Updated: Dec 24, 2021
Day 1 Today is the first day of our advent journey with Mary. This first week we will be with Mary as she is visited by the Angel of the Lord.
Any normal day An angel just appears How would you react? Luke 1:26-27 "In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” Imagine the scene; one day you're going about your normal business. Perhaps you're doing the washing or making breakfast, maybe you're cleaning the house or tending the garden, or just possibly you're at work with your colleagues. It's just a normal day, nothing special or out of the ordinary. But then....... an angel of the lord appears! It sounds straightforward the way Luke says it doesn't it, the angel just appears. Just like that. No big deal. There's no mention of Mary falling over in shock, or having her mouth gaping open, or screaming and running off. She was quite clearly of a stronger constitution than me. But then that's to be expected, after all she was to become the mother of the messiah. Let's put ourselves in Mary's shoes. Imagine a point in your normal day. Me, I'm checking my emails and wondering which ones need dealing with first. What are you up to? And suddenly the angel of the Lord appears in front of you. I can imagine it now, the room would be filled with light and there'd be a person of sorts in the room. I'd definitely drop my laptop, there's no doubt about that. I would like to think that I would stay calm and that I would recognise an angel when one appeared to me. But if I'm honest I'm pretty sure that I would scream and freeze in shock. How do you think you'd react? I trust the gospels but I have to say that I suspect Mary reacted much as we would, how could she not be shocked and fearful. We will never know for sure, but one thing is sure, she didn't run away. Prayer Father as we meet Mary today we try to imagine how she would have felt when your Angel appeared to her. We thank you for her bravery and openness at that time and ask that we might be blessed with the same in our journey's of faith and love with you. Amen.
God loves you, yes you You don't need to be afraid God's with you always Luke 1:28-30 ‘The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God."’ As if it was not enough that an Angel of the Lord appeared to Mary, it then spoke in a language she understood. Greetings, you who are highly favoured Or as no doubt the angel would have said today "Hi, God loves you." Along comes an angel, not something you ever expect to see, and then they greet you as if you know each other, as if it's a totally ordinary conversation to have. If she was not overwhelmed beforehand, this certainly troubled her, as Luke makes clear. I wonder how Mary responded such that Luke would recall that she was greatly troubled and wondered what the greeting was. I'm thinking physical and emotional shock manifesting as knees weakening, words fleeing and eyes opened wide. Put yourself back in the everyday situation we thought of yesterday. I'm in my chair with my laptop on the floor and my mouth agape. I know my own reactions to shock, I loose the power of speech and go stock-still. And then the angel speaks again; "Don't be afraid, God loves you especially", or words to that effect. Me? Really? You seriously mean me? There must be a mistake. I'm nothing special, I'm just me. The thing is we each are known and loved especially by God, maybe we are not called in such a dramatic way as Mary, but we are loved just as we are. This is the focus of today, to remind ourselves that Mary had to come to terms with being chosen; and so must we. Prayer Father, help us hear your voice. Give us faith through our loneliness when you seem far away, and joy in your love when we know you are close by at our sides. Lord, we know you are always with us, let us know this inwardly in our lives and follow you wherever you lead us. Amen.
You will have a child
The impossible made real
A boy named Jesus
"You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus"
Today we look at the crux of Mary's calling; she will be the mother of a son. Of course that doesn't sound particularly special, especially in today's society.
But let's go back 2000 years. Mary is unmarried, a girl from a good home, betrothed to a man she will soon marry. She is a virgin, she has kept herself clean and she knows she can not be with child. Her emotions must have been all over the place.
Worry about whether she understood right.
Fear about how her family and Joseph will react.
Concern over the reaction of society, who normally shun unmarried mothers.
Add to that the pure and simple unbelievability that she is carrying a boy child and she must have been close to fainting.
And why this specific name?
Would Mary have seen the link to the prophecies of her race?
Would she have started to put two and two together?
I am sure she was a faithful servant of God and knew her scripture well, but when put in a shocking situation do any of us manage to join the dots successfully?
Let's return to our scenario.
Are you on your knees yet? I'm stuck, dumb-struck in my chair.
I know some of the impossibility she would have felt. I felt it when I came to realise that I was called into ministry. And I had none of the worries about family and societal condemnation. Imagine how Mary would have felt being told she was to have a child out of wedlock, poor Mary, she must have been scared witless.
Father as Mary would have felt fear of her family's response to such amazing news, so we worry about what society thinks of our faith. By following you we turn away from many societal norms and try to live the life you wish for us. Give us strength in the face of our uncertainty and fear and judgement of others, as you gave Mary as she faced her family with such impossible and threatening good news. Amen
God calls each of us
Precious tasks within our lives
Leads us all the way
"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
As if it wasn't enough that an angel appeared, spoke and told Mary she would have a baby; now she is told that this same baby will be the greatest of all babies, God himself. I wonder if she's even taking anything in at this point. Let's look at the words themselves.
"He will be called the Son of the Most High"
Mary would have known that the Most High was referring to God. No longer was this a task, it was a mission and a half.
"The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end"
As part of a Jewish family Mary would have known, as part of her basic religious education, that the house of David was the line of royalty from which all rulers of the people of Israel came. She would have realised that this mission was to carry and birth the next King of her people. The King!
Let's take ourselves back into our own imaginings again; we are Mary, visited by an Angel, told we will have a miraculous pregnancy and now that the boy born will be the next king. This is like being told that a spaceship will fly down from the sky, land in the back garden and require us to be the translators for the entire human race.
Do you fancy that task?
How would you feel?
Father of all, you tasked Mary with the greatest task on Earth, you trusted her to carry out your precious mission and never fail along the way. We feel so humbled as we journey with Mary and are reminded that we each have our own mission. As we journey we ask for your reassurance and strength. Amen.
How do I do this?
You are never alone
Know God is with you
How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Finally we hear from Mary. She is dumb struck no longer, although I find it hard to imagine she was silent until now, but I bow to the knowledge of the Gospel writers. And let's give her the credit she deserves, she asks the pertinent question…. How?
The angel was not worried, not disturbed by the question; not insulted or affronted. In seemingly simple words the angel explained that the "power of the most high will come upon you". You will notice that these are slightly different words than included in the NIV translation; Mary would know nothing about the Holy Spirit since it arrived on Earth many years later at Pentecost, but she would have recognised God's power.
You've been visited by an angel, told you're special.
Told you're going to have a baby who will be the King of your race.
And now you're told that it will happen by the power of God coming upon you.
I think I'd have a whole load more questions like how? When? Where? But that's my own failings and thankfully I know God is always with me, just as God was with Mary.
Father you know us each and love us for what we are and what we are able to do. You knew Mary could and would cope, you know what each of us can cope with and we ask to have more faith in this when we are faced with things we worry about. Amen
Through every day
Nothing is impossible
But might look different
Even Elizabeth, your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
Yes, even Elizabeth is now able to have a baby. She who has been trying for so many years and has been barren is now pregnant and in her sixth month. What a miracle. That just shows what God can do.
This was also a powerfully soothing thing to tell Mary. She was close to her cousin Elizabeth and it must have been reassuring to be told that they were in this miracle business together, and that they'd have babies close together. This was God in his true caring father role.
As we near the end of this week with Mary and her visit from the angel we might feel like we've been through the ringer. We've been shocked, floored, told the impossible, promised the powerful, explained the miraculous and given the best news possible. We've been taken full circle through an emotional cycle and are almost ready to settle down.
Father you know just what to say and do when we are at the end of our ability to cope, thank you for your fathering of us. Amen.
I trust you oh God
To lead me where I'm needed
Today, every day
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
Five small words from Mary; one huge commitment, one life changing decision for us all.
Mary, in the visit of one angel, for possibly an hour at the most, went from the shock of her life to the acceptance that she would birth God's son, the king of her people.
Well done Mary.
And well done us for making it through the first week of advent.
We have started the journey towards Christmas, accepting the shock of God's call on our lives and realising the blessing that it is if we follow Him.
Father we thank you for Mary and for her day with your angels, this one encounter brought about the salvation of us all, we owe all we are to that process. Amen.
Welcome to week two of this advent journey with Mary. This week we look at how Mary followed directions, and cope when she had to follow directions given to others.
Holy spirit moves
In and around us, through love
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Mary and Elizabeth as cousins would have been close, even when separated by distance. Mary would have been thrilled with the prospect of seeing Elizabeth and sharing her great news, and allowing Elizabeth to share with her. No doubt Mary also realised she could be of use to Elizabeth who would likely find pregnancy hard in her advanced years. (I dread to think what advanced years meant, perhaps only in her thirties?)
The gospel of Luke tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit upon seeing Mary; Jesus' presence made her baby leap for joy. There was always a connection between Jesus and John the Baptist, a connection of love and ministry in the coming about of God's action in the world.
Now let's think about what else might have been going on at this time.
Mary would no doubt have been relieved to have been able to journey to see Elizabeth and away from the prying and judging eyes of her community. Perhaps she had told her parents and Joseph of her pregnancy and it was not received with joy or understanding. We do not know; but the affirmation of Elizabeth would have been a comfort beyond all at this time. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for some considerable time, time during which Mary helped Elizabeth and time when her family and Joseph could come to terms with the miraculous events.
Dear Lord, we are thankful that Mary had Elizabeth with whom to share her joy and concerns about her pregnancy; and we celebrate the connection between Jesus and John the Baptist from before their births. We remember today those friends who are always there for us, and the fact that you remain available to us and fully present whenever we need. Amen
When we fear We need only turn to God Ask for help in prayer Matthew 1:20 An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." Today we move from following Luke's gospel to that of Matthew. Whilst Luke's gospel is relational and deals in depth with Mary; Matthew is more concerned with ancestry and Jewish family lines which brings Joseph into the foreground. It is not clear when the Angel appeared to Joseph in the timeline we are following; it might have been immediately after visiting Mary and before she left to be with Elizabeth. Or perhaps Joseph was visited whilst Mary was away. Maybe Joseph had his doubts and concerns about Mary's miraculous pregnancy quickly allayed, or perhaps he was questioning his choice of fiancee and was pleased she was away from him. We don't know. But we do know that he must have been doubting and fearful since the Lord sent an angel to reassure and instruct him to take Mary as his wife. Prayer Lord, we know that you understand our pain and torment and ask that you come close to us, as you did to her, when we need you. Amen. Day 10
We're never alone
God’s with us in the hard tasks
"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Today we look at the angel's instructions to Joseph; he is told, as Mary was previously, to call the baby Jesus. It was imperative that both Mary and Joseph knew that their baby would be called Jesus. The name Jesus is not random, it means "Yahweh saves" and Joseph would know that. Now both Mary and Joseph know they are tasked with an immense task but they are not in it alone.
Lord you always have your bases covered, when things may seem chaotic to us we must remember that your plans are in your hands and we need not fear. Amen.
An ordinary boy God born to live human life Extraordinary boy Matthew 1:22-23 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” —which means, “God with us.” Fulfilling prophecies; it sounds easy doesn't it. But can you imagine being the one tasked with bringing to life the great prophecy of your faith? What pressure, what weight, what burden and yet what an honour. This week we have seen Mary come to terms with her role in the prophecy, whilst Joseph hears the news for the first time. Now, together, they face the world and their future as the parents of the Son of God. There is still no way of knowing whether as a couple they were strengthened by their shared task, as perhaps the image suggests; or whether their relationship was under immense stress. Today I reflect on the stresses in my own family; in the worries and concerns about family life, choices and pressures. I reflect on the love in our family and the joy we share in our lives together. Today I realise how Jesus was brought up in a very ordinary human family which I have no doubt had it's ordinary ups and downs, worries and joys, agreements and disagreements. How reassuring this is, that Jesus knew human relationships and therefore knows us in the struggles we face. Prayer Lord Jesus, you were born to an ordinary family with an extraordinary task. Today we come in thankfulness that you know the ups and downs of human relationships and are with us in these. Keep us hoping and striving together, as you saw your parents do. Amen.
Travelling with God
Breaking societal norms
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Travelling as husband and wife; today we know that Joseph took Mary to be his wife. We do not know when they were married, but the wording of Matthew's gospel seems clear that they were not yet married, but were "as" man and wife.
This seems like nothing in our modern world, there are so many people who live in committed loving relationships for decades without the need for marriage. But going back 2000 years and we would experience a very different reaction.
The community would know that Mary and Joseph were unmarried, not least because marriage was a cause for major celebration and could not have been missed accidentally. They would also know that Mary was expecting a child; you can't easily hide a swollen belly beyond 6 months. Yet Joseph takes Mary as his wife despite the fact that their community would in all likelihood treat her appallingly, and probably him as well.
Mary and Joseph’s actions show a commitment to follow God, a faithfulness to swim against the tide; they were pioneers. As a pioneer, I am inspired by Mary and Joseph and their faithfulness to follow God outside the accepted norms of society.
Father you tasked Mary and Joseph with the greatest of all undertakings knowing that it would be a hard process for them yet knowing no other way. We thank them for their part and ask to be reminded of this when we walk the pioneering paths in our own lives. Amen.
We're never alone Trust that God never leaves us Always by our side
And so we find ourselves without the gospels to guide us. There is a gap. A time when all Mary and Joseph had was Trust in God. No more angels are recorded as having visited; no more guidance seems to have been given. Mary, and Joseph had nothing but their faith in God and their own instincts and prayers to sustain them. Mary had to trust Joseph to protect and defend her as they trusted entirely on God's plans. My respect for Mary increases. And so, in this pause, let's think of times when we’ve felt abandoned and alone, away from God. Perhaps we felt in a desolate place with no guidance on hand. Perhaps we struggled with fear or anxiety. Then let's remember that God is always with us, we can trust that God never abandons us. Prayer Father you do not always seem so close, we do not always feel so connected to you. We sometimes find it hard to know how you can care for everyone all of the time. Yet we know it to be true. Thank you Lord for the reminder that you are ever present. Amen.
Destination yet unknown
Faith over fear
So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
We are back in Luke's gospel; back to the detail of Jesus’ birth. Soon we find ourselves in Bethlehem; but first Mary and Joseph must make their way there. Luke for some reason focuses on Joseph and I'm sure it was hard work for him to get to Bethlehem with his heavily pregnant wife to be; but what about Mary? 30 minutes in the car is no joke when you're expecting a baby, let alone several days or weeks on the back of a donkey.
Just imagine that! Yes, I really did say days or weeks. It wasn't just around the corner, or even the next town; it was a massive journey across a country and it would have been a long hard slog.
Luke's account of the journey doesn't mention there being no room at the inn until after the birth, but for ease of understanding and chronology I'm including it.
Mary is sore and weary after a long and uncomfortable journey at the late stages of pregnancy. She must have been looking forward to a bed, a proper meal and some time to rest, but no such luck. There was no room at the inn, at any inn, so they took a warm dry place instead, possibly with the animals. I'm guessing just being out of the elements would have been comfort enough, but not exactly what she'd have expected for the labouring of her first born.
Father, life is not always what we hope for or expect; the journey can be long and tiring and the destination more hostile than comforting. Today we're reminded that we need to worry less about the how and what, than the why and when as we follow you. Amen.
God lightens the load
Welcome to week three of this advent journey with Mary. This week we look at parenting on the other side, other side of pregnancy that is. We follow Mary, Joseph and Jesus through the first weeks and months of being together as a family.
Luke 2:6 "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son."
Doesn't Luke make birth of a first born baby sound easy. My experience is not quite as simple as that, but don't worry I'm not going down that path.
Mary is a mother; she has her son in her arms. She knows the immense joy of motherhood, the miracle of life, the weight of her task as a mother. I know those feelings, I can feel them like it was yesterday rather than 16 years ago, it is truly amazing and completely overwhelming.
Father and Mother of us all, as we sit with Mary in the joy of new motherhood we experience the joy you must feel with each new life on earth. Remind us of this joy you have in us every day. Amen.
Mother of Jesus Resourceful, strong and gentle Perfectly chosen Luke 2:7 She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. I have always loved this verse; it's so gentle, so beautiful and so strong. There was no room in the inn, but Mary didn't let that stop her caring for her newborn infant. She didn't shout, scream, rant or rave; she just got on with her new job as a mother, despite the situation. I will let you into a secret, a badly kept secret; I'm a ranter and raver. I find it extremely hard to keep my emotions inside for very long and often find them spilling out into a rant. Who do I rant at? God! Yes, I rant to God in my prayers quite often. I used to hold a lot of guilt about it, but I know God would rather I rant in prayer than rant at people who don't deserve it. If I had been in Mary's position I would not have simply wrapped Jesus in cloths and placed him in a manger; I would have ranted about the situation my beautiful boy was born in. Luckily I have been chosen for many tasks for God, but not this one! And that's the point that's with me today. Mary was chosen for her specific qualities to be the mother of Jesus; she was resourceful, strong, gentle and calm; everything she needed at the birth and throughout the years as she mothered the messiah. Prayer Father God you are the only one who knows us inside and out, completely; we ask for more acceptance of that as we follow your calling on our lives. It isn't always easy to follow where you ask us to go but we are today reminded that you have excellent reasons and we should trust them.
Everyone welcomed Included, loved and valued No one excluded Luke 2:8-20 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” I love the shepherds section of the nativity tableau, it ticks all the boxes of wonder and awe with the ordinary people being central to the message and meaning. Shepherds had one of the hardest lives of all people in biblical times; they were some of the lowest in society and discarded as those who lived with the animals. They lived with the herds for weeks and months at a time, protecting them from wild animals and ensuring that they survived the elements. This meant living in the wild, far from communities and families. They were uneducated and of very little worth; yet God chose them to be the first people told of Jesus' birth. I have read many accounts and interpretations of the shepherds and the reason for them being chosen over the years; the majority of which conclude that the choice of shepherds is confirmation of the proof of the birth of a messiah; after all any fabrication would have chosen a holy man of importance. I however prefer to think of the shepherds being the first to be told not as a way of providing historical proof, but as a demonstration of how Jesus was born for all people of the world, even the lowest in society. God chose to send the angels to tell the shepherds as a sign that Jesus was for all people, of all time, no matter how they are seen by their communities. God showed that human value is of nothing to Him, He values us all as we are. I love the fact that "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart". She held the visit from the shepherds as a treasured occurrence; it spoke deeply to her and she held it in her heart. I wonder what that means; perhaps she saw that God was choosing the lowly and the excluded and this showed how deep her son's task would be. Perhaps she realised how wide God's net was being cast and therefore how broad Jesus' ministry would be. Perhaps she basked in the pure joy of a celebration of Jesus' birth despite it being lowly and quiet; God was showing how great it was to Him. Whatever it was, she treasured it and thought on it and no doubt this was part of the birth story she told to Jesus in the years of his childhood. Prayer Lord of all, we thank you for reminding us that Jesus came for everyone. We are more than good enough to receive your grace, love and forgiveness and for this we give thanks. Remind us to treat those who are excluded from society with the same depth of love that you do.
Live without worry
Praying peace into each day
With God's help
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Jesus was born into a Jewish family and as such was brought to the temple on his eighth day; he was circumcised, named and presented to the Lord. Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem, and this was the site of much of Jesus' major milestones through his life. A sacrifice was offered according to Jewish Law and birds were sacrificed.
I normally glance over these few verses and head straight to Simeon, but today I've been struck by the sacrificial offering; it seems so small compared to most Jewish sacrifices. Never before have I heard anything about this but upon research it appears that it is indeed small, it is the sacrifice allowed for poor families who cannot afford a lamb. This is another confirmation of the low standing and ordinary-ness of the family into which Jesus was born; he was born into a family of love and strength rather than wealth and status.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.”
Today the part of this meeting with Simeon which sits most with me is instead Simeon's words to Mary "a sword will pierce your own soul too".
As a mother I know all too well about the sword which is forever close to your heart when you become a parent; you are always close to being wounded as you do anything to protect your child from hurt and disappointment. But Mary was to know this so much more than any of us hopefully will; she saw Jesus rejected, persecuted, tortured and committed to a death sentence. But of course we know this as we look back knowing the entirety of Jesus' life story; Mary did not. I wonder whether she was hurt or shocked by Simeon's comment; perhaps it stayed with her for many years to make sense later, or maybe it passed her by, we will never know.
What we do know is that Mary and Joseph apparently left, went home and Jesus grew strong and full of God's grace.
Father God, you are across all time and space, you know what is to come and why. We can only live in today, trying not to worry about the future. Help us Lord to remain in the day as Mary must have done.
Another surprise Maji guided by God bring gifts Does God surprise you? Matthew 2: 1-12 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” We are back to Matthew's gospel since Luke makes no mention of the Maji at all; as we saw yesterday Luke ends the nativity account with Jesus growing up strong. Reading through the researched chronology of the nativity it seems clear that the Wise Man would have arrived many months after Jesus was born, possibly a year or more. In fact Matthew uses the term "child" which certainly hints at Jesus being beyond infancy. Of course it doesn't really matter when, what matters is that they came. Wise men came, from the east, from lands thousands of miles away. They came following a star which they had not seen before and which was a sign for them that a new king and ruler was being born. These were not Jewish people, they knew nothing of a Jewish Messiah; they knew only that a star was showing the arrival of a great leader and they went to meet him. Again God uses those from outside the society of religious order to confirm the Messiah's birth; again Mary is visited by those who she would not normally meet. We don't know whether anyone else was with Mary and Jesus; perhaps Jesus had younger siblings by this time; who knows. I imagine that it was an ordinary day when suddenly some strange looking people arrived to visit Jesus; what a shock, another! They presented gifts, rich and rare gifts fit for a king. Mary would have known the meaning, she would have seen another confirmation of Jesus' importance as Messiah to the whole world. I wonder how Mary reacted; was she shocked, was she fearful? How did Jesus react? Prayer Jesus, king of all, we are often surprised in our faith and by the God-incidences in life, today we are reminded of how many of these Mary had and we rejoice with her. Day 20
Delivered in faithful ways
Prayerful acceptance Matthew 2:13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” The maji have left, avoiding Herod and his desire to kill any future threat; and now it is time to rescue the holy family. Joseph is visited by an angel again and told to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt and stay there until it's safe. I have learned enough from Mary over the last three weeks to have an inkling that this might not have gone down that well. It is likely that she would have had at least one more child by this time and that leaving her community and support networks would have been a tricky prospect. I verge onto the heretic as I wonder whether she would have queried Joseph; after all the previous instructions were given to her as well as Joseph and this time she was having to follow his lead. On the other hand, she would no doubt have realised what danger Jesus might be in as the Messiah of the Jewish people, the future leader of a nation. She would have wanted to keep him safe and would have been pleased to have received guidance to make that happen. This is one of these places where I long for more relational detail from the Bible, more details from which a greater picture could emerge. But what we know is that the family follows the instructions of the angel and flea, keeping Jesus and their whole family safe. Prayer Father; today we are reminded that you work in many ways to keep us safe. Help us to spot you in people who carry your wisdom and advice to save us from harm. Amen.
Searching for safety Travelling across nations Refugees welcome Matthew 2:19-23 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.” Matthew jumps us on a good few years for the next step on the Holy Family's journey. They had fled to Egypt but now that Herod has died they can return safely to Israel with Jesus. However they did not go to the area of Judea as they had planned; instead they returned to their home town of Nazareth. Mary has been travelling around a large area, pushed from pillar to post for her own safety and that of her son Jesus. She must have been pleased to be returning into her home land and possibly relieved to be actually going back to Nazareth. Home has such a special feeling doesn't it; it's safe and known and nurturing. But after the several years of moving it is doubtful that Mary thought they would be in Nazareth to stay; she must have been ready for the next steps where God would lead them and keep them safe. I'm struck today by all the travelling that Mary, Joseph and Jesus did across nations. They were refugees, searching for safety. I wonder how that fact might settle with you when you think of the refugees on the move around the world? We all deserve a safe place to call home and yet there is hostility towards refugees in many parts of society. Where would Mary, Joseph and Jesus find themselves in your community? In a processing centre? Dumped in a hotel disconnected from community? In a refugee camp? At a border? On a tiny boat sinking without help?
Prayer Father we trust you to keep us safe but sometimes we just long to settle in our own homes, safe and secure and quiet in our lives. We rejoice that Jesus spent his formative years in his family home town and that Mary could share her community with him. We pray today for refugees who are searching for safe places to call home. Amen.
Jesus, God on earth
Knows our joys, frustrations, hurts
Welcome to the final week, week four of this advent journey with Mary. This week we focus on her important task of Messiah mothering.
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”
Luke tells us throughout about Mary but nothing about her mothering of the messiah.
Yet we know that..... Mary mothered Jesus.
She woke him each morning. She helped him to get dressed. She prepared his breakfast. She chased him off to school or to work with his father. She picked him up when he fell over. She kissed his hands when they were cut or sore. She worried about him when he was sad. She laughed with him in his joy. She washed him and nurtured him. And she tucked him into bed at night. She mothered him.
She would also have introduced him to the scriptures. She would have helped him understand the community they lived in. She would have modelled human relationships. She would have helped him learn about life around him. She mothered him.
And then, when he was 12 years old, Mary thought they’d lost him in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but eventually he was found in the temple in Jerusalem. And for the first time Jesus turned to his parents and said “didn’t you know I’d be in my Father’s house?”
Can you imagine how that would have felt for Mary?
Her son, her boy; yet not JUST her boy, not any ordinary boy. He was Divine.
And he was separating from her sphere of influence, from her ability to teach him, from her physical presence. So we are reminded of the two sides of Mary’s mothering. Both joy and sorrow. As parents we all experience both, but Mary so much more than most of us, hopefully, go through.
Father God, we are reminded that Mary was called to mother Jesus as any other mother, but that Jesus was not just any child, he was always divine. We thank you that you came to Earth to live as we live, experience our lives and therefore know us completely. Amen
Prompted by Mary
Jesus’ first miracle
Who mentors you?
“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
... What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
The next time we meet Mary in the Gospels is at the wedding in Cana as written about by John in the verses above. Mary was the one who prompted the first miracle; the turning of water into wine. She didn't ask Jesus if he was ready; she didn't suggest that he might do something special; she just told Jesus the facts of the situation and he acted.
Then, in front of everyone, Mary told the disciples to do whatever Jesus told them. She completely ignored Jesus' chastising of her; she overruled him, pushing him into performing a public miracle; he allowed Mary to lead him, despite not wishing to.
This raises so many questions for me:
- how did Mary know Jesus could perform miracles?
- had Jesus actually done something miraculous before?
- had Mary and Jesus had conversations about his ministry and calling?
- what had changed their relationship that he would tell his mother off so publicly?
I wish the Bible had answers to these questions, but obviously the gospel writers didn't think these questions were important. We will never know what might have happened before this first recorded miracle.
Father God, we might find it hard to know what we are capable of and wonder when we should do your work. We ask today that you help us to hear your promptings more in our lives. Amen.
Overwhelming grief Carried in companionship Jesus holds our pain John 19:25-27 "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home." There at the annunication, pregnancy and birth, there throughout childhood, there to find him when he was lost at the temple, there at the first miracle and then..... well then nothing until the crucifixion, at the foot of the cross; there again we find Mary. What greater sadness is there than outliving your child; let alone seeing them suffer and die in pain. My heart goes out to Mary, my heart breaks for her at the way she saw him suffer and die. What torture for her to live through. Mary was the only human at Jesus' birth and his death; there at the start and the end, and the actual end as we will see later this week. She was chosen by God for a huge task and she had to cope with the joy as well as the suffering through this. I know her pain; I feel her breaking heart and I stand alongside her every Good Friday in her grief. But as John shows in these gospel verses; Jesus did not leave her passive in her grief. Before he left his human life he tasked Mary with mothering and caring for John - the first priest. Jesus trusted Mary to hold John safe through his ministry. He also tasked John to care for Mary; they became a family, a team. Jesus made sure Mary was not alone when he died, and he also made sure that her calling would continue. Prayer Jesus we remember today that you were born to live, to minister and then to die as a man. We are reminded of the pain that your mother Mary must have felt and ask that you be alongside all those who are suffering or grieving. Amen.
Jesus, God, Lord of all
Baby boy no more
There is no account of Jesus visiting Mary after his resurrection. It has always struck me as strange that there is no account of Mary meeting with Jesus in the forty days of his resurrection. But does that mean it didn't happen?
If the gospel writers don't include any encounter of Mary with Jesus, then perhaps this is more to do with Mary's being Jesus' mother and therefore being less useful as proof against those who denied the Lord's Resurrection. Or maybe no one knew that Jesus visited with Mary.
I find it hard to believe that Mary would have not been visited by Jesus; she was so much a part of his life on earth that surely he would have visited with her and reassured her. I like to think he would but we will never know.
Jesus we celebrate your resurrection, the centre of our faith; and the proof that you are indeed Lord our God. We do not know all the people you visited and whether this included your mother Mary, but we know that you were ever present for her as you are for us. Amen.
Alive in the world
Leading us daily
Acts 1:6-10, 1:12-14 and 2:1-3
"Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them."
These passages from Acts, probably written by Luke, detail the ascension and coming of the holy spirit at Pentecost. There is no mention of Mary being present at the ascension, but as with the resurrection this does not mean she was not there. However she is back in the accounts in the room in Jerusalem, where they went after the ascension, when the Holy Spirit came and filled them. Mary was one of the group that were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues; she was one of those we remember at Pentecost.
These verses in Acts are fascinating because they also refer to "the women", pointing to the fact that there were women in the circle of those forming the new church. Although they were not individually named, as the men are, they were clearly there. This is a continuation of the value of women in the ministry of Jesus and in the early church.
Mary was there at the birth and death of Jesus and there when the Holy Spirit filled those who were to start the Christian church; Mary was and is essential to our faith.
Father God. as we leave Mary at Pentecost, the last known detail of her life, we thank you for her calling and her ability to follow you where she was needed. We ask that you help us do whatever you need us to and to know that the Holy Spirit is with us. Amen.
Bring God your sorrow Find light hidden in darkness A beacon of hope We are at the penultimate day of our advent journey with Mary, we've seen her from the annunciation to the start of the church. We've walked with her, laughed with her and cried with her. Today and tomorrow I want to revisit the joy and sorrow of Mary. She had so much to deal with, more sorrow than any mother should face; but she coped, made it through. In fact she did so much more than survive, she thrived and never turned her back on God and His plan. We only need to turn to the news to be reminded of the sorrows of our world. We experience sadness, fear, loss and desperation. But like Mary we can survive and thrive with God's help. Prayer Father we bring before you all those who are in sorrow today and we ask that you comfort them and help them find their way through the darkness. Amen