During my most recent reading of the events leading up to the birth of the Christ, this passage lingered in my thoughts. I could not help but wonder wonder, did Mary always feel blessed? Did these words of Elizabeth's echo in her memory on the day when she had to reveal her pregnancy to her betrothed, who without a doubt believed that his Mary had been unfaithful, since he considered putting her aside? It was certainly a blessing that he did not divorce her, sparing her the shame and hardship of raising the baby alone at a time when there was no daycare and no part-time job for single mothers. But during the journey to Bethlehem, far into the least comfortable part of pregnancy, did she once again turn the word, "blessed" over and over in her mind as she trudged the weary miles? I even wonder what her thoughts were as she gave birth in a dank and musty stable, very likely without the help of a midwife or even any experienced woman. Did the words of Gabriel, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" come to haunt her in those moments? I often think that, of all people on the earth, Mary must have some of the greatest reasons to wonder what it truly means to be blessed or favored of the Lord.
As I think of Mary's story in this light, I cannot help but recall the words of God as spoken through Isaiah: " 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways,' " It is easy for us to think of "blessings" in terms of wealth, health, ease, and material gain. However, this simply is not always the case. Mary was blessed among women, highly favored, and yet her life was marked with difficulty and hardship. There is no indication that she was a wealthy woman, nor was her Son's ministry one that lead to financial gain or elevation of status. Indeed, He even was quoted as saying He had no place to lay His head! However, she was in fact very blessed, as there is probably none on earth who had a bond to the King of Kings quite like hers. I have no doubts that all the trials and troubles of her life, all the sorrows that chased her as she watched her Son ridiculed and hated, and later beaten and brutally murdered, drew her ever closer to God. She began as a young woman saying, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. May it be to me according to your word." It is worthy of note that she began her journey in humility and surrender.
While we celebrate Christmas this year, let us remember that the blessings of God are not always designed for our comfort and delight. They are often designed to hone our faith, to sharpen our desire for Him, to remove self-righteousness and other useless baggage, and to bring about a state of complete and total reliance on the Almighty. Blessings are not meant for here and now, but to bring about the refining of our character in preparation for Eternity with the Lord.
Another of Mary's sons, James, tells us many years later, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." It is likely that he had grown up hearing stories of faith tested by anxiety and affliction that produced a steadfastness beyond what many of us can imagine! So let us resolve to celebrate not only the ups, but the downs. Let us celebrate the trials that show our mighty God's power blazing through our frailty. Let us be willing to embrace whatever blessings God sends our way, even if they do not look like blessings at the time, and rejoice that He can turn our sorrow into joy. May we each have a truly blessed Christmas!
"I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33