A month ago, during a bout of emotional turmoil, I made the following comment to a girlfriend of mine, “I don’t want any of this on my canvas” (cf. Blank Canvas, Dreaming Season, Paint A Picture For Me).
She didn’t say anything in the moment, nor did I think much of my offhanded remark, however, several days later, she responded via text, “I was praying for you and recalled your statement about not wanting this on your canvas, and I felt the Lord say, ‘I’m not painting some happy Thomas Kinkade painting, I’m painting a masterpiece, something that will withstand the test of time, that will be a legacy unto me for generations to come, and yes, there is pain and struggle, but how much greater the redemption. Jess needs to remember that while this canvas is for her, it is also to showcase my glory, my magnificence, my power, and my redeeming love.”’
This reprimand humbled me; however, it was, and still is, hard to swallow.
The Lord brought me back to my girlfriend’s message this past Sunday, the first day of Advent, as I was reflecting on Mary’s story and the birth of Jesus, in Luke 1 and 2 (NIV).
While this is pure conjecture, I can’t help but think that had God given Mary her own blank canvas, the following would not be on it: bearing an illegitimate child who would bring shame and disrepute to her character, brand her as the neighborhood whore, potentially end her betrothal, and endanger her life (giving birth to the “Savior, Messiah, Lord,” was a direct threat to the Roman Emperor, who was the Savior, Messiah, Lord of Rome, and for that matter, the world).
Again, while this is pure conjecture, when the angel Gabriel visits Mary, proclaiming, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you…Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1.28-32), I can’t help but think that her greatly troubled (διαταράσσω = disturbed, agitated) response in verse 29, went something like this:
“You know Lord, I’m not feeling very highly favored right now. This seems like a bad idea and a pretty dark stain on my bright white canvas. See, Joseph and I have it all planned out. We’re going to get married, carve out a humble and modest living in Nazareth, live next door to our families, acquire some livestock, and have several biological children. So, I’m not really looking to jeopardize my own life by having your Son, nor am I looking to take on the Roman Empire by bearing the Savior, nor am I looking to taint my reputation which is pretty intact right now. I’d really like a drama-free, painless, non-turmoil life, so if you could not paint this on my canvas, I’d really appreciate it.”
While the text in no way alludes to the above response, it does tell us that in the midst of Mary’s wonderment (διαλογίζομαι = to reason, to resolve in one’s mind, to deliberate) (v. 29), Gabriel provides an explanation about why God is doing this, and how God will bring it about (Luke 1.35-37). He delivers God’s response to Mary’s questioning and deliberation. He gives a reason to why God is painting this on Mary’s canvas.
The explanation is simple. It’s all for his glory. It’s all for his cosmic tapestry.
In response, Mary exclaims, “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1.38). She's no longer distressed. She’s no longer troubled. She’s no longer deliberating.
Instead, she gladly, and willingly, accepts God’s invitation to participate in the world’s redemption.
In accepting this brush stroke, in agreeing to bear the Savior, Mary submits her life, will, and desires to fulfill God’s plan and to reveal his glory. In so doing, she risks experiencing pain, suffering, and shame—the same fate her son signs up for when he accepts the cross.
Yet, in the midst of Mary’s pain and struggle, God brings about the greatest redemption the world has ever seen—the birth of his Son, the incarnation of himself in human form.
God entered a 1st century world which was shrouded in darkness; a world oppressed and groaning for redemption. And, it’s only because of this darkness, that the light, Jesus, was so pronounced. It’s only because of this dark/light contrast that God’s glory, magnificence, power, and love were so vibrant.
In the hymn of praise that follows in Luke 1.46-55, Mary seemingly understands what I’m struggling to grasp; that while this brush stroke on her canvas was for her, it affected the course of history; that her decision to aide in God’s redemptive plan involved sacrifice and struggle, and yet, was a legacy for all future generations; that her obedience and God’s love intersected to bring about the world’s salvation.
Lord, I pray that I would take Mary’s story, and example, seriously. I ask that you keep painting on my canvas, whether the brush strokes be dark or light. Both are necessary. Both are in alignment with your will. It’s the darkness which makes the light so profound; it’s the dark/light intersection in which your glory, magnificence, power, and love are manifest.
This Advent season, I pray that with Mary, we would all proclaim, that we are your servants; that we desire to do your will above all else.