Arthur Gordon, in his book, The Gift of Bright Encounters, says life is full of encounters. Life IS full of encounters. Some encounters are complete surprises ... some are expected some happy ... some sad and painful. We meet up with these encounters throughout life. "Encounters" ARE life. Life IS "encounters". Of one sort or another.
I had been thinking about Christmas
- the birth of Christ, Mary - when I came across Arthur Gordon's book, and his short piece about "encounters". It made me think about this "encounter" in Mary's life and how it must have affected her in so many ways. Mary, being the birth-mother of the Son of God is, of course, honored, loved and remembered for just that: being chosen to give birth to the Son of God. But, I often think of Mary from another perspective. I think about the difficulty her pregnancy must have been for her ... not so much physically, though that may have been hard, too. But emotionally. This wasn't, after all, your usual way of getting pregnant; and then, of course, there was the fact of not yet being married. This was definitely an encounter for Mary - one of those unexpected encounters.
In the Bible (NKJV) we read, in Luke 1:18: "...After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit."
"Betrothed", within the Jewish community, was an engagement - a binding marriage contract; not to be taken lightly. It could only be broken by divorce ... it was a binding contract even though the couple had not yet been sexually intimate. It was almost as important as the actual, final marriage itself. The more important word to note, in the verse above, even more than the word "betrothed", is "before" ... BEFORE she and Joseph ever had any physical intimacy - here she was pregnant. How many people do you think believed THAT ?!
The good news for Mary was that Joseph had finally popped the question. The maybe-hard-to-take-news was that she had to wait a whole year before the official "I do's", and the honeymoon. Within that year there was to be no hanky-panky with Joseph, and certainly not with any other man. And there wasn't.
Encounters. Yes, life IS full of them. Mary's betrothal to Joseph was seemingly one of those happy encounters. Life was good. She was engaged to a good man. She would make plans for their future together as she waited out her year of betrothal. All was good.
Encounters. This betrothal was surely one of those "happy encounters" the author, Arthur Gordon, wrote of. He said that some unpleasant encounters fade away in our memory while "some of the pleasant surprises remain vivid for years."
However, says our author, "Abruptly, circumstances arrange themselves that the commonplace becomes the significant and the routine the memorable - so memorable that perhaps it changes you for the rest of your life."
Mary's betrothal would change her life, for sure. The young virgin would become a newly-wed and take on the responsibilities of marriage. The "routines" of betrothals in Mary's village had become VERY "significant and memorable", very personal, to her now. A happy, life-changing encounter.
And then. Oh, and then. And then another of life's encounters for Mary. This is where I think maybe this wasn't so easy for her.
Matthew tells us in Matthew 1:18 (b) (NKJV): "before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Spirit."
"Usually," said our author in his book, "a truly memorable encounter involves someone else."
Well, THIS encounter DID involve someone else. But, come on, who'd believe that Mary, this very human Mary, was pregnant because of the Holy Spirit? Can't we just imagine the whispers and the disapproving glances towards Mary after her friends, neighbors and even family learned she was pregnant? An angel messenger, Mary? Sure, sure. The Holy Spirit, Mary? Right. Oh, come on- really! You expect us to believe that?
Mary herself must have had some doubts as to what was real because she asked the announcing angel, Gabriel, in Luke 1:34 (NKJV): "...How can this be, since I do not know a man?" "Know", as in the sense of having had a sexual encounter with someone. She knew how babies were made, and she knew she had NOT done anything to make a baby! Wouldn't she, too, have been wondering how she was going to explain this to Joseph? (Fortunately for her, God provided Joseph with his own encounters, so he would understand that Mary was being truthful; that the child she carried was, indeed, the Messiah; that she had not cheated on him.)
Yes, I often think of the difficulties, humanly speaking, that Mary must have faced, at least for a time, when she found herself unmarried and pregnant. I can't help thinking that it was a sticky situation that Mary found herself in.
However, her character - her belief in and love for God ... her obedience to Him up to that point, was constant and strong. So much so that probably after the initial shock, the this-is-not-happening-to-me feelings pass, she was STILL open to God. Trusting Him. Open to His messenger and the message that she was truly the one chosen from among the other women to give birth to the Messiah. She could believe and accept because she had BEEN believing and accepting God's will all along.
In Luke 1:38 (NKJV) we read: "Then Mary said, 'Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to Your word.' "
She believed. She accepted. She didn't try to escape the situation, even knowing, surely, that there would be all that gossip about her in the village.
Another encounter. A memorable encounter. Oh, Mary, THIS one would SO change your life. And the lives of many others.
Our author, Arthur Gordon, said, "Afterward (after an encounter) you know that you have learned something valuable - something that can't always be described exactly, or measured, or fully explained. But something."
Mary must have felt somewhat like that. Maybe she couldn't quite put her finger on what was happening. Maybe she was still not quite believing, for a time, that it was happening. Until. Until she did believe. Until she saw what a great and memorable encounter in her life this was.
"Afterward, you know that you have learned something valuable..." said the author.
And Mary did.
"My soul magnifies the Lord," she said, "and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior." (Luke 1:46 & 47 / NKJV)
With this amazing, memorable encounter Mary learned, once again, that God keeps His promises. That He promised the Messiah would come - that the Messiah would be born on earth of a virgin mother. Humanly impossible, Mary knew. Yet, with this memorable life encounter she saw God keeping the promise made way back in Isaiah.
Isaiah 7:14 (NKJV): "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."
Our author ended his piece with: "When one of these luminous encounters takes place, most people feel an impulse to preserve it, somehow. Some try to keep a tangible reminder: a flower, a photograph, a handkerchief, perhaps. A writer tries to preserve it in words."
Thankfully, God allowed writers to preserve in words Mary's "luminous encounter" - the great encounter in her life that resulted in the greatest Gift to mankind: salvation through Jesus Christ.
Merry Christmas. May we all be privileged to face some "luminous encounters" in our lives, especially as we move through this month, celebrating the birth of the Holy Child whom Mary bore.