I had every intention of writing here after my last post, but have been somewhat remiss. Crazy family happenings changed my schedule. In lieu of a more thoughtful post, I thought I’d simply share some completely unrelated thoughts that have been mulling around my head.
Posts from the ‘life’ Category
The Raising of Lazarus – Vincent van Gogh
He was a close friend, this Jesus. First welcomed into their home by Martha; now he was a part of their lives. He’d made an indelible mark on their hearts. Martha, Mary and Lazarus, the three siblings had found a friend, one they loved like a brother. Perhaps for Lazarus, he was glad to welcome another male into the home he shared with two sisters. Martha, always the hospitable one, was eager to welcome a new friend. And Mary, she was entranced. Listening at his feet, she drank in his words, his teaching. He spoke into her heart, like no one had before.
Martha had been upset with her at first, mistaking her eagerness to listen and to be in his presence, with an unwillingness to help prepare the meal. “Only one thing is needed, Martha. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her,” he’d responded, when she asked him to tell Mary to help.
“Chosen what is better.” Mary learned at the feet of Jesus and a spark of faith was ignited, one that would soon grow into an intense blaze. But not yet.
And then, the unthinkable happened. Lazarus fell ill, gravely ill. Only now Jesus was no longer with them. He was a day’s journey away. Immediately, they’d sent a messenger to him, telling him, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus wasn’t surprised by the unfortunate news. “This sickness will not end in death. No, it’s for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it,” he responded.
He loved them, Martha, Mary and Lazarus…deeply. But he didn’t return immediately. He waited two days before beginning the day’s journey to them in Bethany.
Lazarus’s sickness proved fatal. He passed away before Jesus returned. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going to wake him up.” Jesus had a plan all along. The One who loved deeply, would speak life into his friend.
Responding to Grief: Jesus and Mary
When he arrived, Martha immediately went out to meet him. If only you’d been here, he wouldn’t have died, she told him. “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha’s faith in Jesus was rock solid. She knew he was the Son of God.
Mary held back, remaining in their home, until Jesus sent Martha to tell her he was asking for her. Quickly she went out to see him, falling at his feet saying, “Lord, if only you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” The depths of her pain and despair were brought to the surface as she wept, at his feet.
Seeing her weep, feeling her brokenness, He wept. “Jesus wept.”
Knowing his dear friend Lazarus would soon breath life again, Jesus wept. He saw Mary’s grief and felt her brokenness to the depths of his being. And God wept. Regularly we ask, does he care about our pain, our grief, our broken, aching hearts? The God who created Lazarus, who’d formed him in his mother’s womb, who knew him before he was born, who breathed life into his being once, and who would speak life into him again, wept. Why?
One commentator I found said Christ wept at the enormity of the cost and despair of death itself. The words of Scripture tell us simply, he saw Mary weeping at his feet and He wept.
Moments later at the tomb where Lazarus’s lifeless body lay, Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did. The once dead man, rose and walked out into the light of day.
Martha knew Jesus could do the impossible. Mary struggled to see beyond her grief. Was it that her belief wavered or that it wasn’t strong enough yet? Jesus never rebukes Mary for unbelief. His response to her is to call her to him and when he sees her broken before him, he weeps alongside her. He sees a sister mourning for her beloved brother and he, too, weeps.
A Lavish Gift
Later in the Gospels of Mark and John, Jesus is reclining at a table in the home of Simon the Leper, when a woman comes with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She breaks the tiny neck of the alabaster flask and pours out the rare perfume upon Jesus’ head. This woman is Mary, Lazarus’s sister.
We know from John, that upon witnessing this display, Judas rebukes her for wasting such a lavish gift, a gift worth an entire year’s wages. It should’ve been sold and the proceeds given to the poor, Judas reasons. John tells us Judas’s real motivation was to get his hands on the proceeds, to pilfer from them. Jesus responds that this perfume was intended to be saved for the day of his burial, to prepare his body for burial. The fragrance of this perfume, of Mary’s anointing, of her extravagant, lavish gift fills the entire house. The scent of sacrifice, the scent of gratitude, the scent of faith made alive, the scent of love. It is her offering to the One she loves.
I’m so moved by Mary’s lavish giving and her complete lack of self, as she humbles herself even more by using her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet, without any regard to who is around her. This is a woman who’s faced grief and brokenness and has seen her God respond in absolute love. In her time of greatest need, He came alongside her, weeping with her. Then, she saw his power at work.
In many ways, I can relate to being broken and seeing God come in and move in miraculous ways, feeling his love come alongside me, during my most difficult times. Those times change you. Times where there is really no sense of self-awareness. Times when all that remains is an outpouring of love and joy for the One who gave you back life, whether it be through the healing of a loved one or the giving of life to a heart that out of brokenness had died and now was alive and filled with joy once again.
What response would be appropriate for a gift such as that, other than an outpouring of everything, of all I have and all I am? I hope I can continually do that in my life. I know I waver and often fail. I hope to be like more like Mary.
The most basic definition of advent is a coming into being. In preparing for Christmas this year, I wonder how do we “…come into being…” this Advent? How do we rekindle our focus on the greatest advent the world has seen, that which culminated in the birth of the Son of God? Drawing near to God is crucial, but how do we draw near to God during this time of wonder? All the trappings of Christmas are tradition and no doubt a welcome enjoyment. But how do we see beyond the bustling with tinsel, lights, cookies and presents?
In the Christmas story, Mary experienced a “coming into being,” an advent of her own. “Do not be afraid,” the angel declared Christ’s coming birth to his young mother. An encounter of the simple with the divine and the whole world would be changed forever. What faith Mary had answering the angel, “Let it be as you say. I am a bond-servant of the LORD.” A bond-servant. Not just a servant, but one who sells themself into servitude. She had the freedom to choose. Yet, she chose to accept the circumstances laid before her. The public scorn would have been tremendous for a young pregnant Jewish bride. The cost so great, she likely would lose her husband in the process. Her life would be changed forever. None of that mattered. She took the angel’s words to heart, believing she needn’t fear and that she was “…most highly favored…” by God himself.
Mary offered herself to be a dwelling for the Christ child; in the womb, through infancy, toddlerhood, boyhood, and manhood. She even followed him to his death on the cross. She had to have known the prophecies about Israel’s Messiah King, perhaps even knowing that one day he would ultimately pay the greatest price for his people. Yet, she took on the role of the mother of the Christ child with wonder in her eyes. We’re told she pondered these things in her heart. Mary willingly became a dwelling for the King of Kings, despite any pain she might endure. In doing so, she was blessed to experience the closeness of a relationship with the divine.
At the crux of coming into being this Advent is a willingness to be a dwelling for God. Like Mary, to experience being with him, not doing for him. Come near to me and I’ll draw near to you, he tells us. Emmanuel – Christ with us. A revolutionary concept today, just as much as it was two thousand years ago. All the power of the divine rests in Christ. Christ’s birth should be celebrated, not because it gives us the opportunity for all kinds of Christmas revelry. It should be celebrated with joy and thanksgiving, because it turned the whole created world upside down with an offer of divine proportion. The God of the universe extended an open invitation for every man, woman and child to enter into a living and life-altering relationship with him.
The heart of Christmas isn’t merrymaking, it is life itself. And that life is in Christ. “I am the way, the truth and the life. I’ve come to give them life and life to the fullest,” he tells us. “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy burdened. Come to me and I shall give you rest.” The traditions of Christmas aren’t sufficient balm for the ache of living in a world fraught with great difficulty and pain. Who but God himself could meet us in our darkest moments, bringing us healing tenderness, strength and comfort? For the orphans hidden deep in third world squalor; for those facing down a terrifying sickness in a loved one; for those broken with guilt over what they’ve done; and for the loneliest of the lonely – there is one who can meet you where you are, one who desires to know you. As the angel declared, he was born “…for you…” on Christmas day.
Come near to him and delight in the divine. Allow him to dwell in your heart and you will experience his transforming, life-giving power. Come experience his rest in the midst of the worst turmoil this world can throw at you. His peace is real and never-ending. The greatest present ever given – Emmanuel – God with us. Walking with us, carrying us, filling us with the hope that can only come from the divine. Come near and experience him this holiday season. Come to the manger, he’s waiting.
Photo by Maija/KIIW – DeviantArt