Christmas is drawing near and in this last week of Advent the focus is on Mary, the young Jewish girl who made the whole Christian story possible by saying ‘Yes’ to God. On Tuesday her hymn or psalm of praise was the Gospel reading, as given to us by Luke. In it she praises God for all that he has done and will do. She acknowledges her part in God’s plan and that this will make her known for generations to come. She was not speaking out of pride but out of humility, accepting the gift God had given her. In my reflection I looked at what that means for us.
The readings were Psalm 113, 1 Samuel 1:24-end, Luke 1:46-56.
If someone were to be asked to guess what we have all been busy with in the past couple of weeks, they could do worse than to suggest we have been buying presents. Christmas is a time when we often give something to our family and friends, and perhaps also to teachers, employees and so on. There can be much scratching of heads as we try to come up with the right idea for each person.
Despite the recession, the assumption seems to be that we will still spend, spend, spend. There are TV adverts, newspaper and magazine adverts, and many catalogues coming in the post. I don’t know about you, but my emails consist of quite a lot of reminders of how many days to go before the last ordering day (which I think was today even for the best companies). The shops are full of ‘buy one get one free’ offers and it seems the sales have started before Christmas this year to entice us to buy more.
As Christians we get swept along with the commercialisation as much as anyone but we may have a slightly different perspective on it all. We may remember that the wise men brought gifts when they arrived to greet and pay homage to the child who was King of the Jews, Jesus. They brought costly gifts, just as we give what we can to those we care about, whether the value be monetary or in terms of the time or effort we have put into providing the gift. We may remember Saint Nicholas who was Bishop of Myra and lived from 270-346AD. He was credited with many miracles and so was called Nicholas the Wonderworker. He was also a secret gift-giver who put coins in shoes that were left out for him. This is the beginning of the tradition of Santa Claus coming with gifts.
Having once bought our gifts we usually wrap them with care, or get them gift wrapped at the store if we are lazy. Then on the big day all that paper, the ribbon, the bows, come off and the present is revealed to the recipient. We hope that once the person sees the gift they will be pleased and say thank you.
Imagine if, after all your efforts, the people for whom you had bought gifts would not receive them. Imagine them coming back to you in the post unopened, or handed back to you in person with a ‘No, thank you’. Imagine how you would feel.
In the well known hymn or psalm that we call the Magnificat, Mary worshipped God with her whole being. She said, ‘Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.’ When she said that, Mary was not being proud. It’s not as though she had just won the latest TV show for would-be stars, knowing that every newspaper and magazine would want her picture and her story, that everywhere she went she would be mobbed because of her great talent.
Mary was acknowledging that God had given her a wonderful gift, more wonderful than anything we will give at Christmas. It was not her talent that would make all generations call her blessed. She was an ordinary young Jewish girl, not a superstar. Mary could have tried to look humble and not have said that she would be noticed by generations to come. Had she done that she would have been throwing the gift back at God, rejecting his blessings.
That would have been pride, not accepting what God wanted to give her. Instead Mary modelled humility. She accepted the gift and praised God for giving it. It was hardly a gift without complications. To be found to be pregnant before marriage was disgraceful and nearly ended up with Mary being divorced by Joseph but despite this Mary accepted what God wanted to give her.
I know the British are particularly bad at accepting things from others. If they get a bunch of flowers, the standard response is, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have.’ If they get a compliment, ‘It was nothing. I don’t think I did it very well really.’ Nice gifts are brushed aside and rejected in the name of good manners.
I have a counselling client who really doubts her own value. I asked her one day what she does if someone pays her a compliment. She says she does just as I have suggested, brushing it aside, refusing to believe that it is true. I challenged her to look on the next compliment she received as a gift. I said that if a gift was offered in a beautiful box, tied with ribbon, she would accept it and she should do the same with compliments. Even if she didn’t believe them she was to accept them graciously with a ‘Thank you’ rather than throw them back in a person’s face.
She has been working on this, though struggling. She says it’s like learning a whole new language. It has been worth the effort though as she is finally beginning to believe in her own value as a person. She is emerging as a more confident and happy woman.
Mary, full of grace, received her gift from God. I challenge you to keep your eyes open for what God is giving you. Thank God for what he gives you and do your best to use any gift to serve God and bring him glory, always acknowledging the source of the gift.
Some people would say that they are not special, that they have no gifts. I always remember at a Christian conference being given the answer to that: God does not make rubbish!
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor