Devotional on Luke
The original painting is by Jean
Bull Seiwell (1919-2010), copyright 1960 Jean Risley.
The guest blog is by Rev. Dr.
Jean Risley, a retired Presbyterian pastor who has had three different careers
over a lifetime, one in technology, one in business management, and the final
one in ministry. She received the D. Min. and M. Div. from Andover Newton
Theological School and served churches in solo and interim pastorates. She
has written A Place Where Everybody Matters (why small churches provide
a good place to live out one’s faith and grow in discipleship) and Recovering
the Lost Legacy (what Jesus and Paul said about righteousness, law, and
behavior and clarifies what life changes new non-Jewish Christians were
expected to make). Her current goal is to help people get to know Jesus
better through her website at Getting2KnowJesus.com.
Mary’s a person who has always
interested me. We usually see her
through the experiences in her life that were the result of her being the
mother of Jesus. As a child, she had the
potential to become a good mother, and God knew that she had the ability to
grow into all the rest. But I’m caught
by the child that Mary was, before any of the miraculous events began to unfold.
I used to wonder sometimes what would
have happened, if Mary had turned down the role of mother to the Son of
God. I had this picture of what life
would be like for us if the chosen mother had not been up to the challenge and
had said, “Sorry, I don’t think I can handle it.” I don’t think I would have blamed her
either. I once said to a priest friend
that we were lucky that Mary decided to take the job, and he answered, “What
makes you think she was the first one to be asked?”
Can you imagine being one of the women who might have turned this offer
down? What would it have been like to
hear about the great teacher and know that he could have been your own
child? Can you imagine living with the
knowledge that you turned down an angel from God, that you gave up the chance
to have God’s Son as your own child? Wouldn’t
you feel sorry for someone who had to live with that lost opportunity? Fortunately
for us, Mary was willing to take on the opportunity and the challenge.
Mary was quite young when the angel
Gabriel approached her. We know that she
was engaged, and in our culture that might lead us to think that she was at
least in her late teens or early twenties.
In fact, in her culture, most girls were engaged at the age of twelve. Most marriages were arranged, and a girl
might or might not even know the man she’d been promised to spend her life
with. Girls were usually married by age
fourteen or fifteen, well before most of us were even out of school. So, when we see a young girl playing Mary in a
Christmas pageant, she might easily be the same age as Mary was herself at the
time when Jesus was born.
Think of Mary as a girl in middle
school, about to move on to high school.
She would have stayed home, of course, since girls of her time didn’t go
to school. She would have worked with
her mother at taking care of the house and family. She would have helped with cooking and
cleaning, tended any smaller children, and run errands for her mother. Her friends wouldn’t have called her Mary,
though. When she went to the well for
water, her friends and neighbors would have called her by her Hebrew name,
Miriam. Miriam was a distinguished name
even in Mary’s time. It’s written in the
book of Exodus, that “the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in
her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with
dancing. And Miriam sang to them: “Sing
to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:20-21). Mary,
like her namesake Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, is about to be a joyful witness
to the miraculous working of God in the world.
There’s nothing in the Scripture to
indicate that Mary was anything more than an ordinary girl. She wasn’t a princess or noblewoman, and she
wasn’t a servant or a slave. The life
she could expect was one of an ordinary wife and mother, caring for her home,
her husband, and her children.
This was so much the normal
expectation for a woman’s life in those days, that we most often hear about the
times when that expectation was not fulfilled.
From the time of Hannah to the time of Elizabeth, the woman most to be
pitied was the woman whose family was not complete with children. For Mary, having children and spending her
time caring for them, was both an expectation and a hope. If she had any special wishes for her future,
Mary’s dream was probably to be sure that the children would come.
When the angel first came and spoke to
Mary, it was good news. The angel said to her, “you have found favor with
God. And now, you will conceive in your
womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31). It would have
been a great blessing for Mary, to hear that she had found favor with God. Hearing that God would make sure that she had
a son would have been a source of relief as well as great joy. A son would remove her biggest worry about
her own future, since just having a son would provide security for his
Then the angel went on to say what
kind of a man her son would be: “He will be great, and will be called the Son
of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor
David. He will reign over the house of
Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). This
must have been exhilarating as well as frightening. What mother wouldn’t want to hear that her
son would be miraculously blessed? What
mother wouldn’t like to hear that her son will be prosperous and famous? That he’ll become a king? Mary’s willing to accept the angel’s promises.
“Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to
your word’” (Luke 1:38).
Some people have said that it’s Mary’s
instant obedience that draws God’s favor to her. I think that her obedience and trust are
wonderful, but I think there’s something more going on as well. I think that Mary recognizes the opportunity
included in the blessing that is offered to her. She says to Elizabeth, “my spirit rejoices in
God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call
me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me” (Luke 1:46-49).
Elizabeth, as Mary’s cousin and
lifelong friend, is one of the few people Mary could talk to. She too is going to have a son, but she had
gone through the long years of hoping for what seemed like it was never going
to come. She knew the incredible joy of
feeling a new life growing inside her, and she knew how wonderful Mary would
feel as the promise came true.
When they come together, Elizabeth said,
“as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for
joy. And blessed is she who believed
that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Luke
1:44). What a wonderful confirmation for Mary, of all that has been promised.
Mary’s thrilled that she’s been chosen
for an extraordinary honor, that she’s been singled out for a unique
opportunity. That the opportunity will
take all she has to give is beside the point.
She’s willing to be part of whatever God is doing, trusting God that
whatever that comes next will be worth doing, and worth all that she can put
Mary has taken a leap of faith, made a
commitment to follow through as the mother of this child who will be king, without
any calculation about what it might entail.
She hasn’t counted the cost—only decided that whatever the cost is, she’s
willing to pay it if she can.
This reminds me a lot of what happens
to us when we decide to commit our lives to Christ. We know that what he offers is a good thing—reconciliation
with God in spite of our sin—and we know that we want it. We know that it’s ours to accept as a free
gift, as free a gift as Mary receives by God’s grace. But we know that accepting the gift will have
an impact on our lives, and often we have no idea of how far-reaching that
impact will be.
Have you ever thought about what it
would take to raise the Son of God? In
the first place, I’d probably have been so nervous that I would mess things up
just out of anxiety. How would you like
to try to do toilet training, knowing God was watching the way you taught his
Son? We know that too little discipline can
be as bad as too much, but how would you like to decide when to be strict and
when to be lenient, with God watching over your shoulder? …with the future salvation of all the people
of the earth depending on you? not to undermine
his trust, his compassion, and his love for others? Raising this child is the big job that Mary
agreed to do, and she worked hard to do it faithfully.
Mary may only have thought of facing
childbirth and raising a little boy, but she was in for much more than
that. We may only have thought of adding
a little “niceness” to our lives, like watching our language or helping out once
in a while, when we get involved with Jesus.
But then we find that with Jesus we’re in for some major changes. There are times when I don’t think Mary had a
clue about what she was letting herself in for.
In the first place, Mary might
reasonably have expected that her son would become the king of an earthly
territory—the ruler of a big piece of Palestinian real estate—with or without
the approval of the Roman Empire. After
all, Herod and his relatives were kings in Israel, even with the Roman occupation. The angel said, “God will give to him the
throne of his ancestor David. [and] He will reign over the house of Jacob” (Luke
Mary might have expected to be the
envy of all her friends, those whose sons had more modest ambitions. What she got instead was a Son who is the
ruler of a heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that will last longer than the earth itself. Mary won’t have the kind of recognition from
her friends that the mother of a worldly ruler would receive.
When we accept Jesus into our lives as
our Lord, we might expect that, because we belong to him, everything else in
our lives would fall into place. We
ought to be good and kind and successful in all that we do. We forget that the world we live in is still
a fallen world, and that the world as Jesus would have it is still to
We may want to live forever and
experience the success of all our personal plans, but this isn’t what we
get. Instead of prosperity and a long
visit in this world, our promise is for God’s love and for eternal life in the
kingdom of God. Our future is more
secure than anything this world can provide, but that future is definitely not
something we can show off to our friends.
But this is all in the future. Mary’s faced with a more immediate
problem. She is going to have a child to
raise. She knows that she’ll have to
prepare him for his destiny as best she can, but there will be years full of
more mundane work to do first. She’ll be
feeding him, dressing him, rocking him to sleep, and cleaning up his messes. I’ll bet she smiled to herself when she
thought of his wonderful future.
She’ll be watching him as he grows,
encouraging his interests and teaching him how to get along with others. She may think of herself as the one to do the
teaching, but she’d have no idea of what she might learn from her special
In fact, Mary’s going to be led step
by step to learn wisdom from her own child.
He grows to love and study the Scriptures, and he understands them so
well that he’s able to argue with experts even before he comes of age. Mary’s in the best position to see the development
of his understanding, the way he comes to know about God, to understand human
sinfulness, and to have compassion for all those who are suffering around
him. Mary will have the chance to learn
wisdom from a most unexpected place, the child she thought she would be
Another advantage Mary might not have
expected is that she had a front row seat to listen to his teaching. Even before he began to travel with the
disciples, the ideas and principles behind his message were growing in his
mind. Mary was there to listen to him,
to ask questions, and to encourage him.
When the time came for him to begin his public ministry, Jesus already
knew what he was called to say. Mary was
in a unique position to watch his growing understanding of his role, and the
good news he had to share. We can
remember how impatient she was for him to start sharing all that he had to
say. She even tried to push him into
that first miracle at a friend’s wedding.
She knew that what he had to say would be worth listening to.
When we bring Jesus into our lives, we
find that it’s worth the time just to listen to him. Sometimes Jesus talks about principles, as he
does in the beatitudes with “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see
God.” Sometimes he gives directions, like
when he says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” Sometimes he uses metaphors, for example “I
am the vine, you are the branches,” and sometimes he uses illustrations in the
parables. The more we listen to him, the
greater the richness we find in the things he has to say.
But one thing I’m sure Mary never
would have expected, was how much strength it would take to be with him through
the end of his life on earth. She would
have known about his triumphant reception on Palm Sunday, but we know that she
was there with him when he went to his death.
I don’t think she would ever have chosen to watch the son she loved so
much suffering. I think she would have
given anything to keep him from suffering, even taken the suffering on
herself. Every insult and humiliation,
every stroke of the whip hurt her as well.
I don’t think she could have imagined, when she agreed to the angel’s
proposal, that it would lead to such deep grief and suffering.
We don’t know either, when we accept
Jesus as our Lord, what we may be called to endure on his behalf. We may expect that following him will call
for unpopular actions, but we don’t really expect to be a lonely voice facing
an angry crowd. We may expect that we’ll
be called to help the poor, but we don’t expect to get sunburned, dirty, and bug-bitten
when we do it. We may expect that we’ll
have to love our neighbors, but we don’t expect to have to do it when they’re drunk,
disreputable, or dumping trash on our yard.
We know that we’ll have to obey his commandments, of course, but we
expect to do it in a way that’s not uncomfortable or inconvenient.
I don’t think we have any idea of
what’s going to come at us, when we commit to following Jesus. I think we can depend on being stretched in
every dimension. We’ll be stretched in
our ability to love those who aren’t particularly lovable. We’ll be stretched in our willingness to
reach out to those who don’t seem particularly deserving. Once the Holy Spirit gets hold of us, we can
expect to be living outside of our comfort zones pretty regularly.
Are you an introvert? Let me introduce you to lots of your brothers
and sisters in Christ. Are you quiet and
shy? When the Lord touches your life,
you’ll need to be talking about it. Do
you hate to make mistakes? The Holy
Spirit will lead you out to take risks for others, some of which won’t turn out
as well as you hoped, but which will demonstrate the kingdom of God anyway. Once you put yourself in God’s hands and make
yourself available to do his work, you can never tell what will happen next.
We all have a calling to serve the
children we can touch, and based on Mary’s example, I hope we have the courage
to do it carefully and with love. We
know that Jesus was interested in the Scriptures from an early age. How could such an interest have developed, if
his mother didn’t encourage it, or at least not discourage it? How many opportunities do we have to share
the Bible stories with our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews,
neighbors and friends? This Christmas is
a wonderful time to share the story of Jesus, not only about the angels and
shepherds and wise men, but also about the message of God’s love and
forgiveness that Jesus brought to all people.
I love to watch the influence that an
adult can have on a child, simply by taking the child seriously. Have you ever watched a sales person treat a
child who has waited through a long line, with respect? It’s wonderful. By making eye contact, taking the time to
make change, and speaking to the child as an honorable customer, a grownup can
support a child’s growing confidence and self-respect. Wherever we fit into a child’s life, whether
as teacher, librarian, nurse, bus driver, crossing guard, chef, waiter, shoe
tyer, book reader, or ball catcher, we have an opportunity to influence the way
a child grows.
It’s critically important that we
accept and live out our calling as Christians, to live in the imitation of
Christ. We’re called to live as Christ,
to be Christ in the lives of the children we know, so that when they come to
understand the love that God has for them, they’ll already know what it feels
like to be loved. And as we explain why
we do what we do, talking about the love of God will just fit in naturally.
Like Mary, we’re called to encourage
the growth of goodness in others. As we
see God working in another’s life, we’re called to recognize it, honor it, and
support it, regardless of how we feel about the person at the time. Goodness is goodness, whether it’s our own or
belongs to a friend or belongs to someone we think of as an enemy. Goodness is of God, and if we belong to God,
we are on the side of goodness in all others.
As Paul says, we’re charged not to put
out the Spirit’s fire, not to hinder or interfere with the work of God in the
lives of others. God gives many gifts to
a greater variety of people than we can imagine, and we should honor and help
out that work whenever we can.
This may often mean that we will see
the power of God working in the life of someone we don’t like, someone with
whom we have nothing in common or someone with whom we have been in
conflict. This is a time when being on
God’s side matters more than our own personal point of view. As those called by God, we’re called to
encourage the work of the Spirit wherever we find it, as Mary did.
Why do we accept this calling and do
these things? Because we, like Mary, are
obedient in our faith. Jesus commanded
us to love one another. Jesus commanded
us to make disciples. Jesus treated
children with respect, as real people. As
his followers, we’re expected to do the same.
This time of year we get a special chance to practice our obedience with
those who are closest to us.
Mary didn’t know exactly what was coming,
but she did know that God was making it happen.
She said, “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to
generation” (Luke 1:50). She did understand that God would turn things upside
down and reverse the expected order of things.
She said, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the
proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the
lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty”
And in her time, the Lord would make
good on his promises to his people, fulfilling the covenant made long ago: “He
has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the
promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke
1:54-55). Can you imagine the joy of being there to witness the fulfillment of
all that was promised, all that the people had been waiting for through so many
Mary didn’t know the details of what
was coming, but she knew that the drama she lived in had one great origin, the
Lord God. All the twists and turns of
the story unfolding around her were in God’s hands and at his direction. Mary accepted the offer of the angel and
responded in faith and trust, knowing the consequences were all in God’s
So how did Mary do with her
assignment, to be the mother of the Son of God?
I think she did very well. She
didn’t get in the way of Jesus’ growing into the person he was destined to
be. She accepted all the risks of being
rejected and abandoned. She accepted the
challenge of raising an unusual, spectacular child. She watched, and she listened, and she did
There were probably days when she
didn’t feel adequate or prepared, but that didn’t stop her. There were probably days when she was
overwhelmed with joy in loving her son. I
think she resolved to enjoy the ride, to enjoy every day of watching the
character of her child as it unfolded.
She chose to obey in faith, and it turned out better than she ever could
have imagined. Thanks be to God. Amen
Let’s pray: Thank
you for all you have done for us, through your servant Mary and her son
Jesus. Thank you for the joy of knowing
and witnessing your work about to enter the world through them. Help us to be faithful, as Mary was, to do
our part to bring your Son into the dark parts of our world. In his name, Amen.