It must be nearly Christmas. X Factor has finished (apart from the winners, Little Mix, vying for the Christmas No. 1 against the Military Wives – there can be only one winner, surely?), the Strictly final is tonight and the shops are already making shelf space for their Easter promotions. All are signs that, though there is still a week to go, as far as most are concerned Advent is pretty much over and Christmas proper can begin.
I’ve been reflecting on Mary’s part in the Christmas story. I reckon she might have done quite well in X Factor – we have one of her songs recorded in Luke 1 so I’m thinking she might have had a reasonably good singing voice. She was a young teenager like so many in the competition, and she certainly had a ‘rollercoaster journey’ that would provide the tear-jerking backstory so necessary these days.
Imagine how it must have been for this young girl starting out on life with her whole future in front of her. She’d found a wonderful man to take care of her (which was the only way she could find security in the culture of the day – no serious jobs for women, no benefits, no TV talent contests to help you ‘follow your dream’ and find thirty seconds of fame). Yes they were poor, but Joseph had a trade and I’m sure they were looking forward to settling down and raising a family together.
Then God shows up and her life is turned upside down. Suddenly she is looking at the possibility of being a homeless single teenage mother facing the death penalty. How will Joseph react? (We know he tried to quietly break off their engagement, so her fears must have been real). What will she tell her mum and dad? What will everyone think?
Joseph, of course, does stand by her and together they face the full force of government bureaucracy, lack of healthcare provision, a brutal dictator bent on finding them and killing their new baby boy, and being forced to leave their own country and become asylum seekers. That’s quite a ‘journey’ for a young couple! A long way from the picture conjured up by most Christmas cards and carols.
It seems to me that the Christmas celebration of Jesus as Immanuel – God With Us – works two ways. Firstly, we can be sure that whatever life throws at us, God will journey through it with us. That’s a promise.
But the thing that’s more difficult to accept is that when God shows up things can get messy. Obediently following God’s plan for my life will not be easy. Accepting ‘God With Us’ will mean struggle, challenge and at times downright opposition. Am I really ready for that?
I’m amazed at Mary’s response to all this. Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.” (Luke 2:38). What an attitude. What as example. Whatever the X Factor actually is, Mary’s got it.
It all leaves me wondering whether I’m as willing to welcome Immanuel this Christmas as I think. Whether I’m up for the journey God may have in store for me in 2012, which he has not promised will be all wine and roses. And whether I can summon up the courage and faith to respond as Mary did to the call of God.