Inspired By Mary of Nazareth

What does one do when she intends to dance her way through Advent, but stubs her toe within the first few steps? What does one do when he receives an unexpected diagnosis just a week into this four week journey? What does one do when he attempts to bring a bit of Merry Christmas to every day, but finds his good intentions rerouted by the loss of a loved one? What does one do when she tries her hardest to bring joy to the world, but finds herself unable to move beyond the unrest deep within her own heart? Since the beginning, I’ve urged you to join me in spreading glad tidings and dancing through Advent to Christmas Day. Still, in spite of our best efforts, many of you have discovered with me that this is sometimes more difficult than it seems…

The bumps in the road I’ve encountered this Advent too often threatened to derail my efforts. Rather than giving up on my good intentions, I decided to find encouragement in another Mary, the one who prepared for the first Christmas. When I was a child, I imagined this Mary filled with joy and unable to contain her love for the child she carried within her. I pictured Mary as she appears on many of our Christmas cards. So much at peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer as she awaited Jesus’ birth. She knew God would take care of everything else. My young heart was incapable of comprehending Mary’s actual predicament. As I grew older, I realized that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musing suggested. When I traveled to the Holy Land a few years ago, a visit to Nazareth deepened my thoughts on the matter.

Mary of Nazareth was a young teen when she embraced this out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Her parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to The Law. I can only imagine how they dealt with this news! Mary was betrothed to Joseph who was a good and just man. How did she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must have realized that the politics of her day made life difficult for the Jewish people. Did talk of this child add to their suffering? Did Mary consider the threat to her own safety? A woman caught in adultery drew the rage of the righteous which usually ended with her being stoned to death. As I walked through Nazareth three years ago, busy Israelis passed me from every direction. Some seemed immersed in the concerns of their day. Others laughed and chatted as they entered shops and restaurants. Still others, who’d covered themselves with broad hats and dark clothing, peered impatiently at less devout passersby. I wondered if they would have responded to Mary’s pregnancy with stones. Though the scriptures provide few details, it seems that Mary responded bravely to it all.

From the onset, Mary trusted in God’s faithfulness. As I walked the streets of Nazareth, I longed for the peace which urged Mary on. As I breathed in the air around me, I prayed that I would also breathe in Mary’s conviction that God is with me and with us all through everything we endure. For Mary of Nazareth, sadness and uncertainty never extinguished the spark of peace which was a constant within her heart. Though the complexities of this life grew with every step Jesus walked toward manhood, Mary trusted and carried on. As I ambled along the streets which were so familiar to Mary and Jesus, I admitted to myself that I haven’t been as adept as they were in dealing with the complexities of this life. Still, as Mary believed and as Jesus insisted, God remains with me.

So it is that I invite you to embrace the three days which remain until Christmas with renewed resolve. Though our eyes droop over perpetual to-do lists, look with me through Mary’s eyes toward Christmas Joy. Though our feet ache a bit from too many stumbles and too much running, let’s dance our way to join Mary beside Jesus’ manger. Though we’ve run out of shopping time, you and I know that we’ll never run out of blessings. Regardless of our successful and failed Christmas preparations, Mary’s peace and our own will abound on Christmas Day. Just as was the case for Mary that first Christmas Day, joy will prevail in the precious people we have been given to love. Most importantly, God’s love for you and me will be wrapped and unwrapped over and over again on Christmas Day and always. Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be A Hero… Inspire Joy!

We humans are a powerful bunch. One of our three-second smiles can transform a friend’s troubled outlook into joy. A single thoughtful compliment can put a bounce in the step of a colleague who’s been feeling dejected as of late. An arm wrapped around the shoulders of our contrite offspring quickly returns peace to his or her little world. These small efforts pale in the light of the saints and heroes who’ve walked this earth. Still, I think any one of these special people would assure us that their small efforts to love their fellow humans were precisely what empowered them to do the things which we consider to be extraordinary.

If given the chance, I think each of us could assemble a long list of the people who’ve influenced us most over the course of our lives. Their contributions to who we have become made a difference regardless of their stature in the world at large. In my life, even the powerful interactions which fell on the negative side of things instilled wisdom which eventually made an important difference in me.

The scripture passages for this Fourth Sunday of Advent feature some of the most influential of our biblical counterparts. In the first reading (Isaiah 7:10-14), Isaiah emerges once again to uplift his suffering people who are convinced that they face certain annihilation at the hands of their enemies. In this encounter, Isaiah reminds the people that God is with them. Indeed, God would remain with them regardless of the outcome of any threat which loomed overhead. In the second reading (Romans 1:1-7), Paul echoes Isaiah’s reassurance. Paul goes on to point out that he himself had persecuted the God’s people until he experienced Jesus for himself. Because of his newfound faith, Paul’s life changed forever. So it happened that on that day Paul stood with Jesus’ followers and assured them that God remained with them as well. If Isaiah’s and Paul’s great faith aren’t enough, Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 1:18-24) reminds us that Jesus and his parents faced uncertain circumstances from the very beginning of their life together.

I admit that our biblical heroes and heroines sometimes seem a bit too distant to have a lasting impact on me. Having written that, I must quickly add that this is never the case with Joseph and Mary. Of all of those who have come before us, this duo lived amazingly similar, yet frightfully more adverse lives than our own. Matthew chronicled the ominous adversity which Jesus’ parents dealt with from the moment they discovered he was on the way. Do you recall the angel’s visit to Mary? While Mary placed absolute faith in God’s plan for her, Joseph prepared to welcome his bride to his home. When Mary shared the news of her pregnancy, she shattered poor Joseph’s dreams. Being a just man who loved Mary dearly, Joseph decided to divorce her quietly rather than to expose her to shame and possible stoning to death (the prescribed punishment to unmarried pregnant women of the day). Amazingly, when Joseph encountered the truth about Jesus’ conception in a dream, he embraced this message and welcomed Mary and her child into his life. Joseph knew with certainty that God was with him. On that first Christmas night, Mary’s and Joseph’s faith morphed into absolute joy when they finally saw Jesus’ sweet little face. It is that face which inspired them to persist throughout the decades of uncertainty which lay ahead.

On this last Sunday of Advent, I offer my thanks for the heroes and heroines who have made me who I am. Whether I met them face to face or encountered them in books, the scriptures or prayer, I’m going to try to emulate them as I work my way to Christmas Day. I write “work” intentionally. As organized as you and I may be, we will run at one time or another this week. Whether we scramble for last-minute gifts or to respond to an unexpected request for assistance, we will do what we must for those who need us and to ready ourselves. When we respond with grace to what is asked of us, we’ll honor those who’ve contributed to who we are today, especially God who orchestrated it all. At the same time, we’ll evolve into heroines and heroes ourselves who inspire others to do the same. This is the power of our humanity!

You know, I began Advent 2016 with a message of hope. That hope evolved into joy and then into an inclination to share that joy. Today, it seems that we are called to share that joy heroically. Though our efforts often seem small to us, they mean everything to those who need us. Indeed, we humans are a very powerful bunch. What better time is there to show it?

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved