The Wonder of Women (PT 6)

Hey, HOPE-lovers!  I hope you all have been enjoying the holidays!  It’s been a while here so let’s jump back in and widen our wonder!

If you’re new to H4H, or to this series, we have been riding the waves of the record-setting movie, “Wonder Woman,” and WW’s backstory, “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women” for a while now.  From there, we’ve been seeking to establish an absolute MUST in today’s culture: the dignity of women.

Preface: 

Every hour of every day, the media reminds us all of a violated people, an unhealed wound, an ongoing “vacuum” that begs for equality, respect, and protection.  Admittedly, we’re way behind the “eight ball” in this push, but we’re dialing up the #metoo dialogue and pushing for progress.

Defending the infinite sacredness of womanhood is my angle.  Always has been.  I seek to affirm and uphold the beauty, charm, mystique, worth, dignity, and importance of womanhood.

So, to recapture our “wonder” with women, like that of a pure child with the awe-inspiring galaxy, I humbly suggest we look to the maker of women.  I believe there is NO higher authority or more beautiful precedent than the God who both CREATED and DIED to redeem womankind.

We have been refreshed, and even shocked, in the previous 5 posts witnessing how Jesus elevated and honored women.  Risking reputation and life, Jesus defended and affirmed women, even those of ill repute!

1) An adulteress in John 7:53-8:6. See Part 1.

2) A worshipful woman in Matthew 26:6-13 (also Mk. 14:3-9; Jn. 12:1-8). See Part 2.

3) A prostitute from Luke 7:36-50. See Part 3.

4) An “outsider” in need of healing in Mark 5:25-34 (also Mt. 9:20-22; Lk. 8:43-48). See Part 4.

5) A libertine Samaritan woman in John 4. See Part 5.

Women approaching and encountering Jesus was a frequent occurrence in His ministry.  It’s as if Jesus invited these interactions.  In the very least, He did not shy away from them despite the risk and rumor they would produce.

This time, however, instead of observing Jesus affirm the infinite value of women, we’re going to be exhorted and challenged by the examples of two women who are central to the Christmas story: Mary and Elizabeth.

Problem:

I judge “books” by their covers, prequels, and sequels.  I often conflate mediums with their messages (or vice versa).  I presume omniscience off of soundbites.

Each time I’ve written an entry in this series, I have reiterated this same point: I am challenged by the people Jesus interacted with!  But it’s more than that.  I am disturbed by the people God cemented into the stories and specifics of the Scriptures.

“That’s not how I’d do it,” often comes to mind as I read over a story, chapter, page, or even book.  “This is so unbelievable,” my heart screams.

Didn’t God foresee how awkward my family would feel as I try to tell them about this God who was born of a virgin?  Didn’t He care about the self-induced hurdles from such irrationality?!

If He really cares for those of this world, why would He make it so difficult for them to accept Him?

The reality of Isaiah 55:8 is tough for me to swallow.

But despite my struggles, this has been a series about women within holy writ, history’s true subclass citizens.  Today, in light of this festive time of year, we have the privilege of looking at two more individuals deemed “inferior” by their world (and by many still today).

Gender blinds, restricts, distracts, and divides sophomoric minds.  But today’s post will go beyond this ongoing struggle, as if it weren’t enough.  Mix the miraculous with this global malfeasance and you have today’s story.

This tension between knowledge and faith, the objective and the mysterious, the natural and the supernatural is not just for us to walk through; it was there for the individuals we will be looking at as well.

It’s December in a #metoo world…this is so timely!

(Courtesy of http://thefineartdiner.blogspot.com/2012/04/passion-of-christ-history-of-salvation.html; image owned by 20th Century Fox)

Practice:

Let’s take a look at who these women were and what they did.  Meet Elizabeth.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” ~ Luke 1:5-25

And now, let’s meet Mary:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 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. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. ~ Luke 1:26-38

And the story continues:

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” ~ Luke 1:39-55

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her…“What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. ~ Luke 1:57-58, 66b

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. ~ Luke 1:67-80

And now, a minor blurb about Mary birthing God:

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. ~ Luke 2:7

A question to the mothers reading this:  What was your first birthing experience like?

My wife endured 56 hours of labor, so I definitely remember ours!  In fact, surviving that experience is what determined our first child’s middle name: Joy!

Do you recall the pain?  Fear?  The joy?  The pressure of the whole world watching, waiting, rubbing your belly, and asking, “Are you nervous?” or if you were late, “When are you due, again?”   All the “experts” who wanted to live vicariously through you?  Do you remember all the strangers in and out of your room?

I have observed firsthand, especially in a demanding social-media world, that giving birth comes with a LOT of stress.

Now, just for fun, read John 1:1-4 and pretend this is what you would be birthing…how would you feel after realizing you’re not just birthing a child, which is a HUGE deal in of itself, or even your first child, but you’re delivering deity!

What?!  Do you even consider a birth plan?

No hospital, no medical staff, no epidurals, no medicine…and thousands, if not millions, of angels waited with baited breath for Mary’s firstborn child.  Quite the birthing audience! (Lk. 2:13-14)

That right there seems to put Mary in the running for “mother of the millenia” in the very least.

On a more serious note, let’s do what we can to get into the “shoes” of these women.  Imagine literally bearing the weight of humanity’s hopes upon your back for through Mary and Elizabeth, the world would NEVER be the same!

*** Pharisee Point: I’m in no way attempting to diminish the perfect work of God through these “jars of clay.”  I just want to try to imagine the breadth and depth of such a call!  I doubt any of us can conceive such a mission. ***

Paul wrote to the Galatians,

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal. 4:4-5)

Time…what a topic!  If you want to find a hobby for the rest of your life, study this.  Check out William Lane Craig or Hugh Ross if you don’t believe me.

Time: we are bound by it, and yet it is always fleeting.  That sentence alone touches upon so many of our aches and longings as humans.

God, according to the Scriptures, is outside time (“omnitemporal”).  But because of sin, God has been guiding creation to a particular moment within this linear progression called “time” where He would step within time to rescue us from the ongoing affects of sin initiated in ancient times.

Everything from Genesis 3:15 on, beginning with the covenants with men like Noah or Abraham, to the sacrificial system inaugurated under Moses, to various prophecies spanning centuries and even millennia, has been looking forward to and centered around the incarnation of God. (see Dt. 18:15; Isa. 7:14; 40:3-5; Dan. 9:24-27; Mic. 5:3; Mal. 3:1; 4:5 for some examples)

Mary and Elizabeth are right at the eye of this decreed cosmic storm that will forever shift creation back to its Creator.  Every baby is a miracle, but can you imagine knowing that your child will completely change how God and humanity relate forever?!

John and Jesus are no ordinary children, and therefore, they require extraordinary women to mother them to their collective missions.

Painting by Nelia Ferreira (uploaded by artist at https://www.pinterest.com/pin/464785624014375956/)

My HOPE4Hipsters:

The Advent story is NOT how I would have orchestrated it.  If I had to envisage how God would rescue humanity, the details would be SO different and far more palatable to modern man.

But I think that might be the point…

Wherein lies our greatest struggle, confusion, frustration, and even disgust is just a mask that conceals the greatest surrender, clarity, encouragement, and even beauty.  Like a dark, uninviting, uninteresting manger concealing the light of the world and hope for humanity.

God condescended from His lofty, pleasurable, perfect abode that He enjoyed with Father and Spirit from eternity past to become dirt (literal meaning of “Adam” or “man”).  And it’s not just that He emptied Himself in such humiliating fashion, but the method in which He did it just violates our intellectuality — to channel Himself into our existence through a virgin, teenage girl?!

This is nuts!  But I have found that with God, our demanding “why’s” simmer down to yielded “why not’s.”

The Kardashian’s have nothing compared to this!  Advent truly must be of God for NO human would ever fabricate such a tale…it’s far too original.  We love copycats and reruns, and this is why we ignore it.  Feed us another sex scandal!  But put this on the shelf where it belongs.

In summary, this is what I have learned (and aspire toward) from Mary and Elizabeth.

A) These women exhibited exemplary, godly character.  Like their children, their lifestyles prior to these events and responses within them prove undoubtedly that they were “out of this world.”  They were:

  1. law-abiding (Lk. 1:5-9; 2:21-39, 41, 59),
  2. Spirit-filled (Lk. 1:35, 41, 67),
  3. righteous and blameless (Lk. 1:6),
  4. recipients of mercy and vindication through answered prayers (Lk. 1:13, 24-25, 58),
  5. favored by God (Lk. 1:28, 30),
  6. willing servants (Lk. 1:38),
  7. blessed of God and set apart (Lk. 1:42-43)
  8. worshippers (Lk. 1:46-55)
  9. humble (Lk. 1:48, 52)
  10. devoted prayer warriors who trailblazed the Church (Acts 1:14)
  11. bold in the face of opposition and derision (Lk. 1:59-66; Jn. 19:25)

B) These women cradled the world’s greatest history makers.  Their legacy is indescribable.  (We could quote about half of the Bible here, but these will suffice: Lk. 1:14-17, 32-33, 66-80; 7:27-28a)

C) These women were instruments for the impossible.  They had thick skin but soft hearts to carry out what God had called them to do. (Lk. 1:24-25, 37, 59-66; 2:7)

D) These women were the central channels through which so many prophecies were fulfilled (See my Advent post for most of these; Lk. 1:45, 76-79)

Even in His death, Jesus honored the woman of all women, Mary, by securing her well-being and future. (Jn. 19:25-27)  This is yet another testament to the care and compassion Jesus brought to the forgotten peoples of His day.  But perhaps there’s more…maybe we have a slight insight to the respect and love God had for this mother who nurtured and guided Him all the way up to these final moments. After all, before the cross came the cradle. (Lk. 2:51-52)

The following is a quote from Jean Fleming:

“Have you ever sunballousa-ed? If not, you should try it. Our Lord’s mother, Mary, did. The word sunballousa is Greek for “placing together for comparison.” In Lk. 2:19, the word is translated “pondered.” Later in that chapter, Luke says that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart” (v. 51). What things? The angel Gabriel’s words. Her cousin Elizabeth’s words. The shepherds’ words. The Old Testament words about the Messiah’s coming. Every developing event, every new word, might yield more light to this astonishing unfolding. So she kept adding to her treasure store. She held all that was happening in a precious bundle. Over and over again, she unpacked it and spread it out on the table of her heart. Each time, she would arrange the pieces anew, placing the various elements in fresh configurations. Today she would, perhaps, place the shepherds’ words beside a passage from an Old Testament prophet. Tomorrow she might place the shepherds’ words beside the words of Gabriel. On Thursday she might consider the shepherds’ words as they related to Elizabeth’s greeting.

Mary reverently held each word to the light and compared it with the other treasures in her bag. 

(see Ann Voskamp’s site for more)

I can only pray to be a fraction of what we read concerning these two women, and when you really think about it, we hardly have anything recorded about them!  But these fractional peeks into their lives absolutely put me to shame.

May we declare of God’s mother (and her cousin), “Blessed is the womb that bore you (Jesus), and the breasts at which you nursed!” ~ Luke 11:27b

And this Christmas, in true Mary fashion, may we “treasure these things.”

Come back next week for the conclusion to this series where we will continue to shatter the sexist psyche.  Until then, treasure the Advent of our Savior and all those who paved His way.

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