It's Christmas. We celebrate it every year, taking notice of it with parades, shows, songs, gifts, food and invoking holiday spirit with everything from napkins to socks. Some years, to be honest, I enjoy it more than others. Christmas spirit is very much dependent on what is happening elsewhere in "real" life. This year has been a better year in some ways than others. However, no matter how excited (or ambivalent) I am feeling concerning the hoopla that surrounds the holiday I never fail to be arrested by the real reason for the season. This year is no different in that regard. It seems every year that I am struck by some new facet of that miraculous story, feeling in tune with a particular character. I have my parents to thank for that, from a young age they encouraged us to find a player in that wonderful Story and put ourselves in their shows.
I have often thought fondly of the shepherds, those bottom-of-the-social ladder characters. I also have tried to see how upstanding, rule-following Joseph handled things. I investigated the inn keeper-such a tiny, but oh-so-important, role. Last year, Christ Himself a tiny, fragile, Babe, captured my attention (see that post here). This year though, it has been His mother.
Many songs and stories have been written about the Mother of our Lord. I am fascinated by her youth, her obedience and the suffering she must have endured. I have searched the Scriptures to see what set her apart. She was defintely obedient, her response to truly incredible news was:
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her." Luke 1:38 NIV
But to most of us that is old hat. We have heard her obedience lauded (as it should be) since childhood. But I don't think her amazing obedience was restricted to carrying the Christ-Child. I think that she was chosen for another special reason as well: she knew when to let go.
I apologize if that does not hit you straight between the eyes as it did for me. God knew that Mary had to have a perfect blend of holding on and letting go. You see, she knew the Scriptures. She knew that, one way or another, she would not get to hold onto this Child. He wasn't her's. I suspect that in that tiny stable in Bethlehem she started holding Jesus with open hands. She had to have the strength to love Him with all her heart (and probably in an even different way than you or I, after all she was His mother!) but also the strength to let Him become the Man He was meant to be.
Don't think for a second that Mary could have stood in the way of God's plan for Jesus. But also don't be fooled that she was given superhuman abilities to not care that her Baby was born to die. She could have tried to protect Him, she could have tried to stand in God's way. I can promise you that would have only resulted in pain, albeit a different kind than what I am sure she felt. She could have wrestled with God, begged Him for her Son's life. But I don't think she did. She was not honored above all women because she always got what she wanted. Her heralded character traits were not persistence and doggedness.
I think the reason that this astounded me was because I have always seen Mary as somewhat super-spiritual. But I think her release of Christ to fulfill His Father's plan was a deliberate choice. I mean, I knew that she loved Jesus, I know that she was pained by His death. But then I began to see hints of her open hands in the Word:
"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:18
Right after the arrival of the shepherds, Mary began thinking about all these things that were happening. She pondered over how this Baby was like no other. And she realized He wasn't hers. That God's ways are not our ways. That the visit from the lowly herdsmen was one of the first indications that He belonged to everyone.
I am always trying to hold on. My obedience does not extend to giving up, to letting go. I think I have had this mistake conception that obedience meant hanging on, digging in, always persisting. But sometimes the greatest obedience comes in letting God be God. In not trying to insist on your own way, in not even insisting that God explain His ways to you.
Imagine the tears that fell as Mary acknowledged that her Baby wasn't her's. Imagine the pain as she looked down that road and couldn't see the end. Her surprise that the King of Kings got the same treatment as an animal! But she didn't fret and she didn't fight. She treasured all these things...She looked up and she let go...
My Christmas wish is that I would learn to let go. Give my children, my husband, my money to God. Be obedient to His call to forsake all and follow Him. To learn that obeying sometimes means that letting go is more important than holding on. Isn't it all His anyways?