Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Good Portion

The theme of this third week is Preparing.

I borrowed this quartet of themes (Waiting, Anticipating, Preparing, Celebrating), and to be honest, I’ve had a hard time incorporating them into my writings. They are a little unfamiliar. But sometimes the unfamiliar can shake us up a bit. A new perspective can help gain insight.

Thinking about the theme of preparing, my mind immediately goes to shopping lists, recipes, and in my own particular career—library storytime planning. I spend a large chunk of my workdays finding engaging read-aloud picture books, designing flannel stories, and selecting relevant songs and rhymes—all to educate and entertain. The finished product is so much the better for my well-organized plan. The structure helps regular attendees learn the songs and rhymes with ease. The careful selection accommodates childrens’ ages and backgrounds. Everything from the time of day and room setting to the length of time and volume is intentional. Everything has a purpose.

And that makes me think of the Master Orchestrator of our well-known Advent narrative. Our God is a God who prepares. Not because He couldn’t snap His fingers for everything He has designed to instantly appear. No, God prepares because everything He does is building, layer upon layer, towards His plan for humanity’s salvation.

In her fifth day Advent devotional, “No Random Days,” Hannah Brencher writes, “Our God is a God who orchestrates redemption stories. He is constantly up to something. Where we see random days, God sees hidden pockets of purpose. Where we see random lines in a story, God reads between those lines and fills our days with hidden meanings.”

Now, here’s the flip-side of a life-style drenched in preparation. It’s something we commonly see during the holidays. In the hustle and bustle of exerting all our energies for one special day, we neglect to be present. It can become impossible to see God’s “pockets of purpose” when we are so busy preparing for a purposeful day.

I wonder how things would have looked for Mary and Joseph if God hadn’t prepared a place for them in Bethlehem—a place in which most of their autonomy was removed. Would the days leading up to Jesus’ birth have been so full of preparations and ministrations that they missed the significance of the day?

In a town filled to the brim with people registering for the census, they didn’t get to arrange the perfect birthing room. Sharing a dwelling with livestock, there was only one choice for a crib. They only had one option to clean and wrap the baby. They didn’t get to decide who would be the first to visit their newborn son. They didn’t even get to select his name. All these preparations were made by bigger Hands.

Maybe in the moment, Mary was frustrated and anxious. The angel hadn’t said anything about this part of birthing God’s Son! But later in chapter 2, Luke records that she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (v.19). Mary had a lot to ponder. She had not been able to prepare for this day’s practical details. But she had prepared her heart for the magnitude of this role with each faith-filled step towards Bethlehem. She responded to God’s call with joy and hope. She had sought the wisdom and encouragement of her cousin, Elizabeth. She had trusted in a God who is mindful and mighty and full of mercy (from the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55).

This brings to mind the story of Mary and Martha:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
I don’t know if this was so much mother Mary’s choice as God’s orchestrating, but like her name-twin, Mary indeed chose the good portion.

This season, may our Advent preparations include the quiet actions of both Marys. Treasuring and pondering, mother Mary looked to the manger, awed by tiny baby feet who would one day save the world. Sitting at adult Jesus’ feet, sister Mary listened, welcoming the Lord into her home through meaningful patience and praise.

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