Datebooks, Calendars, and Thwarted Plans: Mary and Fear.

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Luke 1:26-38: 26

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?”

A couple weeks ago while I was doing some Christmas shopping, I picked up a datebook. I’ve kept it out on my coffee table, mainly to comfort myself.

“Yes! 2013 is almost done, and 2014 is almost here, ready to be filled up.”

I’ve considered having a funeral ceremony for my 2013 book: it’s kind of a mess after a messy year. I’m excited about this blank one: a new, beautiful bundle of joy. 

There are a few reasons why we buy date books and calendars. Sure, we need to keep track of what obligations we have. And now, 2013 is coming to a close, and 2014 is coming right up, so we’ve got to be ready, and fill our new date-books up.

We assume our days can be planned: We have routines and we have a sense of what life is “supposed” to look like, when it’s supposed to happen, and we make goals and timelines. But at some point we realize what we plan to do, and what we plan to have happen in our lives and what actually happens are two different things.

Something I’ve heard that raises my hackles is: “When you make plans, God laughs and changes them.” Somehow, this is supposed to make the listener feel better about how life didn’t go the way as planned. I can get a little sarcastic about this kind of thing, and go into a little inner snarky reply: “Oh, okay, it’s not my fault. It’s God. God wants to ruin my life and make it unpredictable, throw me curveballs, take my dreams and aspirations, crumple them up, and then take some 3 point shots into the corner wastebasket with them. Good to know.”  

It would be better if life was a little more predictable. It would be better if we didn’t experience disappointment and failure, lose jobs, lose friends, have divisive family arguments, get sick, get interrupted.

If only we could just choose the things that happen in our lives, and have things go according to plan, have our days go like clockwork. If only we could write down in our life datebooks what is going to happen when, and have it just happen, just like we jotted down. That would be great.  

And often we make decisions that way.

We say things like: “I can’t give that kind of money away to God: what if I need it?”

“I can’t start a new career or life direction — that means change!”

“I can’t stick my neck out for her; what if I get dragged into her messy life?”

Because we want things to go as planned. We want it to be predictable, plan-able, and doable.

Mary had some plans for her life that didn’t go exactly the way she expected. She thought she was going to get married, have some kids. She planned for all her children to outlive her, and take care of and provide for her. She had a blank datebook, a blank planner, ready to be filled. But even before she gets married, everything she planned for gets turned upside down, in a very scary way.

An angel shows up. He tells her God is with her, but Mary is afraid. Any of us would be afraid. Even if the message is “God is with you”: this is terrifying. It’s terrifying not only because this is an angel, a heavenly being, but also because this is something that’s going to upset her life, disrupt her plans.

And that’s exactly what happens: God is going to disrupt her plans and push her into a scary predicament: Despite everything she’s planned for, Mary is going to be an unwed teenage mother. Yes, this angel is telling her this is Jesus. Yes, this is the biggest thing that will ever happen in the history of the world. Yes, this is something people have been waiting for, begging for, for hundreds of years. But this doesn’t change the fact that Mary’s life has gone from “safe and predictable” to “tumultuous, supernatural, and dangerous.” And those plans, those hopes for a normal married life are being dismantled and rebuilt before her future even begins.

But the angel ends his speech with a comforting message. He tells her “Nothing is impossible with God.” Despite this interruption, despite this drastic change in plans, God is with Mary, and He will do the impossible. God brings life where there was no life. God sends blessings that we cannot imagine or conceive of.

But it would seem he hand picks a pretty disastrous circumstance for his son to be born into.

Or is it?

He asks Mary to take a risk, but it is by this risk, by this unlikely and unpredictable blessing that Jesus comes into the world and brings us salvation. The angel tells Mary God is changing her plans, but this is a plan not just for Mary, but for the entire world, and everyone who will ever live.

And Mary has a choice. She chooses not to be afraid. She chooses to obey and to accept this change in her life plans. And through her willingness to be a servant of God, and take this risk, she is not the most unfortunate of women.

By accepting God’s plans for her life, Mary was, and still is, the most fortunate, the most blessed of women.  

And like Mary, when we accept God’s planning, God’s role in our lives, we find that this interruption is a source of blessing and life. We will start to see our loose schedules, our upside-down datebooks, our thwarted plans, as signs that we’re also in God’s good favor, and taking part in God’s rich blessings. This is where we’ll see God do the impossible.

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