I'm working on a proposal for a new nonfiction book that I hope will encourage you in your life journey with Jesus. (No title yet ... I'll let you know when I come up with something better than "Think of Really Good Title"). Anyway, here are some ideas I'm working with for the new nonfiction book proposal. See what you think! ...
So, is your life going just as you hoped and planned? No? Well, me neither. In fact, when people ask me for a sentence that defines my life I tell them it's this: "Your plans? Ha ha!" says God.
But I also find that I'm in good company. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If there's anyone whose life was the opposite of her hopes and plans, it was hers. Yet, I also think about the wonder she witnessed. Both wonder and disappointment. Beauty and sorrow. She touched it. Lived it. Embodied the journey of us all.
There she was, engaged, planning on a nice, quiet, happy life. And boom, an angel appears. Forget your plans, he says, God’s got different ones. You’re having a baby, and it's not gonna be your husband’s. You get to have God’s son. I suspect being unwed and pregnant was soooo not part of her plans!
But Mary reacts pretty well to the change of her plans. “I’m God’s servant,” she says. And then we get her whole prayer praising God in Luke 1:46-55 that we like to read at Christmas time.
But it doesn't stop there. She’s coming up on 9 months pregnant and what should happen but a decree – she has to go to Bethlehem. A long trip on the back of a donkey. I’ve been 9 months pregnant, so I can you tell you that there’s no way that a trip like that was a part of Mary’s plans. Couldn't God make it a little easier? Couldn't He intervene?
No. And worse yet, when they get to Bethlehem, they can’t even get a room. (Side note: We always translate the Greek word as “inn” in our English versions of the Bible, as if there’s some sort of Motel 6 there in Bethlehem. But that word is usually used for a guest room in a relative’s house. So, it could be that Joseph went to his relative’s house there in Bethlehem and found that other relatives were there first and had taken up all the space. I wonder if it was because they had to travel slowly because of Mary’s condition that there was no place for them once they got there?) I also wonder if they were thinking that surely God would provide a room for them, a nice place to have that baby that was supposed to be God’s son. But no. A stable. And not one of those cute, clean little “stables” like we have in our nativities at Christmas. Think poop, flies, and stink.
Eventually, the magi come. Now, that’s more like it. Gold. Frankincense . Myrrh. Gifts fit for a king. At last! Except that no sooner do they leave than the soldiers come. And they aren't bearing gifts. They're bearing swords, ready to kill all the baby boys. Talk about a nightmare. And Mary and Joseph have to run off to Egypt, a foreign country, where they’re all alone. Mary's hopes, Mary's plans, ruined again.
In time, they come back to Israel, and we get one story in the Bible about Jesus as a youth. One single story. And what’s he doing? Yep, giving his mom grief. At twelve, he stays behind in Jerusalem, and gives his mom the scare of her life. That sure wasn’t a dream come true for her. If you've lost a kid in a store, you can get a taste of the panic Mary must have been feeling.
And if that’s not enough, her son grows up. Now, if I were the mom of God’s son, I’d be dreaming of some big stuff. In fact, you can see some of Mary’s plans in her original prayer –
--bringing down rulers, maybe she’s thinking of Rome,
--helping the humble,
--bringing abundance, food, to the hungry,
--bringing glory to Israel like they once had.
But instead, her son is wandering around homeless riling everybody up. So much so that she and some of Jesus’ brothers have to go to talk some sense into him. And when she gets there, does Jesus say, “Mom, great to see you! Come on in, sit by me.”?? Noooo. He says, “Who are mother and my brothers… These are my mother and my brothers,” as he points to other people around him – not to her. Jesus’ public ministry certainly wasn’t Mary’s dream come true.
And then, of course, comes the worst of all. Can you imagine it? Watching your first born son arrested, beaten, spat upon, and then nailed to a cross to die. Because where was Mary then? She was at the foot of the cross. Can you imagine standing there as the blood drips, and his anguished cries echo in your ears. Your son. The son you love. I can imagine nothing worse. Nothing more gut-wrenching and horrific. That was never, ever, ever in Mary’s plans. That was the greatest nightmare come true of all time.
AND YET… and here’s the most marvelous point of all. It is in that horrific moment, in that moment that encapsulates the very epitome of what it means for plans and hopes to go awry, to die – in that moment we find the most incredible, wondrous, breathtaking act of God of all time. It is the moment of redemption, of glory, of splendor, of the answer to all the prayers and hopes from the beginning of time until now. It is at that moment that we find the salvation of all mankind.
There, at the precise moment when all Mary’s hopes died. When all her plans came to nothing. That was the moment of answer. That was when truly the poor were provided for, a ruler of evil was overthrown, and mercy was given, just as she prayed all those years before. It was the moment of glory.
I think it may always be that way. That there, at the very place where our dreams don’t come true, where our expectations are shattered – that is where God is standing in the greatest power. Those are the moments, the places that change the world, where we find a depth and wonder deeper than we ever dared to dream.
Because, this I know for certain: the life God gives you is not the life you dreamed. It is the Kingdom of Heaven lived through you. It is wondrous. It is incredible. It is unexpected. And it is found at the foot of the cross.