To the actors in the original Christmas drama, Christmas was something far larger than a story.
When Gabriel first saluted Mary with the glad tidings that she was selected to give birth to the Messiah, it was not only a dream come true; it was a complete life change. This wasn’t something Mary read once a year before ripping into the presents stacked under the tree—this was reality.
Christmas was more than a story to Mary. It was her life.
Yet somehow, through the grace of God, Mary made three timely choices as her life spun out of her control into the sovereign prophecies of Scripture.
The choices Mary made are within the reach of every child of God. In fact, they are vital.
Mary was shocked by Gabriel’s visit; I’m shocked by Mary’s response. It seems to me that in the rawness of the moment, she might have questioned, “But what will Joseph think?” or “What will my family say? Can you go explain to them, too?”
But her first question was one of surprised wonder: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” Her next response was one of mature faith: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”
Mary chose to trust
- when she didn’t know the answers,
- when she was numb with shock,
- when every aspect of her future had just been rewritten, and
- when her world had been shaken beyond her ability to wrap her mind around or sort out.
Her trust demonstrates a key principle:
Submission in an expression of trust.
In that moment, trust was not a reaction; it was a choice. Trust is never passive; it is active—a choice, a decision, an act of faith.
What in your life seems impossible right now? What is it that you know God wants you to do, that He has directed you to do…but all you can say is, “How shall this be, seeing [fill in the blank with visible evidence]”?
Listen carefully to Gabriel’s answer, “With God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). It’s true; but we have to make the choice to believe it.
Like you, I’ve heard many lessons and sermons that remind us of Mary’s difficulties—an unwed pregnancy, change of life plans, ridicule, fear, etc.
Think about it, though. You only find these difficulties in the narrative of the Christmas story—never from Mary’s mouth.
Mary had every reason to complain…but she didn’t. Instead, she chose to rejoice. Her first words to Elisabeth were a song of praise: “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46–47).
In my most spiritual moments, my greeting to Elisabeth would have been something more like, “I want to trust God, but I’m so broken and torn inside. Help comfort me, Elisabeth.” I might not have said it quite like that, but I definitely would have made sure Elisabeth knew all of my reasons to fear.
But just as Mary had every reason to complain, she also had every reason to rejoice! Although the news came in an unexpected way and with unexpected repercussions, she had just learned that she—Mary—would be the mother of the Messiah!
Mary could have justifiably complained or rejoiced…and she chose to rejoice.
To rejoice is a choice.
And it’s a choice God commands us to make: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
I can always find reasons—good, solid reasons—to complain. (And I often do!) But if I take Philippians 4:9 for the command that it is, I can also always find ample reasons to rejoice in the person of Christ.
The choice is ours: We can complain about the very real difficulties of life, or we can choose to rejoice in the very real favor and kindness of God.
Mary’s choice, while not the most natural, seems wisest.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get mechanical about the things I do often. Take singing in church, for example. Sometimes I sing with a heart full of worship. Sometimes I repeat words I know well while I prepare mentally for my next responsibility of the day. December itself has enough responsibility that it is easy for the entire month to turn into something like a grueling marathon of activity and exhaustion.
But Mary engaged in a way that allowed her to experience Christmas with awe and wonder: “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Remember, Christmas wasn’t just a story to Mary. And she refused to let it be just an unusual set of circumstances that she experienced, only to move on to the next and less extraordinary events of life.
To Mary, Christmas was marvelous—because she took time to ponder the mysterious workings of God in her life.
But you and I rarely give ourselves the time, space, or quiet to ponder—to think. No wonder Christmas is mechanical! Exhausting. Distracting.
Mary’s stable wasn’t nearly as idealic as we imagine. There were more than enough distractions in the surrounding hay. And, because she was as human as you and me, I’m sure there were plenty of inner distractions that threatened to hijack the attention of her heart and mind. Yet Mary chose to ponder.
Focus is a choice of the heart.
We must choose to carve out time in which we determine to focus our hearts on worshipping God. The distractions without and the cares within will never voluntarily subside to make room for meditation. We have to choose to shut out the noise and worship Jesus.
Three Choices of Christmas
Mary’s decisions began with the simple choice to trust God, which she expressed through submission to His will.
She continued the path of trust by choosing to rejoice, remembering God’s goodness and favor instead of complaining about the pain.
And her choices were stabilized in her heart as she quietly made room to ponder, meditating on the wondrous events that were unfolding before her eyes.
We, too, will make these choices when we allow Christmas to become more than a story.