Like most people facing something unexpected and potentially tragic, Mary asked, “How can this be?”
Pregnancy isn’t easy to hide, no matter how loose fitting the clothes. Mary’s body would change and eventually she would not be able to hide her condition from her parents, family, the people of Nazareth, or her fiancé, Joseph. Who would believe her story about the angel and being history’s only pregnant virgin? No one! Well, maybe her relative Elizabeth, who carried her own miracle.
The God Who Is with Us
Tragedy was not the end of Mary’s story, and it doesn’t need to be the end of ours. When tragedy strikes, we need to remember that we do not face it alone. God is with us in the midst of our suffering. God knows us, loves us, and trusts us.
God knew Mary’s name and where she lived. God knew everything about her and loved her. The angel called Mary honored, favored, blessed. The angel’s message may have thrown Mary’s life into turmoil but God was with her the whole time.
The greatest pain in suffering can be feeling abandoned and alone. Those who suffer understand they are alone in their pain. No matter how sympathetic or empathetic others are, no matter how many similar circumstances others have faced, suffering people know deeply and instinctively that others don’t and can’t truly know other’s pain. But that doesn’t mean we are alone. Mary was never truly alone and neither are we. God was with her. At the very heart of the Christmas stories is Emmanuel, God with us.
“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Lo, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:22-23).
Christian teaching differs from the world’s religions in many ways. But the most striking difference is that God was willing to suffer to save us. Easter, with all of its passion and pain, is the destination of Christmas. Even when other people cannot fathom our pain, God feels it acutely and knows it completely. There is no human tragedy, no suffering, no atrocity, and no disaster that catches God off guard. For the believer this is a great comfort: God knows! God notices! God cares! God is with us! Jesus said,
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
When facing a tragedy, it’s easy to believe God is ignoring or punishing us. God knew the pain Mary would suffer as Jesus’ mother (Luke 1:34-35). How can God’s favor and love mingle with sorrow and suffering? It is a mystery. But for Mary and for us, God’s constant, dependable love is healing in the midst of hardship.
Our natural inclination is to reject suffering and push it away. We cannot see the good it brings or the possibilities it reveals. Suffering is a summons to trust God for opportunities that are beyond our line of sight. God called Mary to the greatest act of parenting in human history. The price tag of that privilege was suffering. Mary accepted the terms of her call and was rewarded with the honor of being Jesus’ mother (Luke 1:31-33) and the most celebrated woman in human history.
In tragedy, we learn who we are at the deepest levels. We forge our character in these fires. God knew Mary was the kind of person who could take on a challenge, face tragedy, and faithfully follow him. God trusted her with history’s greatest treasure. God was with her.
“We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
How can you boast in your most recent suffering?
How has God produced character in your suffering?
Is there someone you know that is suffering right now? How can you encourage them?