Mission Devotional - December 20, 2016

Opening Prayer: Yes, Father! Yes! And always Yes! - Francis de Sales

Scripture: Luke 1:39-56

Journal: Where in your life is God asking you to say "yes" to him? What does that look like?

Reflection: For many Christians it has perhaps become commonplace to view Advent as a season of inevitability, a ritual expectation of the birth of the Son of God, surely, but one that lacks suspense. We already know how the story will turn out, don't we? He Holy Family will make it to Bethlehem; they will find a manger; Jesus will be born; everything will run as planned and on schedule. Yet it is worthwhile to recall that Advent celebrates birth, one of the most vulnerable and human moments, and to remind ourselves that Jesus was an unexpected child: Mary had a different life planned for herself and Joseph, not to mention Joseph's own hopes and dreams for his family.

What must those cold final months of pregnancy have been like for Mary, away from home and desperate for shelter? In our still male-centered world, we may think more of the coming of Jesus than of the worries and concerns of his mother, who knew a life we often do not admit, one surely full of confusion about her role as well as dreams and fears for her family's well-being and future. Do we give enough attention in our prayer and celebration to he interior life - this young woman called by forces she did not fully understand to give birth to a child whose coming was shrouded in so much mystery?

I am of an age where my friends and siblings seem to have acquired an incredible fecundity. Not a month goes by without the good news that one or more of them is expecting. Pregnancy involves uncertainty, of course, so they are careful not to make an announcement too soon. Often they communicate the news subtly. A friend declines a glass of wine at dinner, sisters start whispering in the corner at family gatherings, boxes of clothes reappear out of attics and closets, and suddenly everyone realizes the good news. Each time, though, there is worry, but more often than not it is the worry of middle-class Americans supported by family, society, and financial security. It is not the worry of an unmarried teenager living at subsistence level in a land under military occupation; it is not that of a woman struggling to avoid public scandal, yet singing a hymn of hope in an environment more suggestive of its opposite.

The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once called Mary's Magnificat "the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung," not a Christmas carol or a recitation of pious treacle but a "hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind." The woman who sang that song was not the serene and half-asleep royal figure depicted in Western art over the centuries, but a young woman fully alive in history, whose answer to God had consequences both long-range and immediate for herself, her family, and the world. Mary's response, though, is exemplary: she embraced her new reality and her new child.

In this Advent season, let us remember and be grateful for the yes Mary gave to that sudden visitor who brought shocking news. For Mary's decision brought life to the world. The child she bore and reared has changes our fates forever. Perhaps the joy and gratitude we bring to the new arrivals in our world give us a starting point for loving Mary's son. (The Surprise Child by James T. Keane)

Prayer for the church, for others, for myself

Pete and Ruth Mitchell are church planters in Marseille under the auspices of Mission to the World (MTW) and in collaboration with the Eglise Réformée Evangélique de France (French Reformed Evangelical Church). Pete's role is that of team leader. The Mitchells are living in Toulouse planting a new church. Pray for their efforts to build a core group and develop it. They consider their Bible study to be the future "core group."

The Bible Society of Egypt is the largest Arabic Bible publishing operation in the world. They are publishing the Scriptures in a variety of formats and media (print, audio, visual), with each product designed for a particular social, economic, age, and cultural interest group. Pray today for the staff as they perform the day-to-day tasks required to publish the Bibles.

Closing Prayer: I have heard your call, my Lord, and respond with a yes that arises from the depth of my being. I know that if I follow close to you, nothing shall be able to separate me from your love. Amen. (A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God by Norman Shawchuck and Rueben P. Job)