In the sixth month God sent the angel Gabriel . . . to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David (Luke 1:26-27).
December is barely one week old, and already it seems like I’m seeing the month disappear. Like a mirage that takes shape before parched desert travelers, December looms large on the horizon until we move closer. Where does it go?
‘Tis the season for making plans: Family plans, travel plans, social plans, financial plans to undergird our gift-giving plans. Plans are a necessary part of Christmas, and one of the most enjoyable. Plans give shape to our anticipation. Plans keep words like joy and love from being mere abstractions or nice platitudes. Plans embody our highest hopes and best intentions.
But there are times when the plans we make and the Christmas we actually live through bear no resemblance to each other. Travel is thwarted, relational tensions intensify, financial constraints force restraint. Christmas – perhaps more than any season of the year – teaches us to hold our plans loosely.
Living with Our Hands Open
Mary was a young woman with plans. These plans weren’t private property, something she had cooked up in her own mind. The plans that Mary had were made for her at some point; by the agreement of the parents involved she was pledged to be married to Joseph. We have no reason to believe that Mary was forced into this plan. This is how marriages took place in her world. The plans made for her were her plans too.
We know enough about that time and place to know that being pledged to Joseph brought with it other plans: plans for making a home and having a family, plans that sound very much like the kinds of things we plan for ourselves today.
And then God sent the angel Gabriel to announce a new plan. “You will be with child and give birth to a son” (Lk. 2:31). So much for Mary’s plan.
For a few days this week we’ll be keeping company with Mary. We’ll watch and listen as she gives herself to a plan not of her own making, a plan she never imagined. She is a remarkable woman: direct and honest, bold and humble. Mary models for us a life of trust and risk. She stands before God with her hands open, not clutching at the life she had in mind for herself.
Mary reminds us that God is not an idea to be debated or a concept to be discussed. God is a living personal presence who shows up and makes a claim on our life. This week we’ll listen to that claim. And more importantly we’ll listen to Mary’s answer.
Plans and Purposes
Proverbs 19:21 says “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” This wisdom invites us to ponder the relationship between our plans and God’s purposes. Plans are what we make, creating lists, keeping a calendar, managing various commitments. Purposes are greater than plans. Purposes are what our plans aim at, giving them meaning.
When we plan well, there’s a congruence between our plans and God’s purposes. What we see in Mary’s story, however, is that God’s purposes may at times change our plans. We really can’t live well without making plans. And we can’t live well by resisting or ignoring God’s purposes.
What kind of plans are you making for the coming weeks?
What is the purpose beneath your plans?
What purposes do you think God might have for you in this Advent season?
We invite you even now, O God, to show up in our plans according to your will and purposes. Keep us alert in this season of the year, ready to be surprised and perhaps even troubled at your claim on us. Make us ready and willing to answer you with trusting hearts, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.