Friday, April 18, 2014

Blessings in Broken Clay

Mary’s hand was shattered.

     When our teenagers were playing in the living room, one tripped, and in a minute there was a broken certificate frame, and fewer ceramic figures in our year-round Nativity display.

     We told them we were glad they weren’t hurt, and to get busy sweeping up. I didn’t really have a close connection with the little figurine.

     But I thought of all that I’ve learned from what she represented.
Although the real Mary kept a small profile, in humble circumstances, her example lives large even now.


     She listened to what God had to say. Instead of focusing on how this pregnancy would threaten her status, her security, and life itself, Mary allowed her mind to contemplate and experience the awe of all that God would do. When she focused on His words and His actions, the joy of their meaning shone out in her words. We may not know what her emotions were, but we can see the joy that strengthened them.

     Even before the Holy Spirit enabled her body to conceive God’s Son, it filled her spirit with the hope that God’s message provided. It was a hope so far beyond her, because it was a hope for all her people, and all the nations of the world. It was a hope for all time.


     She allowed that joy and hope to form her response to God. Just as her body would be prepared to carry out the work it had been given, to carry and deliver the divine and human Son of God, her spirit was ready as well. When Mary received a message from God, her response was to magnify the Lord. The word in Scripture translated to magnify is in the present tense, indicating an ongoing state of magnifying the Lord.

     God may seem small until we contemplate and describe Him, which causes us to see how vast His power and goodness really are. To magnify the Lord is to describe His magnificence. Words help our minds to express things greater than we are. When we begin to say ‘how great Thou art,’ we begin to realize it -- on a God-sized scale.
Mary understood the kingship of God. When she magnified God, she made it clear that whatever He commanded, she must do.

     She also understood that He was moving history toward something that was allgood – not pretty good, but purely good.  She understood that God had a plan for justice, and He works His plan through works of giving and healing rather than dominating.

     And because God’s plan for justice often occurs over time, those like Mary who have this awe for God pass it down from generation to generation.

     Mary in particular also understood that God, rather than being harsh, had blessed her beyond all women. For her, His command is love, and always for the good of His servant and the world.


     She went to spend several months with her cousin Elizabeth. She knew Elizabeth had experienced her own miraculous conception, after years of barrenness. There, they could both wonder at the lives forming within, and the lives they were living. She knew Elizabeth understood what it was to be touched by God. She knew Elizabeth could rejoice with her. And when Mary arrived, even Elizabeth’s unborn child leapt for joy, as testament to Who was to come.

     Those who love God are strengthened when they can rejoice together. Proverbs explains that iron sharpens iron, and we need others around us who likewise seek God’s righteousness. With the wisdom of God, Jesus did not send His disciples on missions alone. As God guides us on our own journeys, He also guides us to community with those who love Him and who encourage us to walk closely with Him.


     She gave loving, attentive care to the King – swaddling Him and laying Him in a manger. In these times, nurturing meant bathing, and then rubbing a newborn in salt and oil, and finally swaddling. To do otherwise represented neglect (see Ezekiel 16).

     One day Mary’s son would wash our sins and make us clean. One day like salt He would save what would otherwise perish. He also called His believers salt of the earth, because we in turn would minister to others, to bring them to Jesus.

     One day He would be known like balm in Gilead -- the one who healed as He walked and taught, and the one who was anointed for a sacrifice that would ensure abundant life and ongoing healing for a dying world. One day He would rise up from a tomb, having removed his own graveclothes, and thus unbound us all from death itself.


     She and her husband made pilgrimage to worship at Jerusalem when Jesus was a preteen. The length of a journey in those days makes it clear that worship was a priority for the young family.

     To make a pilgrimage is to set aside time to worship God. We set aside our routine, our agenda. We sacrifice time and energy to be used for His will, instead of our own. We have occasion now to invest ourselves in preparation and relocation. To reconsider our commitments. To decide what baggage is worth carrying along. To seek guidance for the journey.


     She sought out Jesus. When it was time to leave Jerusalem to go home, they eventually realized Jesus was not with their group of pilgrims, and they turned back to Jerusalem to look for him.  
     It was Mary who spoke to Jesus about the anxiety they’d faced in the search. He told her that they should have know He’d been in His father’s house. She didn’t understand that Jesus was speaking prophetically about another 3 days to come, when those who loved and followed Him would despair over his death, instead of realizing that He was heaven bound.

     When we find ourselves on a journey led by our own reasoning, efforts and agenda, we may realize we haven’t sought Jesus before departing; haven’t remained close with Him along the way; and finally that Jesus is our Way, and that we really can’t go any further without Him. 

     God’s word in Phillippians 4:6 tells us to be “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”


     She turned to Jesus. She called on Him when He was a young man of about 30, to help a friend with a wedding feast. They were in need of wine. With his remarks, Jesus indicates that this event is only a shadow of a time yet to come, when He would drink from a bitter cup of sacrifice. He would demonstrate that the greatest love is to lay down a life for a friend. He would make a friend of any and every sinner ready to reconcile and end enmity with God. It was a shadow of his Last Supper, when He would tell his disciples that His blood would be shed for them, and to remember His sacrifice with wine.

     It was Mary who directed others at the wedding, giving them the wisest advise: to do whatever Jesus said. 

     And they did, filling clay jars with water. Soon, where clay jars had held only water, they now held wine. It was a shadow of Jesus’ sacrificial miracle to come: After Adam, our bodies had become vessels for spirits severed from God, but now we would become vessels for God’s Holy Spirit.

     Mary was likely still there when the steward of the wedding feast praised the quality of the wine, saying the best had been saved for last. 

     When she first had celebrated the child that she was chosen to bear, she recognized even then that her son represented God’s best. First had come Adam, a man who would trade obedience for sin, giving all people a death sentence. Then came her Jesus, a man who would be obedient unto death, earning salvation for all who would receive it. God had saved the best for last.


     She listened to Jesus. Mary and her other children came to hear Jesus preach to the crowds. She was there when Jesus explained that “my mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

     When Mary was a young girl, she opened her mind and heart upon receiving a message from God. She understood that it was meant for her personally. What she had to say in response revealed her familiarity with the Scriptures – the word of God revealed previously. And faith followed familiarity.

     How she lived was how she put the Word into practice. Early in her story, she was willing to praise and humble herself to God’s direction and purpose. Later in life, she was bold in her appeal to Jesus at the wedding, bringing to Him a concern from everyday life.

     To belong to the family of faith is to know that your life belongs to God. To know yourself as His son or daughter is to know you can come boldly before Him with your concerns.

     These things – hearing the Word, committing to it personally, making your life an offering, boldly appealing to God -- define what it means to put the Word into practice. The Word is put to use in the thoughts we focus on, the words we choose, and the actions we carry out.


     As her son died in agony on the cross, Mary allowed herself to be ministered to and comforted. Jesus spoke to her, appointing a disciple to her as a son, to care for as his own mother. She who had been daughter, betrothed bride, wife, mother and probably widow, now had a new family status determined by Jesus. 

     Jesus had already begun His work of grafting people together in faith and making them family by blood – His, rather than theirs.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30

     As with her labor pains, the shared sorrow of this moment was yielding to something greater. Mary was experiencing a grief that would give way to worldwide joy.

     As with Bethlehem’s innkeepers, many would refuse to receive her Son. 
But love, not nails, had stretched Jesus’ arms wide – offering an eternal embrace.

     God and man had been reconciled.