In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, "Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!" Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. "Don't be frightened, Mary" the angel told her, "for God has decided to bless you! You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!"
Luke 1:26-33 New Living Translation
About five years ago, I was at an Advent retreat and our leader invited us to listen to a passage of scripture from Luke's gospel (vs 26-56) while she read it aloud several times. She asked us to listen with more than our ears. She invited us to close our eyes and engage all of our senses. What things do you see? What do you smell? What can you taste? What can you feel? What specific words or phrases do you hear?
It's an incredible exercise, and when a room full of fifty women begin to share the things that their minds have heard, seen, smelled, touched, and tasted, it truly makes scripture come alive!
On that particular day, one little phrase from the passage above stood out to me.
She was engaged to be married...
The engagement process is usually a time of excitement and planning towards a certain future. All of Mary and Jospeph's planning and everything they had looked toward was suddenly looking very different after Gabriel's visit. I'm pretty sure that having a baby wasn't part of their plan.
Just as clearly as that short phrase stood out to me every time the passage was read, I heard God whisper to me: "I want to interrupt your plans in order to birth life in you, Meredith".
I really don't like interruptions. Do you? When I first heard God speak those words to me, I was pretty much in the throes of depression. My husband of fifteen years had just resigned as co-pastor of our church--a church we'd been a part of for barely a year, and a church that we moved 1000 miles away from our family to serve. Ministry was the only life we'd ever known together, and stepping away from that familiar life was, well, an interruption. A big interruption.
I knew God was calling us into something deeper...into something more. It was the reason John resigned. We were tired of religiosity. We were tired of our faith feeling perfunctory and legalistic. God was offering us something more spacious, more freeing and life-giving, but we had to step into a scary unknown to accept it. We had to let God interrupt our plans.
Has life been birthed in me? In us? Absolutely, but just like actual childbirth that process has been painful and messy and slow.
Shortly after that Advent retreat, I met a couple that is living out God's interruption in their lives. Bob and Judy (not their real names) are raising their great-granddaughter. Did you catch that? They're raising their great-granddaughter.
Bob and Judy are easily in their 70s. I first met them when Madison was in my daughter's second grade class. Tears streamed down my face as they shared the story of her mom abandoning her to the care of her grandmother. When Madison's much loved grandmother died suddenly, Bob and Judy stepped in to love and care for that little life that so desperately needed to be loved and nurtured.
I've gotten to know Bob and Judy a little better over the years. I see them at church every single Sunday with Madison by their side. I'm awed by their sacrificial willingness to let their lives be interrupted. Instead of wintering in Florida, they're up to their eyeballs in tweenage hormones and fashion and (heaven help them) middle-school math.
Has life been birthed in them? I'm guessing the sparkle in their eye would be the answer. Has life been birthed through them? Absolutely. They are an inspiration to many.
I sometimes wonder if the Christmas story would be different if Mary had not responded, "Let it be to me as you have said". Would God have insisted? Would we know Jesus' mother by another name?
But the thing is that she did say yes. Just like Bob and Judy, Mary let God interrupt her plans and birth life in and through her. Without knowing the end of the story. Without guarantees. With nothing but a willingness to say, "I am the Lord's servant."