December 24, 2016

Have a Mary Christmas (because sometimes Merry isn't possible)

Have yourself a merry little Christmas...except when you can't.  

What happens when you are celebrating Christmas as a family of three instead of a family of four?  I remember wrestling every single day through the month of December.  Everywhere, everything was about merriness, joy, family togetherness, and fun and none of that was a possibility for me or my family. Everything felt so incomplete and it was all a reminder of how much I wanted life to be different than it was.  I wanted two little boys to take pictures of, to help open gifts, to play with and read to, and put their names on Christmas cards.  However, where there had been two, there was now one.

Merry?  No.  Christmas was not merry.

What happens when you can’t find any merry?

What happens when your child is suddenly gone right before Christmas?  What if it was your fault in some way?  Where do you find any merry for Christmas?

What happens when your family is such a mess that you are ready to just quit and all you have left is tears?  You’ve tried all you know to bring them together and now what?  How are you supposed to have a merry Christmas?

What happens when cancer strikes?  Maybe your child, parent, sibling, or friend is sick, or maybe he is already gone.  Now what about the merry in Christmas?

What if medical mysteries have you stuck in a hospital over Christmas and your family can’t be together?  You never got the shopping done or even remembered it was December most of this month because of the stress!  What now?  Do you dig deep and just be merry because ‘tis the season?

What if the unthinkable happens and someone you loves takes her own life?  You may wonder how you can ever find merry again?

What if your house is empty again this year?  Still no children to help make cookies and decorate.  Is there even a reason for merry? 

Or what do you do when three days before Christmas, you watch your husband unexpectedly pass away, and you are left with several children?  Merry?  I don’t think so.

Those are just tiny pieces of what I have heard or read from others over the last month.  Just one month - so much heartache.  And what about others? What about when you find yourself alone for yet another Christmas and you don't want to be?  Or another anniversary of a death?  Or still no job?  Or the marriage is on the rocks and can you really keep going like this day in and day out?  Or when you find yourself flat on your face in failure?  Or maybe darkness has enveloped like a blanket and you don't even know why and no matter how you've tried you can't shake it off, All the while as we face these circumstances ourselves or know those who do, we hear crooning over the radio, "Have yourself a merry little Christmas..."

What happens when "merry" can't be found?  What then?

What happens when everywhere you look is a painful reminder of what isn't?  When merry and bright aren't even a thought? 

Then you are perfectly ready for a Mary Christmas.  A merry Christmas isn't always possible, but a Mary Christmas can be. 

The world Jesus was born into was not a perfect place.  It was filled with hardship and darkness just like today.  Mary was not some super human.  She had struggles and fears just like you and I and though being the mother of Jesus was an incredible honor, it was also fraught with hardship. 

In Luke 2:26-38 we are told about Mary’s frightening encounter with an angel when she is told she will be the mother of the Son of God.  She, this young woman who was not married and had not been with a man!  People were the same then as they are today.  Being an unmarried, pregnant woman was going to get talked about and it was something that would definitely be frowned upon.  She would be very much alone.  The Bible tells us in those verses she is troubled at first, and she is confused by what she is told, but her response to the angel and thus to God is remarkable. 

“I am the Lord’s slave,” said Mary.  “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Mary goes on in the next verses to praise and glorify God.  So she looks at this hard road God is asking her to walk; she responds in faithful, humble obedience; and then praises God. This is how Mary starts her praise:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of  the Lord, and my Spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave." (Luke 1:46-48a)

There are several things we can learn about Mary and about difficult circumstances by looking at her praise.  First, she focuses on God's greatness.  Second, she knows to rejoice in God not in circumstances.  Circumstances change and can be full of hardship but God is unchanging.  Third, she sees that He is her Savior no matter what her circumstances.  Finally, I love that she takes note of how God really sees her and the condition of her life.  He is great.  We can rejoice in Him even when all else falls apart.  He is our Savior.  He sees exactly the condition of our lives and has not forgotten us.

She carried that baby to term and you know the story.  She had to travel to Bethlehem. She and Joseph found themselves alone (which was unusual for their culture), with nowhere to go, and they ended up in a stable.  She had to give birth in less than ideal circumstances, had no help, and nothing better to offer her baby than a manager.  We don’t know exactly how Mary responded, but the Bible tells us that after the shepherds had come to visit them Mary treasured all these things in her heart and meditated on them.  All through her life she seems to have this faithful, trusting response to what God asks her to go through.  It doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.  It doesn’t mean there were never tears or there was never fear, but she chooses faith.

We don’t know exactly when, but at some point in those first two years, after the magi come, Mary and Joseph have to flee with their tiny boy because Herod is out to murder all the baby boys two years old and younger.  Do you think times seemed dark?  I have often thought about what that must have been like for Mary’s mama heart to know the blood shed that took place all because of her son, the Son of God.  So many mamas had to lose their little boys.  Such darkness must have seemed to prevail.  What faith it must have taken to believe that darkness was not going to win out.  Do you think this all sounds like a Merry Christmas? 

The focus then was not “merry” but let’s not miss Mary. We don’t know exactly how she responded in each situation, but in the little windows we get into Mary throughout her life, in all the hardships she continually responds in faith and obedience.

You don't have to pretend everything is okay this Christmas.  You don't have to hold back those tears.  Sometimes the world is dark.  The world was dark when Jesus came into it too.  The world was dark for Mary as well.  God can handle your tears, your grief, and your heartache.  You don't have to be merry.

The same God who was sovereign then is sovereign now.  God was bringing hope in the midst of incredible darkness as babies were being murdered at every corner.  No one could fully understand in the midst of all that loss of life that God was making a way for death to be conquered permanently (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)!  God was bringing hope to all mankind through His Son who would one day take on the sin of the world (1 Peter 2:24), die, and then rise again.  That same God is working out a grand story of hope beyond our comprehension now in the midst of the darkness we are living in with His living Son, Jesus Christ.  We can’t see how all the pieces fit and can't see exactly what God is doing, but we can choose to ponder it all in our hearts, trust Him, and walk in obedience - like Mary. 

In Ecclesiastes 3 it says there are seasons for everything. 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4)

Sometimes life isn’t so dark for you and it isn’t your season to mourn.  Maybe it is a season to dance.  If that is so, then dance with your whole heart.  But if you know someone who is mourning, maybe pause the dance to sit a while with them. No guilt needed for the dance, but understanding needed for the one lacking merry.  You see as we mature we begin to realize that although there is a season for everything, the seasons overlap each other for different people and we need to be aware of what season another person may be in.   

Mary wasn't perfect.  She didn't have life all figured out.  She just faced the uncertainty of her days and the darkness with a trust in the one, true, great God.  We can do the same whatever we face when we wake up tomorrow.  So this Christmas, if the world feels dark and merry feels beyond your grasp, remember Christmas is all about bringing hope to you.  There is a great God you can trust with your future (Jeremiah 29:11).  Have a Mary Christmas.