As we enter into the Advent season, I will be devoting my first post of the next three weeks to reflections on Christmas.
Merry Christmas my friends!
Yesterday, a good friend of mine called unexpectedly. As we were catching each other up on our crazy lives, we spoke about our experience in seminary (we went through the same program though at different times). In light of that, I mentioned how surprising God’s ways can be. Last August I’d walked through Fuller Seminary’s campus, wondering where I would be had I chosen to go to school there. On paper, it made more sense for me to go there. I appreciated its cross-cultural perspective as well as its more expansive views concerning women in ministry. And let’s not forget, it’s located in the middle of downtown Pasadena – a place I adore (and where I’ve determined all eligible single men hide out).
However, I went to Talbot Seminary instead. While life in Pasadena would have been lovely, I don’t regret my decision one bit. I started Talbot at a unique point in my life. I had gone through some of the most traumatic experiences in my life, walking with my family as my brother struggled with depression and attempted to take his life multiple times. Any beliefs that made me think I had my life together were demolished. I walked into Talbot with my life as I knew it in ashes around me. In my three years there, the Lord rebuilt me from the ground up. He continues to rebuild me to this day. I went into seminary with hopes of becoming a college pastor, but discovered along the way that I love to journey with people and eventually found myself a spiritual director moving towards retreat ministry.
This was not the path I planned for. Yet, I am continually glad that the Lord’s vision for my life is vast and wide reaching – much more so than I could ever envision. I cannot help but thinking of these unplanned paths as I reflect on the Christmas narrative. Moment after moment seems odd. Why Bethlehem? Why Mary? Why a manger? If I’m honest, if I’d been in charge of this whole Jesus being born event, it would look incredibly different. Perhaps a more respectable town. An older woman or at least not one who’s virtue would be called into doubt owing to her marital status. And a manger? For God incarnate? Surely there must be a cleaner, more respectable place?
I’m not alone in questioning God’s plan. Mary had her questions when visited by the angel, asking: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34, ESV) I wonder how many more questions she longed to ask in that moment. Why me? What will people say? What do I tell my fiancé?
Yet, these questions did not cause Mary to turn in rebellion. Her response is beautifully recorded just a few verses later, in what is traditionally known as the Magnificat (literally in Latin, “my soul magnifies”):
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
-Luke 1:46-55, ESV
She did not know how her story would end, nor did she know at that moment how the story of her son would. Her response comes from a place of trust in God. And I am humbled when I consider her courageous trust. It is easy for me to acknowledge God’s ways when I am experiencing the resolution. It is much more difficult for me to trust him when my future is obscured from mine eyes. When only he is before me. This Christmas I am reminded that though God’s paths may vary from mine, he is trust worthy. I remember Mary’s response and pray that I may too say yes to God’s plan.