Image Credit: Konstantinos Mavroudis via CC
I am reading through the Christmas narrative in my Bible as I work on a Christmas writing project. It feels kind of weird to do it in August. But hey, if my little brother Andrew can record a Christmas album in August, I can write a Christmas book. (Andrew-Greer.com – How about that for a shameless Greer family plug?!).
As I read Mary’s journey with fresh eyes, I’ve thought long and hard about just how crazy of an experience it must have been.
Imagine being told by an angel that you would play a major role in God’s plan for the world; while you were still a teenager. And imagine that plan including an out-of-wedlock pregnancy in a society that stoned women for unmarried sexual activity.
With just those two things in mind, would you have believed that an angel actually appeared to you? Never mind that the angel said you were going to have a baby without ever having sex. And never mind that this unbelievable miracle baby was supposed to save the world. Would you have trusted what you heard?
If it were me, I would have been vacillated between laughing out loud and throwing up, and I would have serious doubts about my own sanity. As soon as my teenage eyes saw an angel, my Texas-accented inner monologue would have said, “It’s time for a rest, partner – you’ve been out in the sun too long.”
There is little doubt that Mary experienced questions and doubt similar to ours. One difficulty I have as a Christ-follower is understanding the difference between the Holy Spirit’s instruction and my own voice rattling around in my head.
I believe the God of Scripture is indeed the “Living God,” but I’ve never felt his physical touch or heard his audible voice. But I am reminded by Scripture that prior to his birth, Mary had no physical experience with Jesus either.
So how did she know the message was truly from God and was not just going crazy? The same way we do, I think: by internal calling and external confirmation.
Remember Mary’s immediate response to the angel’s pregnancy announcement? She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38) Before Jesus was born, Mary was already a follower of God. She was learning to know God’s inner calling.
Jesus once said, “I know my own sheep, and they know me…My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:14, 27) Mary was a fine example of a sheep who knew God’s voice, God’s inner calling.
Then there’s the external confirmation part of Mary’s story. Today in my Christmas readings I reached Luke 2:21-35 where this fella Simeon runs in to Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in the temple. As it turns out, God promised Simeon that he “would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (vs 26) When he saw little Jesus, he recognized him as God’s promised One and couldn’t help but burst into praise and prophecy over the new family.
Simeon was just one example of God’s gift of people to confirm our Mary’s calling. Here’s how it went:
- An angel told Mary she would have a son, Jesus. (Luke 1:26-38)
- Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, was told the same thing: also by an angel. (Matthew 1:18-25)
- Elizabeth, filled by the Spirit of God, confirmed that Mary’s unborn child was the Lord. (Luke 1:39-45)
But wait! There’s more. Confirmation continued to flood over Marry well after Jesus was delivered.
- The Spirit of God the message to Mary through Simeon, a devout man of God. (Luke 2:25-35)
- The very next passage reveals Anna, a prophet in the Temple, also confirmed God’s work in Mary. (Luke 2:36-40)
- Jesus’ birth was announced by a choir of angels. (Luke 2:8-14)
- Astrologers arrived to worship Jesus after a brilliant star led them to the manger. (Matthew 2:9-11).
- 12 year Jesus amazed the religious teachers in the temple with his wisdom. (Luke 2:41-52)
- His ministry began when John the Baptist, a prophet of God, identified Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
- Even demons recognized and confirmed Jesus’ identity as God. (Matthew 9:28-34)
The internal message God gives is an external message God confirms.
But here’s the catch – we have to be involved in a community of other Jesus followers to receive God’s external confirmation. And that part is hard. It means we need to be around the people of God (Where were Mary, Joseph and Jesus when Simeon recognized them? At the Temple). We must get to know and trust other people and help them know and trust us.
We must share what we believe God is doing in our lives so it can be confirmed, sharpened, or even rejected.
There is a ton more to say about this. The community piece is only the tip of the iceberg. But Mary’s story is helpful in at least beginning to understand the ways God communicates and confirms his will for us.
What do you think?
I challenge you to choose someone you know well and who is faithful to God, and ask them to tell you what they see God doing in your life. Don’t put them on the spot. Rather, ask them to prayerfully think about it and get back to you. When they do, compare it to what you feel God is personally calling you to do or be.
I also challenge you to be aware of the community of God around you, proactively listen to the Spirit of God, and encourage what you see God doing in them. Remember, if you do not act as part of their external confirmation when God prompts you to, how will they know their internal calling is of God?
God is moving in faithful Jesus-followers all around you. Are you involved in a community of them? And what is it like?