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Friday, December 17, 2010

on Christmas--Mary's bravery

            In John 15:16, Jesus says to the disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you…”  This is part of a section, John 15:9-17, where Jesus makes a number of statements to the disciples which we commonly quote out of context, in the sense that they mean something different to us being able to look back on what we who are believers have seen and experienced by living in the New Covenant, and having the Holy Spirit indwelling us and guiding us. Usually, though, the quotes are in a manner consistent with the way Jesus meant them.  I am doing that with this reference. 
            When I came to faith in Jesus, the immediate occurrence was the Holy Spirit speaking into my spirit while I was mowing the front lawn.  The few words impressed into me was a burden until, later that evening, I laid down on my bed, and cried a prayer of repentance.  The notable thing to me is that it felt, to me, like I was making a choice to follow God’s way.  When I read this passage, I know that God is telling me the truth by faith.  I cannot prove to anyone that God chose me.  It felt at the time like I was choosing to follow God, but I know God is far bigger than I.  Like that, I cannot understand how some very intelligent persons who know a lot about theology do not ever become a believer in Jesus, and others do become believers.  The same can be said about persons with average and below average intelligence. 
            I say that in that, in this Christmas season, many are drawn to the Christmas story.
While the beginning of the story comes before creation of the universe, the immediate story starts in Luke 1:26 and following with the angel Gabriel coming to Mary.  We live in a culture, both the Christian subculture and western culture at large, that takes a less than optimal view of girls getting pregnant below the age of 18.  There are good moral and economic reasons for this.  In that culture, which, of course, was before birth control and high in manual labor, which made boys more worthwhile for fathers than girls, the norm in both Jewish and Gentile cultures, girls were married off at an age around the time they began having sexual feelings, which was 12 to 16, and probably 12 to 14.  In Judiasm, the punishment for getting pregnant outside of marriage could be stoning.  When the angel told Mary that she would give birth to the Christ, she would have known that that was an honor that would go to someone, and that there were reasons in Tanak for expecting that to happen at any time.  Still, how the angel was presenting it ran counter to all kinds of cultural norms.  To say, as recorded in Luke 1:38, “ Let it be to me according to your word” comes across to me as simultaneously totally normal for a person who desires to serve God, and shocking act of faith for a person so young. 
            It is effectively an act of saying, effectively, “I’m going to do your will even if it brings all of society down on my head.”  We read that her betrothed, Joseph, was going to allow the betrothal to just never be finished, but the angel speaks to him to go ahead and marry her, but to not consummate the marriage until the child is born.  One must note that the Jewish wedding reception ritual had the marriage consummated during the reception.  To not do so signaled that they had violated Jewish law about sexual activity.  I would imagine that, if Joseph and Mary told their parents the why behind this, they wouldn’t have been believed.  It is generally taught that Joseph was a carpenter, but I have heard at least one theologian state that the word the Bible uses to describe his trade is better translated “one who works with his hands” which meant that he probably worked with stone, a cheaper material, more than wood. A teknon was socially lower than a carpenter. Mary had a socially ruined reputation.  From this comes a child on the social bottom rung, in a poor area of a region on the fringe of the Roman Empire. 
            When it comes to the Christmas season, the thing that strikes me the most is the bravery of Mary.  Yes, I know that she didn’t and couldn’t have known what she was getting into, just the same as each of us when we answer God’s call to go a direction from salvation on through whatever.  To have that kind of faith, at an age possibly as young as 12, puts me in awe of what kind of power the kind of faith only God can give

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