Mary and the Unexpected

Another post featuring something I wrote many years ago that still resonates today….


Something else Mary didn’t expect – the flight to Egypt. I bought the olive wood carving in Palestine and the stone carving in Vietnam during my travels with Mennonite Central Committee.

If I had been in Mary’s place, I wonder how well I would have coped. There she was, a normal young girl in Palestine, engaged to be married. She figured she knew how her life would be – marriage, children, taking care of the home – nothing unusual. She knew what to expect. Even if her life wouldn’t be exciting, at least it would be predictable.

But predictability flew out the window the day the angel came. One day she was looking forward to marriage to Joseph, and the next she was pregnant, but not with his child, and not because she had done anything. She was just there, minding her own business, being a good girl, and behold, she’s pregnant! How would she explain that to her friends, her parents, her fiancé? What had she done to deserve this major disruption to the nice little life with Joseph she had planned?

Fortunately, Joseph had his own encounter with the angel, so instead of dumping her, as most men in his position would have done, he stayed. With this crisis over, the pregnancy went on normally – until they had to travel to Bethlehem. By this time, Mary was very pregnant, and a trip to Bethlehem wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. But she went (what choice did she have?), and while she was there she had the baby – not in a clean room in the best inn, but in a dirty stable with the cows and sheep. I can imagine Mary thinking, “Why me, Lord? If I had to get pregnant like this, couldn’t I at least have had my baby in comfortable surroundings?”

In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, he says that after all the excitement over Jesus’ birth, Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I’m sure she must have done a lot of “pondering” over the years. When Jesus was lost in Jerusalem and responded so nonchalantly to his parents’ concern after they found him, Mary didn’t understand. When he left home to begin his ministry, he was always in trouble with the religious leaders, always saying outrageous things, having his life threatened, being followed by huge crowds of people, even shutting her out sometimes. This son of hers was different. No neatly packaged life for her. I imagine myself in Mary’s place, thinking, “Why can’t he be like everyone else? Why my son, Lord? I had such plans for him.”

And then he died – cruelly, undeservedly, humiliatingly. Mary’s firstborn son was hung on a cross to die. She hadn’t planned on his birth, and she certainly didn’t plan for him to die this way, so young, with so much work yet to do. More pondering, thinking, “Why, Lord?”

But I’m putting words in Mary’s mouth. I’m projecting my own feelings onto her situation. I’m reaching out of my need to control what happens in my life, not to have things happen unexpectedly. I want a neat package with no loose ends. I’m not sure I would have responded to the angel the way Mary did – afraid, but open to what the Lord wanted, even if it meant disrupting my entire life.

Lately, I’ve been inwardly screaming at all the disruptions to my plans, my full schedule, my life. Too much to do and too little time. So many demands, so many choices to make. I don’t want the unexpected, but of course, the unexpected always happens. Most of the time, however, the unexpected doesn’t change the whole course of my life, like it did for Mary. And rarely does the unexpected have such momentous consequences, like the birth of the Messiah. What if it did, though? How would I react?

“May it be to me as you have said,” Mary said to the angel. Her life – and the world – was completely changed, and all she said was, “Okay, whatever you say.” Could I say that? Could I imagine the serendipity of the unexpected, or am I too busy and too tightly scheduled to recognize the signs of something wonderful? Mary’s acceptance of a life which wasn’t the neat little package she expected challenges me this Christmas. I’d like to be more open to the possibilities of the unexpected.


Reprinted from “Phoebe’s Journal,” in the Evangelical Visitor, December 1987, pp. 30-31.



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