The whole thing narrows and narrows, until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear -- a Jewish girl at her prayers.
It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all. Mary’s pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion...
The calling as great joy and great pain
I am amazed at the faith of Mary, her inner purity, her deep reservoir of courage, her resiliency and spiritual power. She strikes me as a slender oak tree, supple and bending with the wind and rain, but never to break…only to put down roots and provide shade for others, and life for her world.
She experienced the “sword that would pierce through her own soul,” the indescribable joy and pain of the calling…with such purity of spirit!
I see that spirit reflected in so few persons in our modern time [but I have seen it!]. We’ve jettisoned high spiritual relation for the comfort of family and religious forms, relegating calling to never-never land as a thing for priests and saints: we’ve created a humanistic spirituality where “others” do the real spiritual work for us, the intercession for a culture, and we escape to live self-centered lives like everyone else…yet we are such good Christians! After all, we go to church and are in “the Church,” are we not?
In the words of Kierkegaard, we subtly use religious form to destroy the true self. We escape to the crowd of family or church to lose the responsibility of being that integral self before God. Instinctively, we think there is too much pain in the call, so we try to manage it.
We cannot accept its joy because of the risk of pain.
But in the word of Philip Yancey, “often the work of God comes with two edges, great joy and pain,” and Mary embraced both.
She refused then, as she would refuse now, to accept the “advice” of a caring culture or family that would relieve her of her spiritual burden. And, in the process, she *just happened* to bring forth the Savior of the world.
But the process is one that should convict us: We look now and think, “Oh, isn’t she beautiful and faithful and spiritual!” but let’s be brutally honest – what would we have advised her with all our 'Christian wisdom ' today?
“Mary, God expects us to be normal and comfortable!” “Mary, all this talk of calling and angels and destiny…that is ok for childhood dreams, but this is the real world, you know!” "Mary, you've got to think of what this means for your career and for your family."
It is convicting and humbling and awe-inspiring at the same time.
But we need to look at the Annunciation, the birth of Jesus through new eyes. How much do we water down the plan of God in American Christendom, and call it the will of God, or at least “good choices?” Here, the plan of God leads a poor country girl through an unplanned pregnancy, through mysterious night callings, in a culture that stigmatized and stoned such indecorous actions…
Mary’s faithfulness to God countered prevailing wisdom…yet brought the Wisdom of the ages. Her faith sits in judgment of our culture and culturally comfortable advice that would reject the divine call for ‘normal life.’
Killing Christmas with human wisdom
Selection from Philip Yancey
Christmas art depicts Jesus’ family as icons stamped in gold foil, with a calm Mary receiving the tidings of the Annunciation as a kind of benediction. But that is not at all how Luke tells the story. Mary was “greatly troubled” and “afraid” at the angel’s appearance, and when the angel pronounced the sublime words about the Son of the Most High whose kingdom will never end, Mary had something far more mundane on her mind: But I’m a virgin!
In the modern United States, where each year a million teenage girls get pregnant out of wedlock, Mary’s predicament has undoubtedly lost some of its force, but in a closely knit Jewish community in the first century, the news an angel brought could not have been entirely welcome. The law regarded a betrothed woman who became pregnant as an adulteress, subject to death by stoning...
C. S. Lewis has written about God’s plan, “The whole thing narrows and narrows, until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear -- a Jewish girl at her prayers.”
Today as I read the accounts of Jesus’ birth I tremble to think of the fate of the world fate resting on the responses of [a] rural teenager... How many times did Mary review the angel’s words as she felt the Son of God kicking against the walls of her uterus? How many times did Joseph second-guess his own encounter with an angel – was it just a dream? – as he endured the hot shame of living among villagers who could plainly see the changing shape of his fiancée?
Malcolm Muggeridge observed that in our day, with family-planning clinics offering convenient ways to correct “mistakes” that might disgrace a family name,
It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all. Mary’s pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion; and her talk of having conceived as a result of the intervention of the Holy Ghost would have pointed to the need for psychiatric treatment, and made the case for terminating her pregnancy even stronger. Thus our generation, needing a Savior more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born.
The virgin Mary, though, whose parenthood was unplanned, had a different response. She heard the angel out, pondered the repercussions, and replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain, and in that matter-of-fact response Mary embraced both. She was the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms, regardless of the personal cost.
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 32.