The Mother’s Day minefield is upon us. When I was a child this day was so simple to navigate. A card filled with love expressed in childish scrawl and primitive artwork sufficiently told my Mom everything she needed to know about what she meant in my life. Even when my girls were little it was enough. I remember a fist full of crushed dandelions from a blue-eyed blonde girl-child that meant more to me than roses or diamonds ever could!
But my world was smaller then and I was not acquainted with all of the grief my sisters experience. I know so much more today and I love more broadly. Still I honor the mothers I know. The job IS heroic and fraught with pitfalls and joys, recriminations and celebrations. With each progression (or maybe regression?) of our culture, mothering a child to the place of full adult freedom and abundant life is that much harder. Prayer is my gift to honor the mothers I know today.
But what about my sisters who want to be mothers but for so many reasons don’t wear that name? And what about my sisters who are called to something different and remain productively, happily single? In the first chapters of Luke three women respond to very different life situations in very similar ways. I’ve learned some things from them.
First in Luke chapter 1 we see the old woman, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was married to a priest, Zechariah, and descended from the priestly line of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Scripture tells us that Elizabeth was barren and this even though both she and Zechariah were “…upright in the sight of God observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” Zechariah’s division of priests was on duty in the temple and he was chosen by lot to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. As he prayed and offered the incense a terrified Zechariah saw an angel of the Lord standing by the altar. But the angel said to him “Do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…” Don’t you wonder what Zechariah prayed? I suspect by this time of life Zechariah and Elizabeth knew a settled sorrow that there would be no children from their union. In his priestly role he likely prayed for the redemption of Israel, the coming of the Messiah, the remission of sins, and personally the same prayer that he might be counted worthy to offer the incense on behalf of his people, lest he be struck dead for presuming to offer it in an unworthy condition. Zechariah finished his time of service and then went home. Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. Her response to the filling of her womb was “The Lord has done this for me; in these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Next in Luke chapter 1 we get to meet the young Mary a virgin pledged to be married to Joseph, a descendant of David. As we meet Mary scripture notes that Elizabeth is in her sixth month. Mary, like Zechariah, is greeted by an angel. Don’t you wonder what Mary was doing as the angel appeared to her? Was this young woman going about her daily activities, perhaps dreaming of the life she would have with Joseph? Was she in quiet meditation praying for the same things Zechariah prayed for in the temple? We don’t know this, but we do know from the angel that Mary was “…highly favored! The Lord is with you.” The angel brings to Mary details about what is going to happen to her; she will bear a son, she is to name him Jesus, he will be called Son of the Most High, God will give him the throne of his father David, he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end. And the angel answers this young woman’s practical question – “How will this be since I am a virgin?” The angel clearly establishes Jesus’ paternity saying he will be called the Son of God through the agency of the Holy Spirit coming upon Mary, the power of the Most High overshadowing her. All the plans and purposes of God seem to hang in the balance as we wait for Mary’s response. Does she have any comprehension of everything surrender will mean in her life? Her response to what the angel has told her is the second most amazing obedience of all time, “I am the Lord’s servant; May it be done to me as you have said.”
The angel has provided a sign for Mary that what has been spoken is true and will come to pass. He told Mary of barren Elizabeth’s pregnancy and made it clear that the child Elizabeth carries is by the power of God. The newly, invisibly pregnant Mary immediately heads to see Elizabeth and the minute Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting there is powerful confirmation of the truth of what the angel told Mary. The baby leaps in Elizabeth’s womb and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks words that filled Mary’s mouth with praise!
Mary’s response is beautiful! “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
The last woman we meet in these first two chapters of Luke is Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. Anna is a very old widow. She lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. During those years she never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Mary and Joseph had brought the tiny infant Jesus for his consecration to the Lord as a firstborn male. Anna comes up to this little trio just as Simeon, a righteous and devout man who God had directed to come to the temple to see Jesus, finishes prophesying over them. Anna gives thanks to God and then begins to speak about Jesus to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.
The lives of these women are all very different. We get to see their stories converge at a place of purpose and provision in the great redemption love story of our Most High God. Each of them experienced pain. Each of them in some way focused that pain into prayer and obedience and lives honoring God Most High. What encourages me most about these stories is that God Most High was aware of their lives and orchestrating the details of their lives within the context of His great story. He ministered to them and stirred up praise even while He moved forward in His plans for our redemption. The angel said it all with the words spoken to Mary “For nothing is impossible with God.”
What I love about the responses of these women is that each of them moved forward in their own way proclaiming God’s redemption … each one sharing their story of God’s work in their individual lives praising Him and proclaiming the greater story of redemption.
Mary said it all in her response to the angel “I am the Lord’s servant; May it be to me as you have said.” Oh that this would be the response we come to no matter the place God chooses to use us as His women! So I say “Happy Mother’s Day” to those women who share God’s great redemption story with and through offspring. And I pray for myself and my sisters that all of us can come to ‘may it be to me as your have said’ as we move forward in God’s redemptive plans for our individual lives and for all mankind.