May 28, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 1:35 (NRSV)
The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
Christians celebrate the miracle of Jesus’s birth, especially his conception by the Holy Spirit. Yet, too often we ignore Mary’s participation, the work she did of carrying, nurturing, and then giving birth to her baby. The experience of Mary helps us recognize that God’s work in the world comes through the miracle of grace made flesh through human work. As we participate in God’s work, we celebrate both divine miracles and human labor.
This week we have begun our new devotional series, Following Jesus Today, by focusing on the story of Mary’s encounter with the angel in Luke 1. Though Mary was surely surprised by the angel’s news of her pending pregnancy, and though this news would have utterly upended her life, nevertheless Mary responded by giving God all that she was. “Here am I,” she said, “the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Christians have for centuries celebrated the unique and miraculous nature of Mary’s conception. Especially at Christmastime we marvel over the miracle of how Mary became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet this miracle is also commemorated week after week in Ordinary Time as Christians confess our faith with the words of the Apostle’s Creed. We say that we “believe in Jesus Christ . . . who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.”
We are certainly right to wonder over the miracle of Jesus’s conception. Yet sometimes I fear we overlook what is implicit in the story of Jesus’s birth. I’m talking about Mary’s part, not just her willingness to conceive by the power of the Spirit, but also everything else that is implied in the phrase, “born of the Virgin Mary.” Though her conception was unique and supernatural, Mary experienced a natural, down-to-earth pregnancy, with all its joys and challenges. No doubt Mary rejoiced with wonder when she first felt Jesus kick in her womb. She certainly experienced the discomfort of full-term pregnancy, especially as she was making her way to Bethlehem. And then Mary gave birth without medication in less than ideal circumstances. Talk about work!
The birth of Jesus was a result both of God’s miracle and Mary’s work. We say sometimes that birth is a miracle and in a sense this is true. But if you ask any woman who has actually given birth, she’ll tell you it is also work—hard work, perhaps the hardest work a person will ever do.
So, in this devotion I am not in the least downplaying God’s miraculous contribution to the birth of Jesus. But I am playing up Mary’s contribution, the work she did of carrying, nurturing, and then giving birth to her baby. Why does this matter? Because we often ignore the human part of God’s work in the world. We celebrate the miracles without also celebrating human labor. But the birth of Jesus challenges us to value and to celebrate it all. The experience of Mary helps us recognize that God’s work in the world comes through the miracle of grace made flesh through human work.
In your experience, has Mary’s participation in the birth of Jesus received much attention? If so, why is this? If not, why not?
Can you think of ways in which your work is like Mary’s? Is God’s grace made flesh through the work you do?
As you work today, whether your work is compensated or not, think about how God is present in your work. Jot down some thoughts about how your work is a working out of God’s grace. Then share these thoughts with your small group or a good friend.
Gracious God, we do marvel over the wonderful of Mary’s conception. We are reminded by her experience that all things are possible for you, and we celebrate your mysterious and amazing grace.
Yet we don’t want to neglect Mary’s part in the story of Jesus’s birth. She accepted not only miraculous conception but also all that followed from it. She did the exhausting work of carrying a child and giving birth. Her work wasn’t incidental, Lord. It was essential to your plan and your work.
Though there is something unique about Mary’s work, may her example remind us of the value of human labor. Yes, Lord, we celebrate your miracles. But we also celebrate your choice to work in and through us. Our efforts matter to you and make a difference in your world. Thank you for honoring us in this way.
Help us to work faithfully in all we do, seeking your glory in every task. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Purpose of Miracles
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.