From the time I was old enough to help out my mother, my mom had a favored topic of conversation: pregnancy. She had trouble conceiving – so I grew up hearing about how I was her miracle child. I was conceived late in her life. And as I grew up, she told me how she related to the matriarchs of old. She told me she was like Sarah, who wanted a child. But it wasn’t until Sarah accepted the child God wanted that she bore one. She told me she was like Hannah, who wanted a child so bad that she was accused of being drunk as she prayed for a son. So my mother, being a godly woman, prayed that same prayer Hannah prayed. She asked for a child that was within God’s plan. Not for one that she wanted. I was the result and my name is Mary.
Not only did I grow up hearing about my mother’s barrenness – but I also heard about it from my cousin Elizabeth who we visited every year after the barley harvest. Although Elizabeth is my cousin, she is my mother’s age – the child of my mother’s oldest sister. And Elizabeth and my mother held something in common: they simply struggled to conceive.
And I always thought, to my very core, that I would be such a woman. A woman who struggled to bear children, just like my mother, just like my cousin It seemed to run in the family, so I learned from my mother that I should never pray for my own plan. Instead, she taught me how to meditate on what God would have for me. For I learned from my mother, and from Elizabeth that our God is a God who was especially glad to grant promised children, and promises to his people. Isaac was given to Sarah. A set of twins to Rebecca. Joseph to Rachel. Samson to Manoah. Samuel to Hannah. And I, although I’m nothing special, was given to my mother Ann.
That was my life for 13 years – stories of barren women, instruction on God and prayer from two devout women, and laughing at Elizabeth’s house.
But two years ago, things drastically changed when my mother, far older than most mothers, fell ill. She passed away quickly. I was 13, I was far too young to loose a mother. I was not yet a woman-grown. Elizabeth took care of me back then. My father had me spend much of the next year with her, more than just a few weeks after the barely harvest. And so, Elizabeth became so much more to me than a cousin. She became a second mother. And I become a child to her – a child she never had.
My life took another interesting turn one month ago, on my fifteenth birthday. I was told that I would conceive and bear a son – a son of the Most High. That even my cousin, Elizabeth was having a long-awaited child as well! The Lord looked upon little old me with favor. Why me? Maybe my mother’s teaching on prayer and accepting a life that God desired over your own really sunk into my soul more than I ever realized. For I had prayed this prayer my whole life – one that barren women of old had prayed. I just like many of them, I was given a divine message about a child – a promised child – a child that I would never have if I was in control of my life.
And my answer to that angel, an answer my mother taught me to prayer was: “I belong to the Lord. Let it be according to your will”. I wasn’t joyful when I accepted the message, but I wasn’t upset either. I simply accepted this as the plan for my life.
But then reality came crashing down on me. My father told me he was in discussions with the carpenter’s uncle – about marriage. I told my father that I didn’t want to get married yet – he didn’t know about the child! And I was too scared to tell him. The discussions continued anyway – I was to meet Joseph within days. Now, this baby was now becoming a complication– an inconvenience growing inside of me.
“Do not be afraid” Gabriel had said. But Gabriel wasn’t here anymore! What did he know! Gabriel wouldn’t start to show in the few months. But I would. Gabriel wouldn’t have people talking behind his back. I would. Horrible assumptions would not be made about Gabriel – but they would about me. What was I going to do? This prayer that I prayed all my life. This thing that I learned from my mother wasn’t actually working out so well. “Do not be afraid.” That’s easy when you are basking in the glow of the Holy Spirit. But what about now! All I wanted was my mother – to help me- to show me what to do.
So that’s when I made plans to visit Elizabeth. The hope and love I once felt for this child was slipping away in the wake of living in the actual world. I woke up each morning and had to face my father, my friends, my chores, my morning-sickness, my future husband – and I just couldn’t anymore!
When I got to Elizabeth’s house, I was a wreck. I forgot what it was like to hear God’s message all those weeks ago. All I saw now was that the world saw: an unwed teenage girl who fell into sin.
So when I finally saw Elizabeth, I burst into tears and I ran towards her and called out to her – but Elizabeth acted in the most peculiar way. Elizabeth didn’t come to embrace me. She stood where she was, grabbed her rounded belly and laughed as joy completely took over her face. She exclaimed that I was blessed, that my child was blessed. How did she even know? She called me the mother of her Lord. She mentioned that the baby inside of her leapt for joy when they heard my voice!
As she was saying this I cried. I sobbed. I bawled. I let out all the feelings that I had held within me for the last month. Elizabeth finally came to me and embraced me. And as we clung to one another we started to laugh – as Sarah laughed when she heard he would have a son. We laughed as Hannah laughed as she prayed for her son. We laughed and cried, and wiped each other tears, and whispered words of love. Because in that moment the Spirit was awash over us. For we were two women of different generations, of different walks of life, different sets of problems, different sorrows, different aches and pains, different fears. But we were unified in the same joy. The two of us knew something that no one else knew. We knew something that the rest of the world didn’t know. We were women who bore promised children of God – radical, never-before-seen children. We were on the inside looking out – and we knew that God was making something new.
And I looked into my dear cousin’s eyes, I realized God was asking me to embrace a new form of joy – a joy that gets beyond what I want, when I want it. A joy where I can embrace a life that is open to God’s intervention: a life that is open to His son. My son.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, or he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
For I carry a new joy within me. I now know something the rest of the world doesn’t know. For He, creation-altering joy, is here among us, even now, even though he isn’t born into our lives yet. But for those of us who receive him, as a pregnant woman receives her not-yet-child, can truly celebrate on a day like today. Joy doesn’t mean our life is easy. It doesn’t mean we will get what we want. It means we get morning sickness. It means we become betrothed at the most inconvenient time. It means our mothers die young, it means we retreat to family friends to recuperate. This is Joy: Joy is accepting this strange God and letting him surprise you along the way.
So are you receiving Him this season? Or do you reject him as the world does? Is this season one where you turn over the darkness in your life to light? Or is it a season of decorating a house? Is this a season where you examine Christ coming into your life in a new way, as he is coming into mine? Or do you spend your time worrying over perfect cookies, and perfect presents? Do you don your life in the red and green of the world? Or do you wait for him in purple and pink? Do you know that Joy is kindled this season? For it is kindled in me!
Are you waiting for the Christ? If so, today is a day of celebration, one that the world won’t understand. But for those of us who are willing to receive a plan that is not ours. For those of us willing to say, “I belong to the Lord, let it be according to your will”. We celebrate, and we wait.
For too long, I have looked at this child the way the world looks at him. An inconvenience, an oddity, a complication.
But I know what he really is. He is Joy. Are you able to celebrate on this day? Are you waiting with me? Joy is coming. Are you anticipating? He is here – just not yet.