I doubt there is a Christian anywhere that has not one time or another thought “What must it have been like to be Mary”?
And certainly this time of year, our thoughts turn most intensely to that time of wonder and celebration … the birthing of the Christ child.
But of late, I have been thinking intently on what those months of pregnancy prior to His birth must have been like for Mary. I believe there is something of great value and divine importance for us to learn there.
I suspect that from the visitation of the angel Gabriel on (Luke 1:26 ff), except for the limitations that come with being a fallen and flawed human, Mary rarely again experienced a profane moment.
I can see her preparing the evening meal or traveling the hot, dusty road, clay pot on shoulder, to the village well for water … or any of a dozen other trivial duties that a day brings … then suddenly being startled by the reality, “Yes, but I am carrying our long-awaited Messiah!”
And with that solitary realization, her activities are instantly elevated. Now she is not just cooking dinner. Now she is not just going to fetch water.
Like Mary (and yet, so unlike her) every Christian carries Christ in them.
As the apostle Paul tells us…
For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. (Colossians 1:27, NLT)
This truth elevates life … all of life … to the sacred.
LIFE AS SACRAMENT
Every Christian is called to be a living embodiment of the truth that life is a sacred thing.
Listen to these words:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life— your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. (Rom 12:1, The Message)
This is the determining factor for whether the believer experiences life as profane or sacred.
A British army officer imprisoned in the Gestapo prison at Flossenbürg said of his fellow prisoner Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Lutheran pastor and theologian):
Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive.
. . . He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near.
That is life as sacrament.
(Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis, on special order from Heinrich Himmler, April 9, 1945. He was 39 years old. Just days later, the Allies liberated the concentration camp at Flossenbürg. )
The beauty of living life as a sacrament is that it elevates all of life to a dignity essential to real happiness. It erases the distinction between sacred and secular – between important and insignificant.
Having said that, for teaching purposes I want to pull this truth apart and talk briefly about three arenas of life that are transformed when we live out the reality that Christ is within us.
1. The Inherently Mundane – so much of life is just getting things done … an exercise in maintenance. This is the everyday, ordinary life Romans 12:1 above is referring to.
You would be surprised in the difference it can make in these very same routines when you do them with the awareness that Christ is with you as you do them.
2. The Inherently Meaningful – Can you imagine any good thing that would not be made even better if Christ were there, enjoying it with you?
If we take Him at His word, He is! And His presence causes us to “richly enjoy” these times. (1 Timothy 6:17)
Your time of worship, of prayer, of Bible study. He’s with you because He is in you. That great meal, that concert, that good novel you’re reading … right there with you.
Even meaningful experiences are elevated all the more when we embrace the reality of His presence with us.
3. The Inherently Miserable – Life is hard. It is full of trouble, as Job puts it. Misery comes to everyone.
But the difference in facing life’s miseries alone and facing them with the abiding presence of Christ is more than words can tell.
And remember, He is not just with us, He is in His followers as well.
If you’re reading our blog series The Shadow of His Ways, you know the subject is our ongoing journey with Susan’s health issues. We decided we would write about this trip hoping it might be a help to others in hard times.
When I pray about the doctor visits, the likely upcoming surgery, I ask the Father for a table for two.
Though Susan and I are united as much as I believe it is humanly possible for “two to become one” … the second place on that exam or operating table is not for me.
I do this to keep before us the truth and encourage us both with the reality that our Lord is right there beside her.
But the truth is even greater than that; He is within her.
Centuries ago Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote about “the sacrament of the present moment.”
My prayer for each of us this Christmas is that, like Mary, we might learn to live in this sacrament of the present moment. That we might learn what it is to experience this sacred life.