How do you respond to tragedy?

I made a promise to myself that I would never allow my vehicle to become a giant trash can. In nine years of having my own vehicle, this is the first time I’ve broken that promise. It’s seriously filthy. My sink is full of dirty dishes. My bedroom floor is covered with dirty clothes that I can’t wash because my washing machine is broken, not that it would do much good anyway seeing how all my clothes are getting too tight due to constant stress eating. Some days I feel like I’ve been beat up emotionally. On top of this I’m sick, I’m sleep-deprived, I’m falling behind in important responsibilities, and I’m lonely.

This is my first Christmas in this position as pastor/administrator on my own. Am I doing it right?

I don’t want to sound like all I do is complain. Honestly, I love my job. I love the people I work with. I love the ministry I have and I’m so grateful for everything God has provided. There’s so much to be celebrated. And Christmas is a time of celebration. We gather with family, loved ones, we exchange gifts, we all paste on joyful smiles as we share the Christmas spirit. We put up decorations, we bake and cook, we plan parties, send cards. What’s not to love? It’s the most wonderful time of the year, after all.

But today, I don’t feel like celebrating. I’m weary. Worn out. At the breaking point.

And that’s why we need the story of Christmas. It’s the incarnation. God becoming human. Flesh and blood, bones and organs. God wrapped himself in the weariness and brokenness and became part of my story. And if there was anyone who knew this, it was Mary.

In my church we’ve been celebrating Advent by looking at the songs of Christmas. Songs sung by people like Isaiah and the angels, songs full of blessing, and praise to God, songs that overflowed from the genuine joy of the characters involved. And today we looked at the song of Mary, the Magnificat. Recorded in Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s song praises the work of God, and celebrates the God who changes fortunes.

What’s striking about Mary’s song is that she sings these praises in response to what could be the most devastating news. An angel has just told her that she is pregnant. A young, unmarried woman in first century Israel does not want the news that she is pregnant. She could lose everything: her fiancé, her future security, her social status. And yet her immediate response is “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Lately I’ve been watching a show on the CW called Jane the Virgin. It’s the story of a devout Catholic girl committed to remaining a virgin until marriage who gets accidentally artificially inseminated and consequently pregnant. There’s a particularly poignant scene shortly after Jane discovers she’s pregnant. Naturally, she is angry that after doing everything “right” she still faces an unwanted pregnancy and the prospect of single motherhood. She, too, faces the possibility of losing her fiancé. She’s given the option to terminate the pregnancy and while she considers her options, she talks to her grandmother. Her grandmother tells her this pregnancy is an opportunity for a blessing. Her grandmother admits that, years ago, when she first heard her daughter was pregnant she wanted her daughter to end the pregnancy, but because her daughter refused, she now had Jane in her life. And now Jane had a choice. How would she respond to an unplanned pregnancy?

Spoiler alert: Jane does decide to continue the pregnancy and, yes, that affects everything in her life.

I feel like Mary may have faced the same choice: view this pregnancy as an interruption to her plans, as a terrible thing she would now have to endure, or view it as a blessing from God despite its disruption of her life. Mary chose to praise God in the midst of her trial, and even because of her trial.

Maybe there’s a lesson from Mary here.

My house and car are still a mess. My responsibilities are still overwhelming me. I still feel weariness. But how will I respond? This morning I discovered the silent young man who had been attending my church for the last few weeks is a church member in my denomination and wants to be involved more. This afternoon I visited a nursing home and had the chance to bring a smile to a resident’s face. I had a chance to spend time with a family from church as we ministered together.

Yesterday I was a wreck. I was ready to drop from exhaustion, both physically and spiritually. But today, despite the difficulties, I’m ready to say with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” I’m ready to see this messy life as opportunities for blessing and ministry.

How will you respond?

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