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Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Shepherding of Mary's Faith

The tender shepherd
Jesus, the Great Shepherd, is gentle with young believers, "he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart he gently leads those that have young" (somewhere in Isaiah). And nowhere is this tenderness more beautifully demonstrated than in Luke's record of God's dealings with the young Mary.

An explanation from Gabriel
First act of care - Gabriel did not despise the question any young woman would ask about history's first (and only real) parthenogenesis (you can google it): "how can this be so" but told her that her pregnancy would be from God, "the power of the Most High will overshadow you."

An older woman to chat with
Next, God gave to Mary an older woman to chat with and no doubt pray with - for three months! Elizabeth was also experiencing a miracle, but only the restoration of normal reproductiveness, not the big word miracle above. Nevertheless she could help Mary with the questions she would get from Joseph and her village folk. She probably couldn't go to her own mother, and in any case someone outside of the village was better able to see things straight.

Some shepherds with news to calm the shocking birth
So it's beginning to sink in that this baby is something special, "he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever", but then a rude turn of events - the baby has to be born in shocking circumstances, a manger; and what first-time mother would place their precious child in a feeding trough? This needs some explanation. What's gone wrong? This can't be right? What does God do? He sends along some shepherds who tell their story - messengers from heaven who tell them that the Messiah had been born - and would be found, guess where? in a feeding trough. This news from another world, is as much for Mary's faith as for the world's joy.

Some age-d saints to assure them that costly obedience was right!
Next, this poor couple (the Magi haven't yet come with their "we three kings" gifts) have got to make some costly gifts demanded by the law of Moses. Like the two sacrifices required for childbirth purification, like five shekels to pay for the redemption of a first-born son. I mean, they've just undertaken a costly 70-mile journey from Nazareth, they are 'saving for a first home' (modern parlance) and they've got a newborn baby. Surely, they could be excused from these costly requirements. But they were a pious righteous couple and just (providence, not chance) as they were making their costly gifts, God sends into their lives two godly saints to encourage them on their way: Simeon and Anna.

A gracious preparation for future sorrow
And finally, the tender Shepherd of the sheep prepares Mary for the future, when her heart will be torn as she sees the hatred poured out against her Son. Simeon doesn't tell her about bloody thorns and back, or about nails or terror crucifixion, but he tells her that her Son will cause the falling of many, will be a sign spoken against and that a sword would pierce her own heart.

Assurance, comfort and preparation.

What wonderful Shepherdly care.

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