Rev. Dr. John Lolla, Jr.
May 14, 2017
Text: Luke 2:19 Old Testament: Isa. 7:13-15 New Testament: Luke 1:8-38
Preaching is almost exclusively devoted to exploring the heart of our heavenly Father. It can be hard to find His heart. He’s distant from us, yet omnipresent. We seek Him. But He’s mysterious. He promises to be watchful and protect us. Yet, it’s on His terms – from a distance.
Finding our heavenly Father’s heart is the challenge earthly mothers face. Each day they’re confronted with the elusiveness of our heavenly Father. Daily a mother’s heart struggles with the challenge of knowing our heavenly Father is with her. That challenge comes in the form of the children under her care.
Children . . . they’re gifts from God! They’re the signs of God’s loving heart. But they’re also tests from God. Each day children pose a test of faith for a loving and devoted mother. From the moment of a child’s conception, until the day our heavenly Father calls His children home, mothers’ hearts are challenged by the trials children pose to their faith, their hope, and their love.
We can see this in the details of the most analyzed mother in history – the Virgin Mary. We have more details about Jesus’ mother’s experience of raising her first-born child than other mother in history. Being Jesus’ mother served as an example of the tests a mother’s heart faces while loving her children.
It’s easy to idealize Mary’s parental care for Jesus. We consider Jesus perfect as God’s Son and assume He didn’t test Mary. We want to believe He was always kind and considerate. But there are enough details of Jesus’ experience with His mother to show us this mother-son relationship wasn’t easy for Mary.
Jesus tested Mary’s heart. He tested her faith, hope, and love.
Imagine for a moment what it meant for Mary to learn who Jesus was. We concern ourselves with wondering whether our babies are a boy or a girl. Our worries are whether our children will be born healthy. Neither of our concerns were Mary’s concerns. She was told by an angel she would have a son. She was told he would be born. She assumed it would be without incident.
But Mary had to face that she didn’t know Jesus’ father in the biblical sense. Jesus conception was as much a mystery to her as it is to the rest of us through history. Then she had to face the social stigma with conceiving out of wedlock. The latter isn’t as much of a concern these days as it was in Mary’s day.
She faced being shunned by her fiancé as well as her parents and extended family, as well as the community of Nazareth. That was the best scenario. The worst scenario was she could be exiled by Judea’s religious leaders. She could be sent into the desert on her own to die. Or, she could have had her life taken from her for dishonoring the laws against conception out of marriage.
Mary faced tremendous pressure not to have Jesus. But she did. Mothers will do that for their children’s sake. They will give up their security and freedom for their children. Jesus’ conception pushed Mary’s faith in God. Especially when she learned God was Jesus’ Father.
God, who is a mystery, was showing His love for Mary by not bringing Jesus into her life later, after she and Joseph were married. He was doing her a favor by making it more difficult to charge her with adultery by subsequent generations – another crime under the law of Moses. She could more easily claim she didn’t know Jesus’ Father before she was married than to have to explain her conception after she married Joseph. Yet either way, she was between a rock and a hard place.
God gave Mary a choice. She was not with child when the angel Gabriel spoke to her. Gabriel was speaking in the future tense. So, Mary did have the option to reject God’s favor of giving birth to His Son and refuse God’s offer.
But Mary kept faith that her heavenly Father would somehow work out this uncomfortable situation regardless of how challenging it would be for her to give birth to Jesus. Mary showed tremendous faith in God by accepting God’s offer to become Jesus’ mother. It takes just as much faith in God when a woman accepts becoming a mother even without all the pressures Mary faced.
Gabriel didn’t offer Mary an instruction manual to navigate the unknown in Jesus’ birth. God doesn’t provide an instruction manual to any mother to decode her child’s every sound, every movement, every need. Mothers feel unprepared to take 24 hour-a-day responsibility for the welfare of their children. They have faith God will shoulder a great deal of the child-care load.
Good mothers, loving mothers, compassionate mothers, have to trust our heavenly Father will watch over and protect their children when the mother lies down exhausted after another day of self-sacrifice for their children. Diligent, vigilant, concerned mothers, turn over responsibility to God when their children leave their sight. They show the same faith in God Mary needed to accept being Jesus’ mother. Faith in God is a basic requirement of a mother’s heart.
When Jesus was twelve, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem for Passover with the rest of their family. After Passover, they left for Nazareth to return home. Luke 2:41-49 describes a frightening experience for Jesus’ parents. Jesus didn’t tell them He was going to stay behind at the Temple in Jerusalem, to meet with the Sanhedrin and study the Torah with them. They traveled an entire day away from Jerusalem before they realized he had been left behind.
Like a lot of young people at that age, Jesus didn’t think His mother needed to know where He was going and what He was doing. He knew He was safe in His Father’s house. But Mary didn’t know where He was or who was with Him.
This was a time that tested Mary’s heart. It tests any mother’s heart not to know where her children are. Mary knew she couldn’t protect her son. She had traveled an entire day from Jerusalem before she discovered He was missing. She hoped her heavenly Father, Jesus’ heavenly Father, was watching over His only Son until she and Joseph could find Jesus.
Her hope didn’t mean she didn’t have a lot of questions to ask her son. She posed that question mothers ask when they’re frightened and anxious, hanging on by hope her child will be alright; but not really knowing her child is safe until he shows up again, safe, and sound. She hoped Jesus would understand her situation. “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
Jesus’ response was a classic for His age. Here was a twelve-year-old looking up at his mother and questioning her. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Of course, the real Father’s house – the one who started this whole journey of trust and faith.
Now most twelve-year-olds don’t use God as the reason for disappearing from their parents. But they do invent reasons to justify pushing a mother’s faith and hope to the limit. Jesus was challenging Mary and Joseph’s parental responsibility to see God’s child is safe.
Most parents today would have had a hard time accepting Jesus’ reason. Being good stewards of God’s child needs a better explanation, unless you knew your son is God’s Son. Then it makes sense and you wonder just how much your hope for His safety revealed how difficult it is for you to have faith in God.
Luke ends the story with Jesus leaving with Mary and Joseph and returning to Nazareth. Luke makes the point that Jesus submitted to His mother’s concern and was obedient to her and Joseph. But the greater point was also made, like its eventually made in childhood. A child’s innocence trusts they’re always safe under our heavenly Father’s watch at the expense of a mother’s peace of mind.
Luke neatly summarizes the whole event, “Jesus’ mother treasured all these things in her heart.” For some mothers, many mothers, it’s one of those memories you don’t easily forget. Treasuring the memory in your heart sounds all right, in hind sight, when you know the outcome is alright. But, it is also one of those frightening experiences you don’t want to repeat.
Since Jesus’ explanation does have merit, considering who He is, then why couldn’t a little respect for Mary’s humanity have led Him or the heavenly Father to give her a heads-up so she and Joseph didn’t have to worry. For her to learn the value of hoping in God to provide.
Such is the challenge of trusting God that measures a mother’s heart.
Then, there’s the story of Jesus preaching near his family’s home in Luke 8, Matthew 12 and Mark 3. He attracts all sorts of attention which concerns Mary and his family. She brings Jesus’ younger brothers with her to take Jesus home. His miracles and teaching had led the scribes to associate Him with demons. Mary and His brothers came to protect Jesus from the scribes’ demonization.
Instead of Jesus thanking His family for their love and protection, He seems to renounce them. When He’s told about them being outside where He was teaching, He answers, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then He turns to the crowd around Him and says they are His mother and brothers.
When a child into whom a mother has poured her love claims other people are his or her family, instead of her and the family who has faithfully loved him or her throughout life, it hurts.
It happens a lot these days. It’s as simple as when a child interrupts a conversation with his or her mother to respond immediately to a text message from a friend. When a child’s mind isn’t on a conversation with their mother and is thinking about making plans with friends – a mother knows what’s happening. The friends are taking a more important role in her child’s life than she is.
Jesus wasn’t 15 or 20 when He said His family was people other than His mother and siblings. He was at least 30-33. He was an adult. Yet, a child is always a child to a mother’s heart, no matter how old the child is.
These are challenges children pose that a mother’s heart faces. All the love. All the prayers. All the times of anxiety hoping your child is safe. A mother learns to accept a child’s indifference to her worry without comment. You notice Luke, Mark, and Matthew didn’t say, “Mary treasured this moment in her heart.” The Gospels’ silence about Mary tells you a lot about her love for her son. She kept from Jesus the pain she felt about Him because she loved him.
For the same mother who Jesus said wasn’t His mother, was there to see her son die on the Cross. She had borne so much for Jesus. Her life had been changed forever by Jesus. She had endured so much for Jesus. She couldn’t stop loving Jesus. No mother stops loving her children, regardless of its personal cost.
There is Mary at the Cross, tears in her eyes, looking up at her beloved son – the son who had challenged her heart so many times. Do you think she agonized over why he had to end like this?
Do you think she questioned His Father’s heart that this was the purpose for their child together? Do you think she accepted her son’s choice to give up living with her and her family for something she did not yet understand – the salvation of the world?
This is what she had been told would happen at His birth. Simeon had told her in the Temple when she and Joseph had brought Jesus to be dedicated to God that a sword would pierce her soul because of Jesus, and it did.
Or, did Mary stoically stand there at peace, understanding, and accepting this horror of horrors was predestined by Jesus’ Father, who stayed at a distance while their son cried to Him from the Cross for help – and didn’t give it. Was Mary watching her son suffer with confidence that somehow, someway, every terrible thing happening to her child would be overcome by the Father in heaven, who started all this, three decades earlier at Jesus’ conception?
And when Jesus offered His mother the Apostle John as her guardian at His death, did she resist the temptation in her heart to ask, “Why didn’t you want to stay with me to be my guardian?” Or did she accept His offer with gratitude?
Such is the suffering of motherhood for those who live to see the sad completion of their children’s lives. The words said and those left unsaid. The things done and things left undone. The hopes and dreams for a different ending. The pain of resignation that’s in love, “Not my will but thy will be done.”
Mary had pondered such things for a long time in her heart, like mothers do with their children. She had begun pondering when she realized before Jesus was born that her first-born child would not be her own. He was destined to be more than her child. He had a special purpose that came from His heavenly Father. He was the world’s child of faith, hope, and love.
When she saw Him smiling at her with His bright eyes in the manger, she allowed herself the luxury of imagining what He would be when He grew up. He wouldn’t stay in her arms forever. She couldn’t protect Him or steer Him from the heavenly purpose for which He was born.
She pondered the mystery of who He was, what He would do, what He would become, like mothers do with their children. She had to struggle with the fact that He would become a threat to kings and kingdoms. People would love Him more than their own political leaders. It was a foregone conclusion based on what the angel Gabriel told her before His birth.
Mary had to accept her son Jesus would change the religion of her parents and grandparents forever. The communities of Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem, the nation of Judea, all the religions of the world would never be the same because of her son. Those changes would challenge powers and principalities of peoples around the globe who were, are, and will be deeply invested in keeping things like they are. Lives would be lost, and others would be found because of her son – her child.
He would generate hostility and conflict by who He was, what He did, and what He said in the name of God’s love. Her son, her first-born son, would overthrow everything and challenge every institution on earth because of His Father’s design. Mary would be powerless to do a thing, but watch Him, have faith in Him, love Him, and accept Him for who He was, is, and always will be.
There’s the sense that every mother, if she examines herself deeply, is unconsciously aware of what Mary went through as Jesus’ mother. She identifies with Mary’s struggle of motherhood that lies hidden at birth amid the joy and excitement of a newborn’s arrival. She sympathizes with Mary right here – in her heart.
When you look in the eyes of your newborn, you can’t help but imagine what’s in store for your son or daughter. Who will they become? What will they do? Will they make the world a better place for being born? What is the heavenly purpose for which God favored them with the gift of life?
Who are you – you little one from God?
Infants are God’s gift who generate a lifetime of pondering in a mother’s heart. Their arrival evokes countless days and nights of prayer for their safety and protection – a lifetime of learning to have faith in God’s purpose for their birth and a lifetime of hoping that God will overcome whatever pain her child faces.
We are blessed for the pondering in your heart you have done, do, and will continue to do for your family and for the world – you, who are blessed to be mothers of God’s children. God bless you all.
Happy Mother’s Day!