Women of Wisdom: Behold, the Lord’s Handmaid

December 23, 2008 at 9:45 am (W.O.W.) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

the-lords-handmaid

Adapted from the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John

Once upon a time a modest little Jewish girl was born into a loving home in the  city of Nazareth in sunny Galilee. As she grew she learned to care for a home and a family and she dreamed of the day when she would marry a godly man and raise godly children. Then one day her dream seemed almost realized when she was sought in marriage by Joseph, the son of Jacob, a local builder, a man with a reputation as clear as his namesake, the son of the first Jacob who had become Israel. Though not wealthy, Joseph also traced his family line directly to King David! How her heart must have swelled with pride and pleasure as the couple exchanged their betrothal vows and prepared for happily ever after.

In the midst of the daily routine of baking flatbread and washing clothes and weaving linens and dreaming of marriage, Mary received a remarkable visit. “Good morning, God’s favored one. Yahweh is with you!” The brightness, the splendor, the purity and holiness radiating from the face and clothes of the strange man sent tiny shivers down her spine, but it was his greeting which Mary found most troubling. Brow knit, head bowed, she turned the strange words over and over in her mind. “Favored one. Yahweh is with you.” Her mind darted toward the temple in Jerusalem where Yahweh was said to dwell—unapproachably. How could He be with her? “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with Almighty God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and you will name Him Jesus. He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High; and God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His kingdom will have no end.” The angel’s voice was like a waterfall, pouring over Mary’s mind and soul and heart. She desperately tried to take it all in. Was he promising that she would be mother of the Messiah? The long-awaited Savior of Israel? But what did he mean “the Son of the Most High?” Would Joseph be the father? Was this a promise for later…or now?

“How is this possible?” Mary whispered, her hands trembling. “I am a virgin.”

The angel’s next words would remain in her heart forever, treasured and turned over and pondered upon. “The Holy Spirit will come on you and God’s power will cover you. This is why the holy offspring will be called God’s Son.”

Did the full impact of the message sink into Mary’s heart?  The Messiah would be divine. Born of a virgin. No human father. God’s own Son. She would hold God in her arms. Nurse God at her breast. Teach God to speak? Kiss God on the forehead? A shiver passed through her body as the angel continued. “In fact, your relative Elizabeth has also become pregnant in her old age—she who was barren is in her sixth month! Nothing is impossible for Yahweh!”

Overwhelmed by inexplicable emotions, Mary knew one thing with certainty—whatever God did was good. Whatever He planned would be accomplished. Whatever He wanted, she wanted. With her whole heart. She was at his disposal. “Behold, I am the Lord’s maidservant. Do to me whatever you have said.”

Then he was gone.

Then came the uncertainty, the doubt and the fear. What would this mean? Virgins didn’t conceive. To become pregnant during betrothal was adultery—and punishable by death. Her life had looked so simple and beautiful—an ideal marriage to a godly man. God had called her to something more. Might the call of God destroy her dreams? The angel had told her something else—Elizabeth was also expecting miraculously. The first opportunity found Mary accompanying a caravan to Judah.

God’s confirmation greeted her in the form of her aging cousin, renewed like Sarah of old, her face wreathed in smiles. “Blessed among women are you! And blessed is the fruit of your womb! How has it happened that the mother of my master has come to me? When I heard your voice the baby within me leaped for joy! Blessed are you for believing the word of the Lord!”

Tears sprang to Mary’s eyes as she felt the Holy Spirit burning hotly inside her heart. She couldn’t hold back the joy that poured over her spirit. “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. He has regarded the humble state of His bond slave…the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is His name!” The words rushed from her lips like the flow of a pure fountain, washing her trembling spirit in life and light.

The next three months were times of continual wonder, being with Elizabeth, sheltered from the uncertain future, watching the miracle inside her body develop. When Elizabeth finally delivered a son and his father regained his voice to deliver a stirring prophecy, Mary’s heart clung to every word. Full of God’s unfolding plan, she turned her steps homeward, knowing she must soon share her news. How would it be received?

In the moment between Mary’s explanation and Joseph’s response, the scenes of the last three months flashed before her eyes: all the wonder, the excitement, the joy. But in the face of her betrothed she read only pain and heartbreak. Virgins don’t conceive. Only adulteresses do. For Joseph to marry a pregnant woman would mar his reputation forever—as if he accepted the bastard child as his own.  Worse yet, his own repugnance to impurity could not allow him near a fornicator.  As he turned and walked away from her, Mary’s girlhood dreams came crashing down like the walls of Jericho. Who would ever marry a woman who had given birth to a child while claiming to be a “virgin”?

In the middle of the night, Joseph heard from the Lord. His immediate response was immediate obedience—he rose from his bed and took Mary as his wife. Like a thief in the night. But he kept her pure, so that the holy child would truly be born of a virgin. Now perhaps Mary could have her happily ever after?

But the Lord was on the move again, fulfilling prophesies through the ungodly Caesar. A decree required Joseph to travel to his heritage town of Bethlehem. Willingly, Mary packed up and went with him, about to give birth. And while they waited, unable to find housing, the labor pains came on and she gave birth and wrapped her baby and laid Him in the only thing available—a manger. What must her thoughts have been as she held the newborn Son of God to her and whispered the name the angel had given her “Jesus?” Or the name Isaiah had prophesied for the virgin’s Son: “Immanuel”—God with us. Soon her tranquility was invaded by a group of noisy, smelly shepherds, eagerly seeking the Messiah. Opening her heart and arms, Mary shared with them the gift God had given her, pondering all that had been told her and storing it in her heart.

Life hardly ended with a serene crèche scene. A week later Mary, likely still cramping and bleeding, traveled with Joseph to Jerusalem to present Jesus at the temple, offering the best they could—two turtle doves or two young pigeons to redeem Him back. There they were greeted by prophetic confirmation: the elderly Anna who praised God for the redemption of Israel and the aged Simeon, who took the infant from her arms and promised her more pain, “A sword will pierce even your own soul.” Any thoughts of happily ever after must have fled Mary’s mind at these words.

Joseph found work in Bethlehem and built a house. As a devoted mother, Mary poured herself into her baby, meeting His needs, nursing Him, holding Him, wiping his little bottom, bathing His little body. Never had she realized how truly raising a baby was serving God. She was just beginning to feel at home when a large caravan arrived outside the door. Camels grumbled and snorted, horses pawed the ground and a group of elegantly dressed men with long grey beards and turbans invaded her little paradise. Again she opened her heart and watched, bewildered as they poured out gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. Then, almost as quickly as they had come, they were gone. Mary was shaken awake in the middle of a sound sleep by her husband. “Get up, quickly!” he urged. “We have to leave and get Jesus away from here.” Just like that, her serene life was shattered and she found herself a fugitive in Egypt, living off the gifts of the wise men. Before she could make herself at home there, the Lord had called them back home to Nazareth.

Once upon a time a quiet little Jewish girl had dreamed of a quiet life with beautiful, dark-eyed children and a gentle, godly husband. Then the Lord had called her to the most blessed role and her life turned upside down. She nearly lost her betrothed. Rumors and insults still straggled across the lips of neighbors for years afterwards. She had to give up her home and give birth in a far away place, cold and alone at night. She’d fled her homeland to save her child. Now she was home again. Finally, perhaps she would find her happily ever after.

As the child grew in grace and more brothers and sisters were added to the family, Mary began to learn more of this Son of God, born to her. The Passover feast found Him missing and her heart raced as she and Joseph searched for three days before finding Him in the temple. Struggling between pride at the report she heard of His wisdom and relief at finding Him she scolded, “Why did you do this to us? We’ve been searching everywhere for you!” His answer must have sent her mind spinning. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I must be doing my Father’s business?” For the rest of His life, His Father’s business would be His priority. He would stay out all night, sleeping under the stars, trekking across the countryside healing, teaching and gathering disciples. Mary knew His divine mission was from God, but she didn’t understand that the sword that pierced her heart would come so soon. She didn’t know that she would watch her Son slowly proving His independence of her and her advice only to prove her dependence on Him. Yet she had to trust Him, to trust that her Son knew the best. Each time He reminded her that He knew best, it must have sent a sword through her heart. Hadn’t she nursed Him? Hadn’t she wiped away His tears? Hadn’t she poured her heart and life into Him? She admired His compassion, His wisdom and His love. But how could she let go of the tiny baby she had held in her arms so many years before and worship the Man He had grown to be—God’s Son, in Whom He was well-pleased.

One terrible night, at the height of His popularity, He was betrayed by a friend and led as a sheep to the slaughter to the hill called Golgotha. His mother stood at the foot of His cross, weeping because she could not hold Him and comfort Him and wipe the blood and sweat from His face. She stood, ready to do for Him whatever she could, helpless to do anything for Him. Once God had promised she would bear a Son who would save His people from their sins. The Messiah. There He hung, naked and shredded, gasping for breath. His eyes met hers. “Woman,” he whispered, “Behold your Son.” And his eyes fixed on her nephew. “Behold, your mother.”

In that moment, Mary knew that He was no longer hers. That He never had belonged to her. In that moment the sword pierced her heart with a searing agony. Where was the happy ending of which she had dreamed? Then darkness overwhelmed everything and He passed.

After years of devotedly seeking to serve God, Mary lost her holy Son.

Such a moment couldn’t bear repeating had God not known best, had Jesus not been in control, had not the Spirit been moving. Mary had sacrificed her dreams and hopes for her Son unaware that He would sacrifice His life for her. Just as Jesus had laid down His life, He had power to take it up again. Three days later He rose, no longer Mary’s Son, but now fully her Master. Her God. In His death and resurrection, He saved her from the power of sin and death. Through Him, she obtained the new birth that made her a child of God. Through her Son’s perfect plan, Mary obtained her happily ever after—for eternity.

wow

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11 Comments

  1. Vanessa said,

    What an amazing synopsis of the story of our Savior’s birth. I just spent a couple of months in training at our local birth center. Witnessing the miracle of birth over and over again helped me to understand a little better the truly amazing miracle of God coming in the flesh. Beautiful post!

  2. nobody416 said,

    That was very beautiful Abigail and wonderfully written. I will definitely share this with others. God bless your Christmas, Abigail!

  3. Hannah said,

    Hi! I just found your blog and really like it. I was wondering if you had an icon link so I can put it on my blog? If so just stop by my blog and let me know where to get the html code from.
    Blessings,
    Hannah

  4. Behold, the Lord’s Handmaiden : The Value of One said,

    […] found this lovely post on Pearls and Diamonds. I hope it blesses you as it did […]

  5. Anna said,

    That gave me goosebumps!

    The part about “the full impact” reminds me of the song “Mary, Did You Know?”

  6. A Radiant Life said,

    […] Katy on December 24, 2008 I was browsing this bright Christmas eve morning and found a post from Pearls and Diamonds that inspired me and my girlfriends very much (I saw this on pearls and diamonds this morning then […]

  7. Anna Lofgren said,

    Beautiful post about Mary! She’s always been one of my favorite women of the Bible. You told the story so well while remaining true to Scripture, and it was beautiful to read.

  8. Behold; A Handmaiden of the Lord « A Radiant Life said,

    […] found a really great story of the first Christmas last night and wanted to share it. It’s by Pearl and Diamonds (I saw this on  Pearls and Diamonds then again last night on your site Ally great minds think […]

  9. Miss Jocelyn said,

    Oh that is just beautiful! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  10. Lessons from Wisdom: The Art of Availability « Pearls and Diamonds said,

    […] Read the story:  Behold, the Lord’s Handmaid […]

  11. Abigail said,

    Vanessa–what an amazing experience you’ve had! I’d be envious if it weren’t forbidden. 🙂 Are you in training to be a midwife?

    Hannah–(and others)We welcome any Christian young ladies joining our blogroll and adding the HTML image–you can snag it from the page called blogroll at the right.

    Anna L–I have often admired Mary as well…and her pondering heart (as Miss Jocelyn reminds us).

    I’d love for ya’ll to check out the follow up post–The Art of Availability and share your thoughts on what we can glean from Mary’s life!

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