During advent, I wrote a popular series on my old blog called “Women of Advent” about the women who waited with expectation for the promised Messiah, the women who inhabited the meaning of advent. Someone recently suggested that I do a similar series for the next-most-popular season in the church calendar, Lent. I’ve been doing some research on the history and purpose of Lent because I didn’t observe it growing up. Lent is a time of repentance, reflection, and death in order to be reborn. Obviously, the most common way to observe Lent is to fast from something: meat, chocolate, facebook, anything that distracts you from the goodness of God in your life. But as I read this morning, “Ultimately, Lent isn’t about us striving to find God, it’s about stripping away everything that keeps us from resting and being found by God” (Tara Owens).
So what will the “Women of Lent” series look like? It will focus on the women who met Christ in the flesh and who believed that following Him was worth everything. As Bonhoeffer said, “Self-denial is saying only: He goes ahead of us; hold fast to him.” This series will focus on women who held fast to Christ at the expense of everything else.
Who better to start with than a woman who gave up everything to follow Christ before she even met him?
When Mary is first met by the Angel proclaiming her pregnancy in Luke, Mary asks just one question before saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Just one question before humbly accepting whatever God gives. Mary knows that this news could destroy her family, her reputation, her plans for the future, her comfortable life. She could die, her family could die, her fiancée could leave her or kill her, and she has enough faith in an unborn Messiah to accept any hardship on his behalf. But she does not ask about any of that, does not ask a single question about what will happen to her in the future. Mary believed that none of her unrealized plans for her own life were as important as God’s unrealized plans for this baby.
For dust you are and to dust you shall return.
Mary’s is, of course, a story of sacrifice. Raising Jesus was surely a strange experience (see the story of Jesus as a 12 year old in the temple for an example) and she had to watch her firstborn suffer and die on a cross. But Mary’s song is true: “From now on, all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” By surrendering her own dreams and giving up everything that distracted from God’s perfect plan for her life, Mary gained the presence of the living God. She was present at the resurrection. She saw God save the world through the life of her son.
From Mary, we learn that you cannot follow Jesus and leave your former life intact, your former relationships intact, your former self intact. We who have seen Mary’s faith have no choice but to follow her command from John 2:5:
Do whatever he tells you.
Because Mary knows that whatever he tells you, it will give you life.