How Can This Be? Christmas, Calling and the New Year

“Our class still gets to do the nativity scene,” my son shared over breakfast. 

“I’m going to be a wise man,” he declared proudly. “We each got to choose what part we wanted. All the girls wanted to be Mary.” 

My son’s pageant excitement sparked my own imagination. Perhaps as a seven-year-old girl, being Mary was appealing, but as a middle-aged woman and mother, the idea holds much less appeal. Being stigmatized within my community for my ascent to a call from God and traveling 90 miles in the latter part of pregnancy sounds unpleasant to say the least. But the most haunting consideration in my estimation are the words of Simeon at the time of Jesus’ temple dedication: “and a sword will pierce your own soul.”

In Mary’s defense, by the time she’s dedicating Jesus at the temple, it is too late. She has already said yes; she’s birthed the baby. She’s all in, like it or not. Would it have been different if the angel Gabriel had included this small detail in the annunciation? 

Every time angels show up, there is the admonition to “fear not!” which leads me to believe that having an angel appearance and invitation may not be so much comforting and exciting as shocking and terrifying. 

When God’s call is revealed in our lives, most often it is overwhelming because God asks of us things we cannot do on our own; God invites us to be challenged, to be vulnerable, to be reliant on the Spirit’s guidance. 

When God invites us to participate in the kingdom it requires giving what we are, who we are, our very selves. Just like Mary. She gives her body and her reputation. She risks her betrothal and her future in saying yes to the divine invitation. And that “yes” changes the trajectory of her life. 

When Joseph and Mary arrive at the Temple and dedicate Jesus, I wonder if her ponderings from those first nights of motherhood came back. Furthermore, as Jesus grew, how often did she continue to ponder and wonder how can this be?

And yet, it was. It was through so many small things. There were so many tasks and moments that all contributed to Mary’s participation in this big thing. How many dishes did she wash? Tunics did she mend? Loaves of bread did she bake? How many conversations did she have– about the mundane and about the significant? How many nights did she cry herself to sleep with worry about her son? How many times did Joseph wrap his arms around her as they prayed together over their child’s life and ministry? 

Perhaps we all are Mary. Or at least have the opportunity to be like Mary: to be willing even when we are fearful; to agree and persevere with purpose, even through painful circumstances and situations, to be faithful in the small things as part of our participation in something beyond ourselves.

The discipleship journey is one of endurance, for we are part of a people of promise. People who have received the prophetic word: a vision of what can be and carry the hope of what is to come. 

When we submit to God’s invitation in our lives, our own souls become pierced. To live out our faith means to know and love God’s created ones. It requires suffering with. We can not share Good News and be unaffected by the realities of a broken world. And in those moments, a prophetic vision can feel like powerlessness. How can this be?

But as we sit with the vision, we realize that this gift of prophetic seeing allows for preparation and for possibility. We can be present with hope. Like Mary, we can tend to the small things before us, knowing that this is part of the big thing that God is doing in our world. 

Published by shergerber

Pastor, momma & home baker in the Shenandoah Valley

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