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If Mary were with us today, what are the lessons that she would share as the mother of our Lord? I believe that the first thing she would say to us is this – LIFE IS HARD.

Mary should have known from the beginning that her life was going to be hard. Spending the last few days of her pregnancy on the back of a donkey and having no better a place for the birth of her child than a cave with the odors of cattle and sheep, Mary should have known that her life was going to be hard. And the journey to Bethlehem was not her last journey that was going to be hard. Mary and Joseph and the new-born Jesus are forced to flee to Egypt to escape from Herod’s wrath. Mary and Joseph are on the run, fleeing to protect the life of their son.

Martin Luther said this about the flight to Egypt. “The artists give her a donkey; the Gospels do not.” She might have had to trudge over hills and desert sand on foot, nursing her precious child and leaning on her beloved Joseph for support. It was not until Herod’s death that the young family was finally able to return to their home in Nazareth. In a world filled with refugees, it is important for us to remember that our Lord Jesus Himself at one time was a refugee.

The next dozen or so years in Mary’s life were undoubtedly good ones. Except when Jesus gave them the scare of their life when He remained behind in the Temple at the age of twelve. Mary and Joseph were never prosperous. But Joseph was a hard worker and an able provider. And their oldest son, Jesus,was turning into a fine young man as He was growing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and other people.

But then something must have happened to Joseph. After Jesus turned twelve, Joseph is never mentioned again in the Gospels. Mary might have found herself left as a young widow, as her oldest son, Jesus, would have taken Joseph’s place in the carpenter’s shop.

But the loss of her husband Joseph was not going to be the last major source of sorrow for Mary. She experienced a parent’s worst nightmare. She watched her beloved, oldest boy die as a common criminal on a cross. Can you feel her agony as she watched the cruelty of death by crucifixion? I am certain that Mary would have gladly taken her son’s place on the cross, just as Jesus took our place on the cross.

Yes, LIFE IS HARD. That is the first thing that I believe Mary would say to us today. But then I believe she would also say, BUT GOD IS GOOD.

Mary must have been overwhelmed that the God of all creation would have chosen her for the high honor of being the mother of His Son. No wonder she sang –

“He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant;
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
And holy is His Name.”

In Mary’s mind only a good and gracious God would bypass the wealthy and powerful and choose a young peasant girl to bear His Son.

“He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
And lifted up the lowly.”

You and I will never play as significant a role in God’s plan of salvation as Mary did. And yet each one of us can know what it is like to be humbled by God’s great concern for us. We do not deserve His care. We do not deserve to be able to play even a minor role in His plan for the future. After all, who are we that the God of wonders beyond our galaxy would be aware of us and our needs and would have any need and use for us? And yet, with a sense of deep gratitude, we teach our children to bow their heads and pray, “God is great and God is good.”

LIFE IS HARD, BUT GOD IS GOOD. Not only did He choose the lowly maiden of Nazareth. Not only was He aware of her needs. And not only does He choose us and is He aware of our needs. He also keeps all His promises. No wonder Mary also declared –

“He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy.

According to the promise He made to our ancestors,

To Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary understood that the coming of the Messiah was the fulfillment of God’s great,long-awaited promise. Yes, LIFE IS HARD, BUT GOD IS GOOD.

Mary’s story is a story that has been duplicated millions of times throughout human history. It is the story of a mother’s deep, deep love for her child. Even when He was a grown man, with a ministry she could barely understand, still for Mary He was her son. But even Mary’s love for Jesus is but a pale reflection of God’s great love for you.

I do not know what kind of a holiday season this one has been so far for you and will continue to be for you. I hope and pray it has been and will be the best one ever. But I also know that for some it is shaping up to be a very difficult one. Either way, may we all learn these lessons from Mary – LIFE IS HARD, BUT GOD IS GOOD. 

Pastor Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE