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Women World Leaders' Podcast

Dec 22, 2023

Sometimes God calls us to do difficult, even seemingly impossible things, but what could’ve been more overwhelming than an unmarried teenage girl being tasked with raising the Savior of the World?  Just as God’s grace enabled her to receive, raise and release her first born son, His grace will carry us through life’s most formidable challenges.


Welcome to Celebrating God’s Grace, a Women World Leaders podcast. I’m your host, Julie Harwick. Thank you for joining me today as we celebrate God’s grace in our lives, in this ministry and around the world.

I love every aspect of Christmas. But what I love most is to contemplate the mysterious, wonderous way God chose to send His Son into the world and the woman He chose to be His mother. The Messiah that God’s people had been longing for over the centuries  finally arrived in a way no one would have ever predicted. There were only two witnesses to the moment when God set aside His divinity to put on human flesh as a completely helpless newborn baby. A frightened, inexperienced girl with her equally frightened and inexperienced new husband were the only humans aware that God had come to earth to rectify everything that had gone wrong. What probably seemed to Mary and Joseph, the worst possible timing was in fact, carefully planned. Had they not had to go to Bethlehem at exactly this time, Jesus would’ve been born in the ordinary way…in a bed, in a house with midwives and mothers reassuring Mary and taking charge.  There would have been no stable or manger, no shepherds hurrying to witness the miracle and no need for a star to light their way. It would’ve been just another birth in the city of Nazareth.  In her moments of fear and pain, Mary probably longed to have her mother, or any kind-hearted woman there to tell her what to do, reminding her of the joy that would soon be hers. But God very deliberately only allowed her two sources of comfort and direction, the very ones she would continue to depend on in the years to come…God Himself and her husband, Joseph. Luke 2 :18 tells us that Mary, “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  I have to believe that some of what she was pondering was how God orchestrated the time and place of His birth.

 Mary seemed to have a better than average understanding of how highly God values humility. When her cousin, Elizabeth, blessed her for believing in the promise she was given, she immediately turned the praise to God. In what is known as “Mary’s Song,” in Luke 1:47-52 she tells Elizabeth, “How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For He took notice of His lowly servant girl, and from now on, all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and He has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear Him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.”  I wonder if those words came back to her as she surveyed her very humble surroundings while her labor pains intensified. No doubt she would have preferred a cleaner, less smelly, and more comfortable place to deliver the Son of God, but she seems like the sort of girl who would realize that the location was exactly what God intended.

Mary’s natural humility may have also caused her to ponder the question, “Why me?” While she was clearly honored to have been chosen and recognized the importance of the role she was about to play, she would never have sought it for herself.  After all, it hadn’t been easy.  Joseph had found it impossible to believe her story about her encounter with the angel Gabriel – until he experienced a similar visit himself.  He had been prepared to divorce her quietly and send her away, believing that was the kindest and only option available to him. As a man of his day, he probably experienced the same snubs, whispers and social ostracization that Mary did. Both Mary and Joseph had already paid a costly price for their assignment when they prepared to deliver the King of Kings in a dusty, drafty stable.

 Anyone who’s given birth to a child can tell you that the realization of the journey you’re about to begin is a cause for lots of pondering. What will this child be?  Do you have what it takes to give him everything he needs to become a well-adjusted human being?  Will she forgive the mistakes you make along the way? Would this child have been better off with someone stronger, smarter, more resourceful…better? Surely Mary had all of those thoughts as she held her newborn son, but there was a whole added dimension to consider.  How could it be that this baby, created in her and carried by her for the last nine months, had existed since before time began and had witnessed and carefully planned not only her creation, but every moment of her life?

At the conclusion of the Christmas story in Luke 2, there’s an account of Joseph and Mary taking baby Jesus to the temple for His dedication as the law of Moses required. Here they encountered an old man named Simeon who had spent his lifetime watching for the coming Messiah. In a rare instance of the Holy Spirit speaking to men before Christ’s coming, he was assured that he would not see death before laying his eyes on the Promised One. When he encountered the new parents and their divine baby, he instantly knew that he had laid eyes on the Messiah and he began to prophesy. “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word,” he said.  Luke 2 doesn’t say this, but I imagine after a lifetime of waiting, he had tears in his eyes and that his voice faltered as he said,” For my eyes have seen Your salvation, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel.” Verse 33 says that Joseph and Mary were amazed at the things being said about Jesus.  Simeon blessed them and spoke directly to Mary, saying, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed. And a sword will pierce even your own soul.” How much more did Mary have to ponder after their encounter with Simeon? “A sign to be opposed?”  What could that mean?  It certainly didn’t sound good.  “And a sword would pierce her soul?”  Mary was told that her Son would save His people from their sins, but she wasn’t told how. Was her woman’s intuition filled with foreboding, knowing that somehow this child’s future would cause her soul to be pierced? She must have struggled with dark thoughts about this throughout His 33 years.  When the angel Gabriel told her that she was to give birth to the Messiah, her response was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”  To say that when faced with the prospect of such an overwhelming assignment reveals a heart that trusts God…no matter what.  Undoubtedly, she had to remind herself that she could trust Him, again and again when the dark thoughts assaulted her.

The only story of Jesus as a child in the bible occurs when He was 12-years-old. Scripture tells us that the entire family made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Apparently they travelled as part of a large group, including other family members, friends and neighbors because Mary and Joseph had been on the road for a full day before they realized Jesus was nowhere to be found. They had assumed that He was walking with some of the other boys His age or a favorite relative or family friend. When they realized He was missing, they did the only thing they knew to do …return to where they had last seen Him… in Jerusalem.  If you've never experienced the unmatched panic of temporarily losing a child, I can tell you from personal experience, it is terrifying. We once lost our 4-year-old son on the very crowded lido deck of a cruise ship for about 3 minutes.  He was at the end of the line of our four children and then he was gone. I can’t even describe the relief I felt when the cruise director announced that a little boy was looking for his family within minutes of us realizing he had disappeared. Poor Mary and Joseph had to go for days, rather than minutes, not knowing if they would ever find their son. With each step, I wonder if Mary questioned if God could still think so highly of her now that she’d lost the long-awaited Messiah He had entrusted to her care? Her desperate panic gave way to incredible relief when she spotted Him in the temple, listening to the teachers, asking questions and discussing the scriptures. Like any mother, her first words to Him could be expressed in modern language as, “how could you do this to me?”  She said, “Your father and I have been looking for You, and the literal translation is , “in pain.” His response gave her still more to ponder. “Why were you searching for me,” He asked in genuine curiosity. “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” The next verse repeats the phrase we saw earlier in Luke 2.  Once again, Mary ponders these things in her heart. Did she note that Jesus referred to his Father’s house as the temple in Jerusalem, not their simple home in Nazareth? Was this an indication that her son knew exactly Who He was and what He must prepare to do? Perhaps when they had resumed living in Nazareth she had chosen to set aside thoughts of the future and simply enjoy the gift of a beloved son.  Did this newly evident maturity in her boy cause the dark thoughts to creep back into her mind?

What did she think the day her 30-year-old son gave her a farewell embrace and headed away from Nazareth to begin His ministry? Did she wonder if she would ever see Him again? Did it cross her mind that His leaving could mean that the moment that would pierce her soul might be coming soon?  When she heard about His miracles and all the people who traveled so many miles to hear Him speak, she must’ve been filled with pride and wonder, but also questions of where it would lead.  She had a front row seat, the day He read from the Torah in their own temple, telling His former neighbors that the scripture predicting the coming Messiah had been fulfilled in their midst. The idea that the young man they’d known since He was a child could be their long-awaited Messiah, was incomprehensible to them and provoked what they considered holy outrage. Terror must have gripped her as they gathered around Him with stones in their hands, ready to carry out the sentence for blasphemy.  When He simply disappeared from view, no doubt she was simultaneously relieved and awe-struck.

We can’t begin to imagine what she felt three years later as she sat at the foot of the cross with the image of His bloodied, lifeless body blurred by more tears than she thought she could contain. At last, she knew the meaning of Simeon’s prophecy that a sword would pierce her soul, even as it now pierced His side.

Mary was called to do the impossible. She had to bear the shame of being considered an immoral woman, when in fact, it was evidence that she was favored by God. She bore the responsibility of protecting and preparing a child Who came to do the most extraordinary, necessary thing in the history of the world. And most impossible of all, she had to let go of her preconceived ideas of what the Messiah would do and trust her heavenly Father, Who was also her earthly Son, to bring about His intended purposes in spite of the utterly hopeless situation she saw before her. When she thought back to the many things she had heard Him say, was one of them, “With man, this is impossible.  But with God, all things are possible.”

You may be facing your own impossible task right now. You, or a loved one may have just received a life-threatening diagnosis. You may be raising a child with special needs and you find that it takes far more energy than you have. Perhaps you’re facing financial or marital difficulties…or both. Maybe God has called you to start a business or ministry and you have no idea where or how to begin. You may have a wayward child that is lost with no desire to be found or your children may be thriving as they take their places in the world, but it’s left you feeling lost and without purpose. You may be questioning if you can survive this Christmas because it’s the first one you’ve had to endure without a loved one who was an integral part of every celebration.  Whatever impossible situation you are facing, God’s grace will sustain you, lead you, comfort you and enable you.  The most basic definition of grace is unmerited favor.  There’s that word favor again, which takes us back to Mary. Why was she chosen?  Because she found favor with God. Her trust in Him brought His favor, or better understood, His grace upon her enabling her to carry out the impossible tasks He set before her.  As you think back on that first Christmas, let her story remind you of all God can accomplish through you by His grace.

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