly for a young, unlearned virgin from a humble family. But Mary was willing to submit herself fully to God’s plan, knowing that He would see her through (Luke 1:38)

Once the taxation in Bethlehem was completed (Luke 2:1-5), the overcrowded town began to clear out, and one of Joseph’s relatives apparently offered them accommodation in a house there (Matthew 2:8-11). No doubt Mary appreciated that respite as she recovered from childbirth, nursed her Infant, and adjusted to early motherhood.

How long they remained in the house was unclear – it was probably at least a month, and may even have approached two years. But when Jesus was 40 days old, after the prescribed time of purification following the birth of a male child, Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem. As ordered in the law of Moses, they presented Jesus, their Firstborn, at the temple (Luke 2:22-24,27).

From Bethlehem to Jerusalem was about 12 miles round trip. But Mary was a young, first-time, sleep-deprived mother and must have been weary from this hike or donkey ride, as it was not that long after journeying 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem while pregnant. Her obedience was rewarded by yet another confirmation from God, and another piece of the puzzle she was fitting together about the destiny of her Son.

God had promised Simeon, an old, faithful worshipper, that he would not die before seeing the Christ Who would deliver His people. Every day he went to the temple looking for Him, and when Jesus appeared, he realized Who He was and took Him in his arms (Luke 2:25-28).

We can only imagine the emotions swirling through Mary’s heart as this stranger took her precious Child from her – fear, pride, hope and dread? Simeon affirmed that now he had seen his salvation, as Jesus was the promised Saviour. Then he warned her of the sword that would pierce Him, and her soul also (Luke 2:29-35). Did Mary know that only by His death, as the perfect, holy Sacrifice, could Jesus pay our sin debt in full to reconcile us to His Holy Father? (2 Corinthians 5:15-19; Hebrews 9:26-28)

Once they had completed their pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem, Mary may have longed to return home to Nazareth and try to reconnect with her family and repair the discord surrounding her unplanned pregnancy. But another confirmation awaited her in Bethlehem -- the wise men followed the star to the house where they found the young Child, and bowed down before Him (Matthew 2:9-11).

The shepherds had worshipped Jesus in a large, open space, whereas the wise men adored Him in the privacy of a chamber. Did Mary understand the significance of their gifts – gold fit for a King, frankincense reflecting His role as great High Priest, and myrrh, used to anoint a body for burial?

Shortly thereafter, the angel warned Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt with Jesus and His mother (v. 13-14). King Herod, infuriated by the news that the wise men had sought the future King of Israel born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-8), ordered the slaughter of all male infants two years of age or younger in that city (v. 16). He hoped to assassinate the One Who threatened his rule, failing to realize that his earthly power was no match for God’s infinite might.

So it was back on the donkey for Mary, not to return to her hometown, but to seek refuge in a foreign country more than 200 miles away. What a horrifying specter must have haunted their thoughts as they fled from Bethlehem, knowing that cruel Herod would stop at nothing to kill Jesus. Did Mary understand the irony of the Messiah, Who would deliver His people, having to flee to Egypt where His people had been enslaved for so long? (Exodus 3:7-10) Did she know this fulfilled the prophecy that the Son of God would be called out of Egypt? (Matthew 2:15)

Each day that passed in Egypt Mary must have wondered if perhaps tomorrow they could go home. But Joseph, as the spiritual head of the household (Ephesians 5:23), set a good example for her in waiting on the Lord (Psalm 27:14) until He gives clear direction to move. The family stayed  in Egypt until the angel appeared to Joseph for the third time, with the news that they could now safely return to Israel, thanks to Herod’s death (Matthew 2:19-21).

Their journey took another turn, unexpected for them, but planned by God. Joseph wanted to settle in Judaea, but he learned that Herod’s relative was ruling there. God warned him, again in a dream, not to go there. So he headed to Nazareth, thus fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would be called “the Nazarene” (Matthew 2:22-23)

Once back in Nazareth, Mary may not have traveled great distances. But surely her spiritual journey continued to bring her closer to her Lord, Who now was growing in stature, wisdom, and favor with God and with man (Luke 2:40,52).

We do know that there were annual excursions to Jerusalem, about 75 miles from Nazareth, to celebrate the Passover feast (Luke 2:41). The Bible records one of these in more detail, when Jesus was 12 years old (Luke 2:42-51). After a full day of journeying toward home, Mary’s heart sank as she and Joseph realized that Jesus was not with the traveling party (v. 43-44).

As they raced back to Jerusalem (v. 45), she must have been overwhelmed by the fear that He was lost! What irony, as He was the Good Shepherd Who had come to seek and save the lost! (Luke 19:10)

Just as all the great men and women of the faith had their momentary lapses, so did Mary. She scolded her Lord for causing His parents such distress (v. 48). Yet she must have been proud to learn that He had stayed behind to discuss Scripture with the priests (v. 46-47), and ashamed that she had rebuked Him. He reminded her sternly that He must do His Father’s business (v. 49). Although she did not understand at first (v.50), did she later realize (v. 51) the full implications of this?

Like Mary, each of us faces a unique journey, navigated by God, from the moment we are saved by placing our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). Often there are twists and turns, and we can’t see around the bend or realize that the setbacks are necessary to reach our final destination. God does not offer a clear view or provide all the answers immediately, but reveals to us what we need as we need to know it.

Praise God that His Word is a light to our path (Psalm q119:105), and that His strength is made perfect in our weakness! (2 Corinthians 12:9) May we run with patience the race that is set before us! (Hebrews 12:1)

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mary’s Journey: On the Road to Bethlehem

On Mary’s arduous trip to Bethlehem, she was ready to deliver at any moment, fearing that her water might break with each bump in the road, with each plodding step of the donkey (Luke 2:4-6). Yet her journey began long before, and ended long after, with God leading her every step of the way (Psalm 37:23).

With God there are no accidents and no surprises (Romans 8:28-30). From the beginning of time, He had chosen Mary for the awesome privilege, yet tremendous challenge, of carrying, delivering, and raising His Son. He knew that even though she was a young virgin (Luke 1:27,34), she would humbly and willingly accept this mission (Luke 1:38,48), giving glory only to Him (Luke 1:46-55).

Her family would be from the line of David (Luke 3:23-38) in keeping with the prophecy that the Messiah would rule eternally over the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 2 Samuel 7:12-13). But she was also related to Elisabeth, who hailed from the priestly line of Aaron (Luke 1:5) – a fitting ancestry for One Who would be our great High Priest (Hebrews 5:5-6).

Mary would be born into a devout family so that she would have knowledge of Scripture even without formal education, as evidenced by her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) mirroring that of Hannah when God answered her prayer to have a son (1 Samuel 2:1-9).

Her social circle would include Joseph, so that the young couple could fall in love and become engaged (Luke 1:27). Joseph was also handpicked by God to raise and protect Jesus and his mother, and he too was of the line and house of David (Matthew 1:1-16). Like Mary, David was of humble means and yet had great faith in God and willingness to serve and obey Him.

Once the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary with the astounding news that the Holy Spirit would conceive the Son of God within her womb, Mary did not falter (Luke 1:26-38). Her faith far exceeded that of Zacharias, who, despite his maturity and status as high priest, doubted the news that his elderly, barren wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-18).

Unlike Zacharias, Mary did not demand proof that what Gabriel said was true. Instead, she offered herself willingly as the handmaiden of the Lord (Luke 1:38,48). No doubt menacing shadows darkened the path before her, as she wondered if she should run away.

Would Joseph reject her (Matthew 1:29), her family despise her, her village ridicule her, and would she even be stoned to death? (John 8:4-5) But the light of God’s Word (Psalm 119:105), delivered through the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and personally by Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38), illuminated her dangerous, difficult journey.

First, alone and pregnant, she would travel “with haste” to a city of Juda in the hill country, to visit her cousin Elisabeth (Luke 1:39-40). That would be a long trip under the best of circumstances, and particularly for a young woman dealing with morning sickness. But God rewarded her perseverance with the joy she shared with Elizabeth and John the Baptist, as all were filled with the Holy Spirit. John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb; Elizabeth knew through the Spirit that Mary was carrying the Son of God; and Mary sang a hymn of praise (Luke 1:41-56).

Mary needed that confirmation from God as she set out three months later (Luke 1: 56).on her long journey home. By now she would be starting to show – how would Joseph, her family, and her village react to what they would naturally assume was proof of her infidelity? But God would pave the way, sending His angel to Joseph in a dream, telling him that Mary was carrying His Son and that he should marry her as planned (Matthew 1:18-24).

God even used pagans to work out the details of Mary’s journey. When Caesar commanded everyone to return to the city of their lineage to be taxed, Joseph and Mary would have to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of the lineage of David (Luke 2:1-6). Mary would deliver there, fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; John 7:40-42).

Caesar’s decree meant that Mary would journey by donkey, for that is a reasonable assumption given the limited transportation options in that day for an 85-mile trip along a rocky, hilly road. She would not have been able to walk that distance, and riding side saddle while at full term (Luke 2:5) was probably not much better.

But thanks to God, Mary had a devoted and loving protector in Joseph, and without him, that journey would have been impossible. He put her needs and those of the unborn Child ahead of his own, refraining from marital relations until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25). 

No doubt Joseph eased Mary along the painful path to Bethlehem and fought off wild animals or bandits who may have threatened them. He encouraged her to hang on just a little longer, and searched tirelessly for shelter once they arrived in the crowded city, where there was no room for them at the inn (Luke 2:7). A stable was probably the last place either of them envisioned that Mary would deliver the Son of God. 

Or did Mary know that the stable was God’s predetermined, perfect destination (Isaiah 55:9) for this miraculous, paradigm-shifting event? Or did she trust Joseph’s decision to accept this poor accommodation, or was it just desperation as her labor pains demanded she give birth right away? 

Thankfully, that phase of Mary’s journey finally ended with the precious, long-awaited sound of her Newborn’s cry, with her cuddling, nursing and gazing with adoration at the Son of God, her Saviour (Luke 1:46-47). She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:7), symbolizing His future burial as He came to die as the perfect sacrifice to reconcile sinful man to Holy God (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:16). She laid Him in a manger (Luke 2:7) among the animals, this lowly beginning representing His first coming as a humble Servant (Philippians 2:5-8)

As always, God was faithful to lavish blessings and confirmation on His handmaiden, as the shepherds told Mary of the angel’s Good News that her Infant was the Saviour, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:8-18). They told her of the glory of the Lord that shone around them, and the angelic multitude praising and glorifying God for the peace and goodwill He had brought to the world. And Mary thought long and hard on these things, wondering at the new direction of her own life and perhaps even at the changed destiny of the whole world (Luke 2:18). 

But God had made a Way (John 14:6) between His holiness and man’s sin where there was no way (Isaiah 40:3). And Mary’s journey had only just begun, as we shall see next week! May we have the humility and faith of Mary, trusting God each step of the way! 

© 2014 Laurie Collett

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