Believe. This time of year, the word adorns shop windows, sits on mantles, scrolls across wall hangings. Even atop my kitchen cabinets, the glittery red letters encourage onlookers to believe. In what, I'm not really sure ... that Santa will come on Christmas Eve? ... that a white Christmas is possible in the Pacific NW? ... that I can keep my sanity between November 25 and December 31 with three birthdays and two holidays to prepare for? ... that 2000 years ago a baby was born in a stable to free the world …. me …. from the crippling burden of sin-guilt? Believe. Such a punchy word, ripe with potential. But without something to believe in, it is merely a row of seven letters, a hollow sentiment to print on Christmas decorations.
It’s hard to believe when cynicism and skepticism come naturally, when life's events more resemble a bad dream than a fairy tale ending. This holiday has not looked like I anticipated. My vision of excited children and festive family celebrations around the tree has been tainted by kid squabbles and fisticuffs, bruised lips and egos, sniffles and fevers. Having been awakened by a sick kiddo in the wee hours last night, I was pondering ... and admittedly whining just a bit. After all, I thought I had heard God clearly about our holiday plans. I thought I was walking in obedience. But if I was, how come things kept going wrong? Why did the Norman Rockwell Christmas I envisioned not match our reality?
And God gently pointed out that the first Christmas likely didn't look like Mary anticipated either. As I study the account of the young mother, I see no hint of doubt or doldrums, no panic or frantic attempts to control the situation. It's sobering to see a woman half my age respond to a task more magnificent than anything God will require of me, with a level of trust and faith far beyond what I see displayed in my own life. Yet I still have to wonder .... was there a moment in that dusty, dirty stable, perhaps in a lull between fierce contractions, that she looked around and shook her head? That the last nine months swept over her in a matter of seconds? That she reviewed the angel's message and realized the fruition of his prophecy looked entirely different than she anticipated? Or did she just take things moment by moment with the wisdom to avoid constructing preconceived notions, knowing that circumstances are poor indicators of obedience? Did she, in a word, believe?
Simple faith seems to be the hallmark of Mary's life. Whether to Gabriel's incredible announcement or to angelic tales delivered by uninvited smelly visitors to her stable nursery, Mary responds with quiet acceptance and unquestioning belief. The belief that I now think of whenever I see the printed word adorning my house. The belief that I needed to be reminded of last night. Belief that accompanies a deep breath, a step back, a release of control, a sigh of surrender, a counting of blessings. Belief in God's sovereignty. Belief that when the circumstances seem entirely fantastical God is still busy, ever in control, His deep love for His creation at the center of His plans. Belief in a magnificent God whose ways tend to the out of ordinary but laden with blessings for those who will say yes to Him. Believe that trusts, along with Mary, that God will keep me in perfect peace when my mind is fixed on Him, trusting (Isaiah 26:3).