Hail Mary, full of grace…

Though I’m not Catholic, I’m familiar with the following prayer:

Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…

This prayer comes straight out of the book of Luke (verses 28 and 42), and it’s how Mary was greeted first by an angel, and then, by her cousin, Elizabeth.

And this morning I fully realize this prayer is not ascribing majesty to Mary, as I so thought. See, I believed “Hail” to be a form of greeting used only with someone high of rank. But now, I know. Literally, hail means “rejoice” or “be glad.”

And to clear up another misconception on my part, Mary being full of grace does not mean she was a graceful person. Rather, Mary was blessed because God’s favor rested on her. It was His grace she was full of, not her own.

In other words, “Rejoice, Mary! Be glad because God has blessed you and His grace rests upon you!”

En_Gloria_GuidoReni

Hail, Mary.

Rejoice.

Funny thing, though, is many images depict Mary in a deeply contemplative state rather than full of joy. In my opinion, she looks to be melancholy.

But one can infer from the first chapter of Luke, that she did in fact rejoice. And not only was Mary full of grace, she was also full of praise! For this was the song of Mary’s heart…

 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” Luke 1:46-52

This passage gives us a glimpse into Mary’s soul. At least at the time of immaculate conception. Oh, I’m sure she didn’t always remain on this spiritual high for could she? Because not long after, her betrothed wanted to put her away quietly.

And there were other hardships. If I were to place myself in Mary’s sandals, I’d have to say some of her joy slipped away. So perhaps the sad images of Mary do portray her best.

Especially during her third trimester. Traveling a great distance on a donkey. In the cold. And upon arrival to Bethlehem, the city of David, there must have been such crowds. And the straw to break the camel’s back… there was no where to go!

What must she have been thinking?

Me? I know exactly what I would have said. I’d have uttered in disbelief, “Are you kidding me?” For that’s my go to phrase. When something doesn’t go according to my plan, this flies right out of my mouth. And if I were in Mary’s place, I would have thought, “Here I am carrying the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and no one can make a place for me! For ME!”

And so, the contrast is striking. I, quite clearly, am nothing like Mary. For I am high in my thinking. But Mary was not. She was lowly. A humble soul. And thus, God’s grace rested upon her.

And it’s there, in the grace of God, that I need to pause for just a moment. Because I need it this hour.

See, the other night I had been lulled to sleep on my couch by the glow of the TV. However, I awoke with a start. I was brought to full alertness, but noticed nothing askew. Not even when I stepped out onto my porch to unplug Christmas lights did anything seem out of the ordinary. No, the world was quiet.

But then, I heard voices. And finally, I saw flashing blue lights at the top of the hill.  And standing there in my bathrobe, I felt uncertain about what to do. Lights silently beckoned, but I didn’t know what had happened.

I hurried inside to wake my husband from his deep slumber and told him something was wrong… I told him I felt I should go up and see.

But he didn’t understand my reasoning. It was cold and dark and a policeman was already there. What did I possibly think I could do? No, he felt I should stay inside. And so, I left the bedroom to venture out again. And that’s when I heard the fire station siren. Something was wrong, in deed.

Still, though, I felt uncertainty. It was true there was an official on site, and it was true I was undressed… but shouldn’t I go up to see if I could be of service? I ventured back in as I heard the sirens approach. And by this time, I knew help was just seconds away. And so, I deduced my husband was probably right…

Thus, I did nothing.

I watched out my window as more and more emergency vehicles arrived. And when a spotlight shone forth, I realized it wasn’t just a simple accident. Not only that, emergency personnel were right on the edge of our property! I didn’t know how I could help, and yet, I felt compelled to do something. Once again, I woke my husband. Shouldn’t I go? Shouldn’t I do something? Anything?

I wish I could say that I rose to the occasion. That I hurried to help in anyway I could… perhaps in offering a kind word or holding a hand. I could have handed out hot coffee or blankets, or lifted up the injured in prayer. I bet that’s what Mary would have done.

But no. I stood still, instead. Compelled to move by the Spirit within me, yet unable to move forward one step. And so, by the time I made my way to bed much later, I felt like an utter fool.

By the next morning, foolishness morphed to guilt. And then, I was filled with deep regret as shame overtook me. Surely the shame of inaction is much more than the shame of an action taken. For I failed to do what was right.

And today, it strikes me that the shame I felt is just another form of the word disgrace.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was full of grace.

And I… well, I was full of disgrace.

When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

Hail Mary, full of grace. This is the description we have of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Filled with grace because of her humbleness. And through humility, she became wise. And so, Mary being Mary, her earthly frame housed a wonderful gift. For within her womb was the seed of Christmas… the grace of God.

And me being me, this is the gift I need most this Christmas. For I am but a human. Frail and fraught with error. I make mistake after mistake. I fail God again and again, and yet, His gift to me is everlasting… His mercies new each day.

So this day, I choose to rest there. In the grace of my Lord and Savior. And I proclaim with great confidence…

Hail Pam, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

And not because of who I am or anything I do. But simply because I need Him. I need His grace.

Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness, for although the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:16-17

This Christmas, I am unwrapping God’s gift of grace. And in this reason alone, I shall rejoice. Funny thing, though, it’s not perfection that brought me to it. No, it was through a mistake.

And though my error brought me low, and I was awash in shame for a brief period,  I was humbled by my folly. And it was in that moment, in my human weakness, that I found His gift.

My disgrace was exchanged for His grace…

A Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

A Full Closet

Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, I listened to a Mother’s Day message today in which the speaker addressed some of the very things I have been thinking about recently. Namely… insecurity. (I’ve included the link to Lysa TerKeurst’s message at the end of this blog). And the funny thing is, she mentioned her past (as a little girl), the fickle opinions of others, and the fragile choices our children make. And I found her message to be illuminating in that she helped me identify the problem with my insecurity. And it isn’t what I would have thought. See, my line of thinking was that if you’re insecure, you’re not confident. And so logically, low confidence means that you’re not lofty and high up, right? Because if you’re insecure, you’re staying low, right? Doesn’t insecurity then, in essence, mean that you’re humble and meek? And if so, isn’t God pleased by that?

You know, I have been praying for godly wisdom for a little while now. In order to know how to please God, I need His wisdom… because His is so different from the world’s. And, fortunately, the speaker pointed to Scripture that points directly to godly wisdom. And it’s through Proverbs 11:2 that I see just what my insecurity really is: “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.” Illuminating, huh? And so, I find that insecurity is not lowly and humble at all, but in fact, the opposite is quite true. The mere fact that I have been feeling insecure, and shameful, highlights the hidden pride in my life. And if I want God’s wisdom, as I have been so praying… then it’s in my humility that I’ll find it. And so I see, the issue is not at all insecurity… but pride. Because it’s pride that cares what other people think. It’s pride that feels shame in not measuring up to other people’s standards. And it’s pride that produces those feelings of inferiority. It’s the pride of life…

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-is not of the Father but is of the world. 1 John 2:15-16

So in a nutshell… God has answered my prayer. I’ve been seeking godly wisdom, and praying for God’s wisdom, and so James 1:5 has been played out in my life: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally…” Because through a message I watched at random today, God has shown me where to find His wisdom… and it’s not in my insecurity. If I want God’s wisdom, then I must be humble. And so, I have a choice to make. We all do. We must decide where we will find our true identity… and where we will find our true security. Because if we place too much importance on this world via its opinions and its measuring stick, then we will never, ever feel secure. Because the world is passing away, and the lust of it… but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:17). See, our security can only be found in Him.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, God never ceases to amaze me. I am forever awed by how God fits together the pieces of my life… how He strategically plants me in places, and in circumstances, and with people, and how He opens the eyes of my understanding, enlightening me, that I may know what is the hope of His calling for me. See, I’ve been feeling less than. But He is opening my eyes, and I am beginning to see what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance. And I’ve been feeling inadequate, but He is showing me what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward me, who believes. He is showing me that I am complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. I lack nothing… because I am complete. But it’s Him who completes me. I will never, ever measure up to man’s expectations… but with God, because I am covered by the blood of His Son, I am complete. That’s my security.

You know, everyone wants to fit in. Everyone wants to be liked (well, most people do – I have run across those who actually take delight in offending other people). But the truth is, Christians will never, ever fit in with the world. Because the world and God see things in stark contrast to each other. God’s kingdom is flip-flopped from the worldly kingdom. God’s wisdom does not mesh with the world’s. And if we hold too tightly to the world, and the things of the world, then pride creeps in and wisdom walks out. And shame always follows.

Shame has always been with me… it’s always been part of my make-up. It first took root when I was a small girl. When young, because of things I did not have and my not-so-full closet. When older, because of things I did and a much fuller closet… only the closet happened to be filled with skeletons. And older still, disgrace follows because of the things I do, or don’t do, that may or may not measure up to mere man’s expectation of me. And so, shame cloaks me. But the cloak of shame comes directly out of the closet of pride. And that garment of insecurity was not selected for me by God. And so, I have a choice to make. I can gain the whole world today, packing my closet full with robes of shame in trying to keep up with the Jones, or… I can choose Him. And with Him, my closet need not be so full. Because with Him, I will be clothed in robes of righteousness. And with Him, I will be clothed in glory. And in order to be so clothed, there is only one item needed… Him.

And so, the choice… a full closet, or an empty one? Here or there? Or, this world or that one? The choice is mine to make. And it shouldn’t be that hard of a decision.

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what advantage is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:24-26

http://elevationchurch.org/sermons/cut-the-but?autoplay=sermon