The First Advent What Did Mary Know?

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The First Advent What Did Mary Know?

By Beth Demme

There’s a popular song we hear every Advent called “Mary, Did You Know?” It was first released by a Christian recording artist in 1991. Since then it’s been recorded by a variety of musicians and has appeared on Billboard’s charts for Christian music, country music, R&B, Hip-Hop, and the “Hot 100” (whatever that is).

We don’t really know what Mary knew 2000+ years ago at the first Advent (at least, I don’t), but I love to consider questions with unknowable answers so here is some food for thought.

For starters, we know some of Mary’s sources.

Gabriel was the first to give Mary information.

When the angel Gabriel came to Mary in Nazareth he said:

[Y]ou will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:30-33)

Perhaps when Gabriel spoke, Mary recalled hearing this excerpt from Isaiah:

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Mary responded to Gabriel by asking how this would happen in her betrothed, but virginal, state. Gabriel briefed her on the big picture and she famously replied, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Elizabeth also gave Mary a hint.

After Gabriel’s visit, Mary left Nazareth and went to her cousin, Elizabeth, in the hill country. (Luke 1:39) Elizabeth was pregnant with the baby who would become John the Baptist. (Luke 1:63) On seeing Mary, “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42) She went on to call Mary “the mother of my Lord.” (Luke 1:43)

Had this happened in another time to another Mary, she might have responded, “You’ve got that right, Liz! Make way for the Mother of God. Gabe—what an angel, he is—he said this baby is going to be a great ruler with an everlasting kingdom!”

Instead, Mary’s response was much more humble and thoughtful. She responded with a song known as the Magnificat, saying “My soul magnifies the Lord.” (Magnificat is the Latin translation of the opening word of her song, megalunei (Μεγαλύνει) meaning “magnifying.”)

Mary celebrates being chosen by God, but she also sings of knowing God’s promises.

Mary closes her song saying, God kept “the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:54-55)

God’s promise to Abraham was to make Abraham “a great nation.”  (Genesis 12:2-3. See also Genesis 22:16-18.) Many generations later, God reiterated this covenant with Abraham’s descendant David saying, in part, “your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:16) Gabriel referred to this Covenant when he told Mary her son would receive “the throne of his ancestor David.”

Joseph also knew the baby was special.

Mary’s fiancée contemplated leaving her when she turned up pregnant. An angel appeared to him and said: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21) It’s not impossible to think Joseph shared this information with Mary at some point.

If Mary assimilated the words of Gabriel, the ancient prophecies, Elizabeth’s declaration, and Joseph’s dream, she would have known that her baby would be a man of authority with a throne and an everlasting kingdom who would ultimately save his people from their sins.

But how would Mary have expected her son to “save his people from their sins”? Was Mary like the disciples who came along thirty years later and expected Jesus to be a triumphant political leader? Could Mary have known that Jesus would provide a path for reconciliation by sacrificing himself?

Maybe.

Mary probably didn’t know crucifixion at age 33 was on her son’s agenda, but I think she knew Jesus would accomplish his calling in a way that exceeded politics.

Mary sings praise for the God who acts in unexpected ways.

She describes God as Savior (v. 47), mighty (v. 49), holy (v. 49), merciful (v. 50), and strong (v.51).

To Mary, God is a God of social change. She sings, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)

Mary was told her son would receive “the throne of his ancestor David,” but she sings about God bringing down “the powerful from their thrones.”

What did Mary know? We can be sure she knew God. I think she even had a glimmer of understanding that her son’s kingship would be entirely different from anything humanity had experienced.

What do you think Mary knew? How do you think she assimilated the words of Gabriel, the ancient prophecies, Elizabeth’s declaration, and Joseph’s dream with her own knowledge of God? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook. I’m also on Twitter (like, every single day, multiple times a day, way too much).


More Like This From Beth:

We Are All Waiting For God

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We Are All Waiting For God

By Beth Demme

Hi friend! I have a special, personal announcement! After months of discernment and prayer, and two additional months of meeting with my pastor, I have decided to answer the call to vocational ministry. I am now a candidate for ministry in the United Methodist Church!

I was honored to preach at St. George Island UMC on Sunday. This blog post is based on the sermon I shared there. If you would like to watch the whole sermon, it’s posted here. I would love to have your feedback!

Happy New Year! I know we haven’t dropped the ball yet or toasted with champagne, but we have, in fact, begun a new year in the life of the church. Advent has begun!

Advent is a season of waiting, and preparation, “for the birth of Christ, and a celebration of God’s unconditional love.”

In Advent We Wait

One of my favorite pastor-writers is a Lutheran pastor from Denver named Nadia Bolz-Weber. Last year at Advent she tweeted, “The wait is over. It’s finally #Advent. Oh … wait…”

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I’m not good at waiting. I avoid slow traffic and I use my iPhone to entertain myself in line at the grocery store.

Even though I’m not good at waiting and I normally avoid it at all costs, I actually love the liturgical season of waiting.

Advent reminds us that we are all waiting for God.

Maybe you are waiting for God to:

  • heal you or a loved one from an illness,
  • show up in the midst of a difficulty like unemployment,
  • make himself present in your suffering, or
  • maybe you are waiting on reassurance that God is present with you today.

If waiting has gotten you down, please know that you are not alone. Psalm 69 says, “I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. … Do not hide your face from your servant [God], for I am in distress—make haste to answer me.” (Psalm 69:3, 17)

I’ve been like that Psalmist, crying my eyes out and sobbing until my throat was parched. I have begged God to be present with me, or to change a situation, or to bring healing. Maybe you have, too.

Advent reminds us that our wait is not wasted because Advent leads to Christmas.

When my husband and I decided to start a family, our adoption journey involved a lot of forced waiting. We were at the mercy of local and state officials, federal officials, and the Russian government.

Of course, the wait was worth it! The love I feel for my children eclipses the memory of the months and months of waiting.

Pregnancies last 40 weeks, adoptions often take longer (our daughter’s adoption took more than a year). In either case, it can feel like a very long and uncomfortable wait. And yet, in the end, it’s worth it.

Advent is a worthwhile wait because it leads to Christmas.

At Christmas, we celebrate that God was physically present in this world. We celebrate that every prayer uttered before the birth of Jesus, and since, has been heard and lovingly received.

Normally I don’t celebrate waiting, but Advent is different.

In Advent, we wait for The One who the Gospel of John calls “the light of all people.” (John 1:4) I celebrate my belief that God will restore everyone and all things, from my smallest mistakes to the tremendous evil and suffering present in the world today.

In this season, I wait to celebrate the birth of the one who “was in the beginning with God” and through whom “all things came into being” and whose “light shines in the darkness” and overcomes the darkness. (John 1:1-4)

Advent is a time to remember we are all waiting on God and this wait is not wasted. Christmas is coming.

Are you good at waiting? How do you celebrate Advent? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.


Suggested Resources for Celebrating the Season of Waiting:

 

The Thanksgiving My Life Changed

By Beth Demme

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It was just before Thanksgiving 2002. My husband and I followed the pediatrician down the hall, our footsteps echoing off the undecorated walls and hard floors. We were inside a maternity/pediatric hospital in a small coal-mining town in southwest Russia.

The doctor led us to a bright room, with a big window, three cribs, and one precious 9-month old baby boy. As soon as we walked in, he stood up in the corner of his crib and looked at us with huge brown eyes.

The doctor may have spoken to him in Russian. I don’t remember. She may have spoken to me through our translator. I don’t remember.

All I remember is walking over to his crib and scooping him up. I immediately spoke to him in cooing mother tones I had never uttered before. I held him close. I studied his face.

How to Talk About Adoption

#NationalAdoptionDay

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How To Talk To Adoptive Families

By Beth Demme

It’s #NationalAdoptionDay!

As a parent by adoption, I’ve seen firsthand how people struggle with adoption language.

Here’s a very simple vocab primer: an adoptive parent is a mom or dad who has adopted a child after the biological parents’ rights have been relinquished or terminated.

Sometimes people say “natural” or “real” when they really mean “biological.” There have been times I felt hurt by inartfully worded questions. Can I be really honest with you? I may never forgive the woman who compared our adoption experience to choosing a puppy at the pound. Nope. Not even close. 

In our family, I am the mom. I’m not just an adoptive mom, a fake, or some kind of substitute. I am the real mom.

While I am the second mother in a series of two, I’m not a second-place contestant.

After The Election

Can 59 Million People Be Wrong?

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The presidential election went as I expected, but not as I had hoped.

It’s not helpful to rant and rave. It’s not helpful to complain about the results.

59 million people voted for each candidate. It would be wrong to dismiss either batch of 59. That means I will not call names or point out the reasons I did not vote for President-Elect Trump. Nor will I dismiss the 59 million who voted against him with platitudes about prayer and finding peace in the true kingdom of God.

In the wake of the election, I am asking God to bring comfort to those who will feel (even more) marginalized by the results. My gay friends. My black friends. My Latino friends. Perhaps most of all, my American Muslim friends.

Had the election turned out differently, I would be asking God to comfort my friends who feel marginalized by a changing economy and changing demographics. Perhaps I will be strong enough to continue to pray for them as well. Lord, give me strength.

I pray we find ways to have a productive dialogue and make America great for EVERYONE.

A productive dialogue will not happen without mutual willingness.

The people who just won will have to be willing to sit down with those of us who lost. And those of us who lost will have to be willing to sit in dialogue with those who defeated us.

This is always true in American politics. This is always true in a democratic republic.

I am also asking God for courage. Now that I think about it, this would have been my prayer regardless of the outcome.

Lord grant me the courage to stand up against the forces of evil. Instill in me the courage to be a voice of love and unity in a time of hate and division.

As I’ve tried to say before, no matter who you voted for, no matter whether your candidate won or lost, I still value your friendship, your ideas, and your humanity.

What about you? How are you feeling post-election? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.

Do You Need an Election Sabbath?

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Do you need an election Sabbath?

By Beth Demme

As we near the end of the 2016 Presidential Election, I long for the peace that passes understanding. I need to experience God afresh. I need a Sabbath.

Sabbath is a weekly practice, but it is also one we can specifically turn to in a time of need. For me, this election season qualifies. I don’t think I’m the only one. I think maybe all of America needs an election Sabbath.

On Facebook, I see the relief (or perhaps joy?) in the selfies my friends are posting after participating in early voting. Happy to have cast their vote, but also happy they are one step closer to the end of this campaign.

What images does your mind conjure up when you hear the word, Sabbath? I think of rest and peacefulness.

Sabbath rest and peacefulness are the antitheses to the 2016 election, and perhaps the antidote for it.

Why You Should Let Your Light Shine

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Let Your Light Shine

By Beth Demme

The Bajan choir was dressed colorfully as they serenaded us that Sunday morning. Their simple outfits instantly brought even more cheer to an already happy room as they sang “This Little Light of Mine.” Even though this song is usually reserved for children, adults happily sang along, too. The choir director spoke as the choir hummed behind her. In her beautiful island accent, she said:

Everyone has a talent that can shine God’s love. Some of us are still trying to find our talent and I want you to know, it’s okay. Keep looking for it.

The choir resumed its chorus, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine.

It’s easy to forget we each have a talent.

Sometimes it can seem like our individual light doesn’t make any difference in a world already brightened by so many others.

One light—my light, your light—can make a difference.

The proof of this is the electronic sign at the middle school near our home. At the beginning of one school year the sign blinked “School Starts at 3:25 am.” At first, it was funny. Then, it was annoying. Who lets a typo on a school sign go on day after day?

Wrestling With God

Is God Telling Me to Let Go?

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Wrestling With God

By Beth Demme

Sometimes I hold on too tightly to God. To be more precise, I hold on too tightly to my ideas about God.

I unintentionally put God in a box.

You probably know the story of Jacob wrestling with God.

I love how Jacob’s story gives us permission to “wrestle” with God. It’s a poignant illustration of the reality that God is not detached or hands-off when it comes to his people.

It also reflects the reality of my relationship with God. Like Jacob, I wrestled with God before I understood the truth of God’s unconditional love. From time to time, I still feel like I’m wrestling with God.

Maybe, like me, you have read Jacob’s story many times. Maybe like me you missed an important detail.

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In This Election, God Is On My Side

God On My Side

By Beth Demme

After three debates, a handful of scandals, and some terrific SNL skits, I feel a little flummoxed by this year’s presidential election. It’s not that I am an undecided voter, I have decided.

On the off-chance you’re interested, it was basically a 5-step decision-making process for me:

  1. Decide “not Trump.” That was easy for me. I made that decision months ago.
  2. Confront my personal bias against Hillary Clinton.
  3. Research Clinton’s platform, policy initiatives, and personal record.
  4. Research Johnson/Weld. This required me to learn who these gentlemen are, how they have served, and what they believe in.
  5. Research Jill Stein. (I admit I didn’t give this step equal time. I realized pretty quickly she wouldn’t be the right candidate for me.)

All in all, it’s been a good election cycle for me in terms of soul searching and deciding what is important to me.

If I’m really honest, I can thank Donald Trump for that.

I’ve been a loyal Republican for a long time. I would never have looked beyond the GOP candidate if the candidate had not been so unqualified and, truly, reprehensible. Thanks Donald! You gave me a YUGE opportunity to become a better person.

Although I won’t vote for Trump, I know many devoted Christians who will vote for him. I know their political views because I see them on Facebook. It’s the best place for politics. Really, the best.