Even though we’re done with Christmas, I’m stuck back on the story when Gabriel told Mary she was favored of God. He said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you. She was greatly troubled at this saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting that might be” (Luke 1: 28 – 29, ESV).
Recently I’ve wondered what it would be like if I shut up and listened when I prayed. I’m not sure everything I’m hearing is from God, but one thing came through clearly, the words, “Well done.” Like Mary I was greatly troubled. The words kept nudging me. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But I’m supposed to hear that after I die. The words persisted, “Well done.”
What rose were memories how I betrayed a good friend because my needs were more important than his. Tears welled up.
Don’t we feel this a little when someone compliments us? Don’t we want to brush aside their recognition of our worth? How much more might we feel shame when we meet the One who is Love? But the quiet voice stated, “Well done, my dear.”
Preachers say how God’s judgment will be ferocious. Some will be tossed into hell for not believing Jesus. Those who do will enter Paradise. I believe when we encounter Love beyond our wildest romance, we will all be in crisis, we will all weep. All that is not of love will be burned away. When we know how we betrayed that love, we can know how utterly we’ve been forgiven. Fear not.
I’m Katie Andraski and that’s my perspective.
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After I wrote this, I thought of Isaiah and how he cried out in the presence of the Lord, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isa. 6: 5). And John the Beloved, fell as one dead when he saw Jesus in his glory. John himself predicts the whole world will mourn when Jesus appears in the clouds, when He returns, even those who pierced him. Haven’t we all pierced Him–blood and water flowing from his side, our Lord’s blood to cover us from wrath like the Passover lamb’s blood covered the first born of Israel, and the water becoming the rivers of living water he promised would pour out of us, a river that will pour out of the Mount of Olives when the Lamb steps on it and splits it in two? Isn’t that mourning a way to find comfort, a way for God to draw near, because he draws near to the broken hearted and saves those crushed in spirit.
Once when I had hit the end of my rope, when I had felt this woe is me, when I was undone, when I wanted to die I was so tired, so filthy in my spirit, I realized that maybe it was because the veil between myself and the Lord’s presence had grown particularly thin. I was comforted. I felt hope. I would live another day. It’s troubling when people say we shouldn’t be afraid of God, or that developed spirituality would bring us into His Presence without fear. I’m not so sure that’s so. I have to wonder if the closer we get to God, the less sure we are of our goodness, the more all we can do is receive His gift of love and forgiveness.
I know that Jude offers a benediction: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24). This is quite a doxology, that God is able to present us faultless, with joy no less. There are passages that talk about how we will be joyous at His return, while others are so terrified they hide themselves in rocks. I know I look forward to that veil being lifted and being in Jesus’ presence and having all that is not love washed away. I identify with the lines from the hymn, “It is Well With My Soul”: “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought (a thought)/My sin, not in part, but the whole (every bit, every bit, all of it)/Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more (yes!)Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” There’s a reality to this already–my sins have been placed as far as the east is from the west, but there is also a not yet quality about it as well. I look forward to the day when I am fully clean, shining with light as the morning star.
When I was doing the Five Minute Journal I wrote this doxology from Jude as my affirmation, in order to counter my tendency to be down on myself, and because I am not sure my own made up affirmations are so helpful. (The Five Minute Journal is basically a gratitude journal giving space to write down what you are grateful for in a day and what you could have done better. It’s focus on what went right is very helpful and healthy. I gave it up for no real reason and may start again.)
When we are baptized we are cleansed, we enact dying to our old selves and rising to new life in Jesus, but as we walk along in life, we pick up dirt and crud. This is what makes Jesus’ washing our feet so powerful. We participate in his foot washing when we confess our sins both to God and each other. We do this when we are simply vulnerable and tell each other our honest stories. Being presented blameless with great joy might also have to do with our practice of confessing our sins, of drawing closer to God’s presence and becoming acutely aware that there is no way we can love him, we can follow him to the cross without his free gift of love. As I said above, once we know we have betrayed him, we know we can be forgiven.
Back to Mary, I was also left wondering if Gabriel’s appearance was off putting. Did he look wild and crazy like the creatures Ezekial saw at the Chebar canal? Were grotesque wings sprouting out of his back? Or did he look like one of the three men that greeted Abraham just before they walked over to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Did he look like a powerful man, whose light oozed out of him because he couldn’t quite tamp it all down so she could bear his appearance?
Was Mary troubled because she turned around, maybe from kneading bread, and he was there and it could mean death by stoning if she were caught alone with a man?
What is so frightening about being told the Lord is with you, that you are favored? Was Mary so humble that she didn’t even consider that the Lord would be with her? She was no priest like her cousin’s husband. Likely she was just a young woman, who’d just become a woman in her body, and betrothed to Joseph. Did she love him even though was this an arrangement between families, and she had no say? If not would she learn to love him? Did they argue when she returned from Elizabeth, and was showing her pregnancy? (What a gift to Mary, to have her cousin Elizabeth pregnant, and affirming woman to woman that the child she was bearing was the Lord.) Did the angel take her side and tell Joseph that Mary was telling the truth and no crazy woman, with an insane excuse for her adultery? Did she see what a good man Joseph was when he married her despite the pregnancy? And that Joseph would listen to another dream and take her and Jesus to Egypt? What were their lives like while they lived there?
John Behr in The Cross Stands While the World Turns points out that God called forth most of creation, by saying, Let there be daylight and night, creeping things and cattle, sun and moon to mark time, but with Adam, he squatted down and crafted him from the dust of the earth. He made Eve from Adam’s rib. But it was Mary that said, “Let it be to me according to your word” so it was a young woman who spoke the words of creation for the son of God, son of man. And the making of humans was finished when Christ cried out, “It is finished.” God rested those few days in the grave. All this time until that shout, the world was in the sixth day of creation, mankind being made perfect, that work finally accomplished when Christ died.
When they took Jesus to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice, when her days of purification were over, the little family went to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. Simeon prophesied over Jesus and then told her, “Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce your own soul also), so that the thoughts of many will be revealed” (Luke 2:34 – 35). Every mother feels this sword when she sends her son into the world, when he leaves her to marry another woman. Mary both believed Jesus’ power by asking him to turn water to wine, to bless a wedding, and was skeptical, when she showed up outside asking if Jesus had gone out of his mind, and Jesus said his real family were the ones who believed him. That too was a cut to her mother’s heart. And her desolation when he died, when he would go where she could not follow, he gave her to his beloved friend John, the only male disciple, standing at the foot of the cross, to take care of.
We’re not so different from Mary because we too become Christ bearers. We too will know joy and ponder things in our hearts. We too will also have our souls pierced. The last few weeks an old hymn that I first heard at St. Barnabus Episcopal Church in Naperville has been running through my head. It’s about how our souls are pierced but in the midst of it there is a kind of muscular peace, that is like the ground we stand on that does not shake even though we do:
They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown
Such happy simple fisherfolk
Before the Lord came down
Contented peaceful fishermen
Before they ever knew
The peace of God That fill’d their hearts
Brimful and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head-down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod,
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing–
The marvelous peace of God.
By William Alexander Percy (Incidentally a cousin once removed from author Walker Percy.)
(I found this here.)
That’s about all I know for now. I did not title the WNIJ Piece and was caught up in thoughts about Mary. One day I will circle back and write about listening in prayer. Since it has snowed we’ve not cleaned our barnyard. It’s difficult to pick up poop when it’s frozen to the ground and stuck in snow. There are lumps of manure scattered in our usually clean paddock. I don’t want Bruce to scrape it out of there with the tractor because I don’t want the snow packed down to become ice. Ice scares me as far as footing goes. Though this morning Morgen galloped from one end of the paddock to the other because I had loose hay in my arms without so much as a hoof out of place. So I leave you with this picture of the shovel on the tree. Most of my good work is cleaning the barn and yard and sometimes the house. There’s something of good work in that as I say my prayers, except when I am tired and then I listen to a podcast to keep me focused. The peace of the Lord be with you always.
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