This devotional is Day 7 of the 25-Day Advent Series “The Wonders of His Love.” Follow along with us as we grow in grace through the Christmas story!
Scripture: Luke 1:34-38
We pull the dusty boxes from the basement on a Saturday, and the house suddenly smells of cinnamon spice, vanilla, and the pine pitch wafting from the freshly erected tree in the living room.
The kids take to propping stuffed reindeer and ornate angel figurines throughout the house, and there is a sense of expectation in the air.
Reflecting on the past thirty-some years, it dawns on me as I string colorful lights around the prickly spruce tree: The Christmas season stirs an expectant kind of hope in my spirit.
As a child, it stirred hope for new baby dolls and bicycles, and as an adult, it stirs hope for different reasons. As an adult, Christmas stirs hope in the reminder that Jesus has come – and that he will one day return and make all things new.
Christmas stirs hope for celebration and traditions that take place only one time each year. It stirs hope for happy children, delicious meals gathered around tables with loved ones, and plates of delectable cookies.
In the midst of our Christmas hopes, let’s have an honest moment. Let’s pause and admit that sometimes, Christmas doesn’t meet our expectations.
On a greater scale, sometimes God doesn’t meet our expectations. Holidays can be a startling reminder that things didn’t turn out according to our plans.
Maybe you expected to be holding hands with your new husband as you unwrapped the gifts beneath the tree this year, but somehow things went horribly wrong, and you face this season alone.
Maybe you expected to swaddle your own precious baby, but God didn’t show up and save the day, and you feel empty and barren.
Maybe this Christmas is a piercing reminder of the loved one you lost this year, and you never imagined you wouldn’t be sitting around the dinner table swapping jokes about childhood things no one else really understands.
How do you step into a new season, embrace a painful holiday, and trust God when he doesn’t show up in all the ways you expected?
Scripture offers practical insight from none other than Mary, the virgin mother of God-in-the-flesh.
The angel Gabriel has just appeared to inform Mary that she will soon give birth to the Son of God. Concerned about how this will happen, especially since she is still a virgin, Gabriel assures Mary that it will be the work of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s pause and reflect on this familiar story. Let’s not allow familiarity to lead us to gloss over the details. God has just thrown Mary the curve ball of all curve balls.
Not only is she an unwed virgin who now has a story no one will believe, but she has also been told that she is about to give birth to the promised Messiah, the long-awaited Son of God.
Perhaps God has thrown you a curve ball or two throughout this past year.
It might have come in the form of a diagnosis, the loss of someone you deeply loved, the downfall of a dream, or a disappointment so grave that your life is forever shaken. You might feel like God let you down, or you might feel just a little bit like He up and left you on your own.
What are we to do when God doesn’t show up in the ways we expect or hope?
Mary’s response to the angel offers biblical wisdom for our most troubled, fearful, overwhelming, and disappointing moments.
Mary says to Gabriel, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 NASB).
In the words of this simple phrase, Mary exhibits three attitudes that offer to carry us through moments when God does not show up in expected ways:
1. We Express Whole-Hearted Service to God
The Greek word for “bond-slave” can also be translated “handmaid” or “female slave.” In the original language, the word denotes a woman who has wholly given herself to the service of the one she serves.
By calling herself God’s bond-slave, Mary emphasizes her total commitment to serve and follow God, even when the details do not make sense.
Most likely, the details surrounding your unexpected circumstances don’t make sense. You haven’t caught a glimpse of the fully pieced-together puzzle.
Pause to tell God that you trust him, even with what you cannot see. Commit to keep following him, even when the path before you is not yet illuminated. He promises to provide just enough light for you to keep putting one foot in front of another (Psalm 119:105).
2. We Surrender to God’s Plan
Mary could have listed dozens of reasons why an unexpected pregnancy was a bad idea. She could have pled for God to make a different way. Have you ever paused to consider why Jesus would come into the world in a way that seemed just a little scandalous?
Perhaps He wanted to show the people, through His entry to the world, that their rules and rote religious practices were not pleasing to Him. Perhaps He wanted to defy expectations and blow through cultural standards of what is “acceptable.”
Mary surrendered to God’s will, even at the expense of her own reputation.
God calls each of His children to submit to His plan, even when we don’t understand it.
3. We Tie Ourselves to the Lord
The Greek word for bondservant also signifies a master and slave who are literally tied together. The bondservant is wholly devoted to the master; the two sharing the same interests. In like manner, Mary set her own interests aside for the will of the Lord.
It’s not easy to lay down our interests, especially when they were birthed through pure motives and godly desires. However, even pure motives cannot replace the sovereign will of a God who works in ways we cannot fully comprehend.
If you are struggling to embrace some part of your life this Christmas, will you tie yourself to the Lord as His bond-slave?
Will you express your desire to follow Him, even into places you don’t understand?
The power of God to work through a life that is fully surrendered to Him is greater than we could ever imagine.
May you follow in the footsteps of Jesus’ mother Mary as you walk with God through the unexpected parts of your Christmas season.
If you are coming out of a difficult season, or if you’re in the thick of it right now, today’s gift to you is Stacey’s 20-day devotional, Glimpses of Hope for When Life Lets You Down. This devotional will lead you through a daily reflection, Scripture reading, and questions for thought. It will help you bring your broken heart to God and process your emotions in the safe place of his presence. It’s yours by clicking here.
About the Author
Stacey is a lover of the woods, a passionate and imperfect follower of Christ, the mother of two blue-eyed children, the wife of Darrell, and much more. A certified special education teacher, Stacey is on leave from the classroom for a season of chasing frogs and playing in creeks with her little ones.
She writes words about her walk of faith in the in-between moments, and she mentors and teaches the Bible to younger women. Most of all, she is desperate to live out the love the Lord has lavished upon her and make that love known to the world. She writes weekly at www.staceypardoe.com.