My name is Liz Towler; some of you may have met me as a section host on a Sunday, or you might just know me as ‘Pastor Justyn’s wife’, but however you know me – or if you don’t know me at all, it is my joy and privilege to share some thoughts with you today.
With it being so close to Christmas, it only seems right that we reflect upon Mary, the mother of Jesus. She has been lauded or ignored, depending on which part of the church you look at, but whatever we have thought about in the past, I think her life and attitude can teach us a lot today.
Mary would have looked very different to the painting that opens this blog. She was also likely to have been very young, to western eyes. Scholars suggest that she was probably about 13-14 years old! She most probably would have been part of the peasant class, used to back-breaking, physically tough, long days of water collection, wood- gathering, cooking – which would have stood her in good stead on her arduous 4-7 day journey to Bethlehem, riding on a donkey. Cute as it is when we see it at a children’s nativity, any of us who have been pregnant ourselves or known someone who was, will know that would have been an exhausting endeavour.
And then there was the delivery of a baby, a first baby, with no one around who she knew apart from her husband, in a less than ideal, or safe, setting. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ was safely delivered, celebrated by angels, and worshipped by shepherds. Truly a miracle.
But what can we learn from Mary? We are not called to be the mother of a saviour; yet we are called, many of us, to be mothers. We are not called to take an arduous journey on the back of a donkey; but we all have our own journeys to take, uncertainties to face, and moments of uncomfortable accountability.
Mary can teach us several powerful lessons, but the two I want to draw out today, are vital to our walk with God: worship, and acceptance.
Mary did not unblinkingly take the angel’s word for it when he came to visit her; she asked him a question – how can this be, as I am a virgin? We should ask questions. We should challenge what comes our way. But when God answers, either directly or by circumstances, or even by silence – what a difference it makes when we accept what comes, and bow our knee to Him in worship.
Acceptance is a powerful thing. It is not passive. It opens the door to God being able to move in and through us. If we spend our lives fighting against what we perceive as unfair, or just generally wishing we were somewhere else, we lose the perspective of what He is doing in us now. We expend energy unnecessarily imagining what might be. And we miss the precious treasures He has for us today.
Yes, we should think big, dream big, and expect God to move – but not at the expense of who He is laying out for us to be today.
I learned this lesson early on in life – and I’ll share one example. Justyn and I started dating a week before I went to university in Manchester. Perfect timing, I know! What is more a week after that, he started a job a very long way away in a place called Bishops Stortford. This was not easy. But it taught us how to communicate.
We knew from the start that we would marry, and this was not your average ‘date and see how it goes’ relationship. We loved each other. The times we had together for those three years was fleeting, and very precious. At times, we thought we would be able to meet – and for whatever reason, we couldn’t. I had to very quickly learn to accept that. To trust God, and to submit my frustration in the situation to Him. And do you know what? Every time it happened, God blessed us with some unexpected time together.
It was a powerful lesson to accept when things are not how you want them to be. If you put the situation into His hands, you will see His goodness and His grace unfold. You are a powerful witness as you do that.
This turned out to be very good preparation for being active in ministry! I know some of you who know us wonder how we manage such a busy life, serving and having a young family – and if your heart yearns to serve more in His house, and you can’t see a way of doing it – seriously, try.
If you accept the limitations of your season but still seek to serve Him, you may be amazed by what becomes possible.
But the reality is it comes down to largely this – acceptance. I know what God has called me to do, and what He has called me to be. I am brutal with my time and only say yes to things if I know it is right. But the other side that I have learned is to also accept when things don’t go my way, and trust Him to lead and guide me in the situation. And He does. Whenever I ask Him.
I am sure that Mary knew, as she accepted the Angel’s words, that she was opening herself up to ridicule, possible rejection, exposure, false conjecture and exposure in an unforgiving societal structure. But accept it she did. And then she worshipped:
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!”
Luke 1:46, NLT
Worship is not about us; it is about Him. As she worshipped, she saw the bigger picture; she saw what Jesus would come to do. And she saw that, even though the circumstance was not of her choosing, she was blessed.
As we worship the risen Saviour, the baby born to save us, as we accept what He has called us to, even if it is totally opposed to what we would have wanted or expected for our lives, He brings grace and glory.
If you feel you have nothing this Christmas, accept it. And I believe God will open your eyes to what you do have, and provide for what you don’t. He will make a way. See who you can bless with your presence, your time, your love and a listening ear.
If you feel you have everything this Christmas, don’t be guilty – be grateful. Accept your blessings and worship your ever loving saviour. Allow Him to reveal to you where he wants you to materially bless others, but the same also goes – who needs your time and your presence?
Mary was different. She didn’t choose to be, but she was. But she was also blessed. As Christians, we carry God’s presence with us into every situation. Remember to accept and worship, whatever your circumstance.
I’ll leave you with a final scripture that has been provoking and challenging me this season – I’d encourage you to read and reflect on the whole of the chapter in the Message version, but this is the bit I want to pull out today:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well- adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognise what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
Romans 12:1-2 MSG
So during this season, when things can quickly become out of control, and it is easy to forget why we are celebrating, I would encourage us all to prioritise three things, in our everyday lives:
Accept when it hurts. Give ’til it hurts. Worship though it hurts, and see His glory come down.