I didn’t give much thought to Mary when I was a child, for obvious reasons. Being the Savior of the world’s mother gave her a place at the manger, but then she faded quickly into the background. All I knew was that an angel visited her – not that shocking to me since children expect angels – and she was a virgin, which didn’t register on the wonder scale since that word had no meaning for me.
For some reason, her fiancee Joseph got really mad when she told him she was going to have a baby, but he was nice and didn’t kick her to the curb. She went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and when she entered the room, the baby danced in Elizabeth’s belly, but we didn’t talk about babies in bellies at Sunday School, so I’m not sure where I heard that.
Then she traveled to Bethlehem on a donkey. On the glittery blue Christmas cards, she always looked so bulky and uncomfortable to me – pretty and glowing, to be sure, but still, I thought Joseph could have made her a cart since he was a carpenter and all. And after all that, there was no room for them at the inn, which made me both angry and sad. I mean, seriously, who closes the door on a pregnant woman?
Now that I am much older, more knowledgable, and slightly wiser, I view the story differently. For instance, now I know that Jesus wasn’t white, the kings didn’t kneel at the manger, and the Bible never says Mary rode on a donkey – though it doesn’t say she didn’t either. There’s also no mention of an innkeeper in scripture; talk about fake news. Much of our nativity narrative has been gleaned from tinsel-laden Christmas pageants and carols and taken as gospel. Still, when we strip away the layers of sentimentality, we can get to the heart of the story, and what matters.
Now I wonder, not at a sky full of angels – though, I still expect them – but at the willingness of this young woman who could have said no. She could have run away and tried to hide, but she stood her ground and received his word. The scriptures say that the angel’s message disturbed her, but she didn’t speak of that. Other than a curious inquiry about how this would work, we don’t know what thoughts raced through her mind. Did she worry about her reputation, Joseph’s reaction, about her future? Did she think of herself at all? I suspect that answer to that is no; God chose her precisely because she had a yes ready, deep in her spirit.
She was an empty vessel.
Charles Spurgeon once wrote: The saints are not, by nature, wells, or streams, they are but cisterns into which the living water flows; they are empty vessels into which God pours his salvation…God will empty out all that you have before he will put his own into you.
We have to be emptied of the world to receive Heaven. We have to be emptied of self to receive Jesus. The emptier we are, the more room there is for him. We know this, but it’s not easy in a culture that lures us in the opposite direction, playing on our lusts, pride, and insecurities.
The truth is, becoming an empty vessel will cost us everything as we daily choose to say no to all of the Mys – my stuff, my rights, my image, my money, my time, my opinion, my agenda, my relationships, my life plan – and yes to God. The small yeses prepare the soil for the radical yes that will be required when God asks us to leave our comfort zone and step into the danger zone of costly faith.
Lord, make us cisterns into which your living water can flow and empty vessels into which you can pour your salvation. During this advent season, empty us of everything but love until we can respond with Mary:
I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.