Mother’s Day devotional, by Rosie Moore.
I’ve always smiled at Bilbo Baggin’s description of himself as “thin, sort of stretched…like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” It sounds pretty much like being a mom!
This morning I read an article about a woman from Mali who gave birth to nine babies! I couldn’t help but wonder how her body managed to carry, nourish and birth so many little bodies. An even more terrifying prospect is how she’s going to feed, clean and raise all those children until they’re self-supporting adults. This mother represents a hyperbole of motherhood in general:
Mothers are bound for life to their children– emotionally, financially and physically. Motherhood is indeed a great privilege and blessing, but being a good mother invariably comes at a high cost and sacrifice. When we become mothers, we trade our preferred future for a risky, uncertain one. But if God, in his providence, has given you children, you can be assured that He has called you to it. For a Christian, motherhood is not a weak call, but a lifelong vocation that requires great courage, trust and surrender to God’s will. In my opinion, no one embraced the painful privilege of motherhood more than Mary, the mother of Jesus.
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.”
If you think about it, Mary was the only human being present at Jesus’s birth who also witnessed his death on a cross. As a teenager, she saw Jesus arrive as her precious baby son, and later, watched him die as her Saviour. It was just as the old priest, Simeon had said, directing his prophecy towards Mary, “And a sword will pierce your soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).
Have you ever thought of the risk that Mary took when she replied to the angel’s message: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)?
Mary’s story is worth pondering. Mary risked everything in her willingness to surrender her body, her reputation and her preferred future. She risked everything by entrusting herself fully to God’s care and mercy. Let’s stand in her shoes for a moment:
Mary was a poor teenage girl whose one hope to a future was Joseph, a good Jewish boy to whom she was engaged. Before she saw God’s provision, she was required to walk through the door of obedience, to trade her hopeful, promising future for what must have seemed a disastrous outcome.
In first century Jewish communities, pregnancy outside of marriage was a scandal that we can only begin to imagine today. Unless the father of the child agreed to marry a pregnant woman, she would probably remain unmarried for the rest of her life. If her own father rejected her, she could be forced into prostitution or begging to earn a living. Add to that Mary’s bizarre story about being a virgin and pregnant with the Holy Spirit. This teenage girl risked being labelled as an immoral liar and a delusional, crazy woman. Her reputation and standing in the community would have instantly been blown to bits. Remember that Mary didn’t know any more than what the angel told her:
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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 father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God… 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Did you notice that the angel Gabriel doesn’t rebuke Mary for her honest, humble, practical questions (Luke 1:29-30; 34-35)? But neither does the angel give her a step-by-step guide on how to step into her unique role as mother of God’s promised Messiah. In spite of her own fears and reputational loss, Mary glorifies God in song for what He is going to do for the world through her. She boldly embraces God’s call to use her for his redemptive purposes.
Here is part of her song, known as the Magnificat, spoken after her cousin Elizabeth confirmed the angel’s message:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name….
In Mary’s song of praise and worship, we see the centrality of motherhood in the story of salvation. It’s the beginning of the fulfillment of the earliest gospel announcement in the Bible:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).
A costly obedience.
Mary shows us what obedience to God looks like. Her song is full of humility, strength and gospel exuberance. Mary is totally at God’s disposal, a nobody for the Lord. She is willing to accept all the vulnerabilities; weaknesses and the disgrace of her pregnancy and ‘bastard’ son. The role of carrying, nurturing and raising this Messiah child was a painful privilege that Mary gladly embraced.
Picture Mary as a teenage mother raising the perfect son of God in her little home in Nazareth. Jesus was an ordinary child and adolescent with younger brothers and sisters. Amidst the normal routines of daily life, watching Jesus working in his father’s workshop, Mary must have often been reminded that her son was far from ordinary. “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Mary had plenty to “treasure in her heart” as she raised the Christ child (Luke 2:51-52).
And then, 33 years after the stable in Bethlehem, Mary watched her boy being rejected, humiliated, beaten and finally crucified as a criminal, on a hill in Jerusalem.
Yet, even as his own life ebbed away on the cross, Jesus was concerned for his mother watching nearby (John 19:25-27). As the eldest son, Jesus entrusted Mary to John, the only friend who stayed with him at the cross. Jesus’s attitude of care towards his mother shows us the honour and support that we should give our own mothers right to the end of their lives.
Every Christian mother’s song.
In a small way, Mary’s song is every Christian mother’s song. Lydia Brownback says it well:
“If we trust in Jesus and follow the way he has marked out for us in his word, we will know personally the blessing of every promise he ever made.”
Of course, Mary is a unique mother with a unique song of praise and surrender. She was, after all, the only virgin to have conceived; the only mother who birthed and raised God’s Son; the only teenager to be visited by an angel (Luke 1:26). God chose to use Mary to deliver on his great redemptive promise, so she is ‘highly favoured’ in a unique way. But Mary was also an ordinary mother who stood at a cruel cross and watched the death of her own child. Her heart must have shattered into a million tiny pieces as she saw the costly sacrifice of her son, the Saviour (John 19:25).
And in a profound way, motherhood mimics the cross, as it’s the great leveler of women. It really doesn’t matter what you’ve achieved in your life or what amazing gifts you were born with, being a mother brings vulnerabilities, struggles and pain. But for a Christian mother, it is at the cross that we lay down our fears and weaknesses about shepherding our own children. It is at the cross that we share the heavy load of motherhood with the Lord Jesus, so that we are not crushed by its weight. It is by watching Christ laying down his life for us on the cross, that we too can learn to lay down our lives for our children.
Mary knew that God was good and could be trusted. Her obedience and bold surrender to God’s costly call, is an example to every Christian mother. It is God himself who assigns value to our position and role in life. It is God who tells us who we are, even if our culture tells us something different. It is because of God’s providence that we are Christian mothers and will be sustained through every season of our lives, no matter how vulnerable we feel. And because we know God’s extraordinary goodness to us, we too can give the future generations a taste of this goodness.
Mary’s song reminds us that it is God who lifts the humble and uses ordinary, willing people to make his glory known. God uses the common, the mundane, the seemingly insignificant homely jobs mothers do, to have a great impact on families, communities and the advance of the gospel in the world. God sees us in the unseen moments of our ordinary days, and the work mothers do has great value in God’s eyes. No, we cannot save our children. Nor could Mary save her son. But Jesus saves, and he has called us to be his ambassadors in our own families and communities.
Just as God cared for Mary in her vulnerable condition, sending her to stay with Elizabeth and Zechariah during her pregnancy; preparing Joseph to stand by Mary when he could have abandoned her; sending Mary’s little family to Egypt when Herod tried to kill her baby boy; providing the Apostle John to care for Mary as a widow… so too, God gives us mercy in the difficult and vulnerable places, in every season of life. He gives us all the help we need when we are terrified, helpless and hopeless. If only we’d look up and praise God for the great things He is doing for, in and through us. This is our song,
“for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.”
Listen to A Mother’s Prayer, by Kristyn Getty.