I don’t know about you, but often when reading, the Lord puts a word or phrase before me and I just have to stop everything I am doing there and then; overcome by a sense of the importance of the words. As I close and lay down the book to consider the words, often I feel enveloped by an silent void calling me to understand and learn from them. Sometimes there is an immediate desire to go and write an article on and around those words; other times, I just feel a deep need fill the void with the Lord’s understanding and revelation.
As a non-Catholic, I confess that Mary, the mother of Jesus, usually only comes to mind at Christmas time, though she came to mind this Easter as our Pastor spoke on The Seven Last Words of Jesus. Just after that, the Lord brought her to mind again.
Image the scene in a stable in Bethlehem where a new young mother sits with her child in a manger; her husband, standing at the stable entrance, bids adieu to a group of visiting shepherds who are now leaving. For the young mother it had been an hectic last couple of weeks and she has had a lot on her mind. Luke 2:1-18 puts it this way:
“And it happened in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (This taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be registered, each to his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee to be taxed (out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David). And he took Mary his betrothed wife, being with child.
And while they were there, the days for her deliverance were fulfilled. And she brought forth her son, the First-born, and wrapped Him, and laid Him in a manger – because there was no room for them in the inn.
And in the same country there were shepherds living in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. And they were grievously afraid.
And the angel said to them, Do not fear . For behold, I give to you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For to you is born today, in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.
And this is a sign to you. You will find the babe wrapped, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it happened as the angels departed from them into Heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Indeed, let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing which has happened, which the Lord made known to us. And hurrying they came and sought out both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger. And seeing, they publicly told about the word spoken to them concerning this Child. And all those who heard marvelled about the things spoken to them by the shepherds.”
The shepherds had confirmed that which Mary already knew in her heart and all that the Angel Gabriel and Elizabeth and all her Rabbis had told her. Since those words had come true, Mary would have recognised that for sure and for certain, all the words spoken in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah would also come true before her very eyes.
What did Mary do? Luke 2:19 tells us: “… But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart, “ or as the MKJV says, “… But Mary kept all these sayings, meditating in her heart.”
It has often been said that when God says something in His Word, it is important, and if it is repeated, it is doubly important and we should really pay attention. Let us now move on 12 years in the life of Jesus and Mary to the time when Jesus is left behind in Jerusalem:
“And it happened that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and questioning them. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. And seeing Him, they were amazed.
And His mother said to Him, Child, why have you done so to us? Behold, your father and I have looked for you, greatly distressed.
And He said to them, Why did you look for Me? Do you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?
And they did not understand the word which He spoke to them.” (Luke 2:46-50)
Another traumatic but heart-lifting experience for Mary. After three days of hunting for their 12-year-old son, they found Him teaching in the synagogue. As she headed for home she gathered her thoughts together, we read in Luke 2:51,
“And He went with them and came to Nazareth, and He was subject to them. But His mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” or “…. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.“ ESV
As in English, the Greek phrase “in her heart,” also infers the deep thoughts and the deep feelings of her mind; right to the very middle of her. In other word, what Mary saw and felt went inward, not outward; and when deep inside, she pondered it, she considered it, she meditated on it, she contemplated it, and she did so inwardly.
What was it that caused this change in this young women? I believe it was the meeting with the Angel Gabriel, as recorded in Luke 1:26-38 which says:
“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
And the angel came in to her and said, Hail, one receiving grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what kind of greeting this might be.
And the angel said to her, Do not fear, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold! You shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name JESUS.
He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God shall give Him the throne of His father David. And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.Then Mary said to the angel, How shall this be, since I do not know a man?
And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit shall come on you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. Therefore also that Holy One which will be born of you shall be called Son of God.
And behold, your cousin Elizabeth also conceived a son in her old age. And this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.
And Mary said, Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word. And the angel departed from her.”
As I write this, I realise anew that all things considered, Mary was an extraordinary young woman. For above all, there is a sense of calm in all the Bible verses quoted here.
However, the meeting with the Angel Gabriel certainly had a profound effect on Mary and I believe, Gabriel was the catalyst who caused permanent changes to her thinking patterns, allowing the influence of God to work in her continually. From a simply biological point of view as I understand it, only 5% of brain is used for our cognitive/thinking activities (decisions, emotions, actions, behaviour) is conscious; the remaining 95% is generated in a non-conscious or sub-conscious manner. It is in our sub-conscious where, I believe, the Holy Spirit dwells and operates and in there, is our spiritual being.
I believe this is important for us to understand, for it means that we can, as the Bible asks us, to “meditate continually” on spiritual things, and we do so in our sub-conscious.
As I read in Luke 2:19 and Luke 2:51 how Mary had pondered these things deep inside her, I began to see and understand how my own life too had been changed by kind and apt words at the right time and how these words changed me permanently.
The Lord did not send the Angel Gabriel to me, but one day in my second year of secondary school, Thomas McKay, the head of the Technical Department stopped me in the school corridor and talked to me. He told me he had his eye on me and expected great things from me. He told me how he held my father in high regard though he has never met him. I never told anyone of this kindly talk with the school’s most feared teacher; but to know he cared and that he cared personally about me, that changed my life. He was also a devout Christian, yet it was not what he said about Christianity which impacted my life, it was his action of reaching out to say effectively, “You matter!”
Years later as I prepared to go from art to study architecture, a sculptor by the name of David Bell sat me down and like Thomas McKay talked words into my sub-conscious which were to change me and how I think and operate. I recall him warning me to listen to all the architecture school’s lecturers and take it all in, but with a “pinch of salt” and then, before I used any of their teachings, to test them. As it transpired I failed my exams so it took longer than normal to get to study architecture, but the words of David Bell have held me in good standing. Only now I understand how deeply they changed me.
Reading Luke 2:19 and Luke 2:51, I saw how the words of McKay and Bell had changed my life, just as the Angel Gabriel change Mary’s.
The Lord sends us what we need at the most opportune of times. I praise Him that He is now revealing to me a little of that which He has done in my life to shape me and prepare me for His works.
I now recognise that the “coincidences” and experiences of my life were not accidental, but divinely arranged. The Lord is slowly answering my prayers where I sought understanding. I am reminded of the Hollywood cliché, “You can’t handle the truth,” and am pleased indeed that the Lord is revealing things in small doses, so I can contemplate them and come naturally to a better understanding, not of me, but of how the Lord has been both in control of my life, and also interested in my life, each and every single day.
This article has taken a long time to write. I’ve talked to a number of Pastors about it as I’ve been thinking aloud, while trying to come to terms with writing about a comparison or contrast between Mary and myself. But in the end, I see it is not at all about me; it is only about the Lord God almighty, about the Lord Jesus Christ and about the Holy Spirit. I am but a broken and fragile vessel for their use and all I need to do is to point others to them.
Please pray with me now:
Dear Heavenly Father,
I bow before You. I have no words to say how small and inconsequential I am, and how exalted and high You are. There is no comparison. You are the potter, I am but a fragile broken vessel.
Lord, I thank You from the bottom of my heart that I can come before You in prayer today. It is my honour to do so, it is my pleasure to do so, it is my desire to do so.
I thank You for the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary for my sins, that I am redeemed. It is a sacrifice I can but scarcely imagine.
I know Lord God, that I am in Your heart and that You care so deeply about me. I pray Lord, that You will renew my heart and give me a heart which beats for You and for You alone.
Lord, grant me a heart to love You, as You love me.
Change me now Lord, and align me with You, such that Your will is my will, Your desires are my desires.
Throughout my life Lord, I now recognise that You have been there with me all the time. I repent and ask forgiveness of the times when You reached out for me, and I spurned Your loving touch and Your out-stretched hand.
Let me be changed, I pray, as You wrought changes in me, and as you take me from where I am, to where I should be.
Father, I lay my will at Your feet and ask You to please lead me. Please Lord, help me fulfill that destiny for my life which you have planned since the creation of this earth.
Oh Lord, please help me to keep all of Your words and all Your teachings in my heart and teach me to meditate on them continually and without ceasing, just as Mary did. Disciple me, I pray, in the name of my Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen and Amen and Amen.