Have you ever been to that place? You know the one, the place where you are willing to do what you know you have to do but you are not excited about it. You know the task at hand, but you are not eager to face the challenges. So, you approach it with hesitation, timidity, and perhaps a little fear. You want to be joyful, because you know it's the right thing to do, but all too often, the right thing is the hard thing. I bet you've been there before.
Mary of Nazareth certainly had. After being visited by a messenger from God who told her that she would miraculously conceive a child who would be God's Messiah and the world's true king, Mary was committed to the plan. Remember her words: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word." Mary may have dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah, but she never dreamed it would be like this. She may have hoped that one of her sons would be the Christ, but she didn't expect it to endanger her life or cause her the shame of the whispers and sideways glances, having become pregnant before she was married. Mary was certainly committed, but the Christmas narratives give us no initial indication that she was joyful about it. At least, not yet.
Instead of celebrating, Mary ran away. She went to the home of her relative Elizabeth, where Mary would spend the first three months of her pregnancy. The journey to Elizabeth's home would have likely taken about nine days on foot, a journey she probably made with a caravan. You can imagine the thoughts that swirled through her mind during those nine days. What will I do? What will I tell my parents? What will I tell Joseph? Who will believe me? Why is God putting me through this? Mary must have thought Elizabeth would understand. She must have thought there was no one else to whom she could turn.
When Mary entered Elizabeth's home, and before Mary could even tell Elizabeth about her unusual circumstances, Elizabeth knew and greeted Mary with excitement and reminded her that God keeps his word and that he can be trusted. Only after this do we read that Mary rejoiced. Only then did joy come to her heart.
I think there's a lesson to be learned there. When focused on her challenging and adverse circumstances, there is no indication that Mary was experiencing God's joy. In fact, the text suggests that she fled looking for a safe haven. It was only when Mary's attention was drawn to the consistency of God's character that joy returned. We need to learn what Mary had to learn: the source of our joy is never in our circumstances; it's always in God's character. Circumstances change; God remains the same. Life happens; God is consistent. Challenges and adversity will come; God is faithful and true. Joy comes in knowing the character of God, not in trying to navigate life on our own.
Perhaps you are in one of those places this Christmas season. Perhaps you are feeling the tension between what must be done and the challenge of doing it. My prayer for you is that your attention will be drawn to God's character and that you will be reminded that he is trustworthy. Perhaps this knowledge will be for you the advent of joy.