"and Mary was espoused to Joseph. . . .. "
The teacher is the student again.
I was teaching the kids this morning about "The Christmas Story" of the birth of Jesus. It doesn't really feel like Christmas at all to me this year. Maybe its no snow, or the fact that I saw a daffodil in full bloom the other day, which I am still coming to terms with.
When I feel this way about a task (like doing Christmasy stuff)----"why am I doing all of this again?"--- I have to dig deeper. The veneer of the day to day looses its luster, and I have to go digging to find deeper meaning about why, whatever the task I am doing, matters. (This is probably why I wasn't a good math student). What a better way to do this than to dig my teeth in deeper into the Christmas story?
So today we talked about Mary being told by Gabriel about how she was blessed and favored among women, because she would be the vessel chosen not only to bear, but raise, Jesus. My goodness, could there be any more daunting task in the history of totally humankind? As if ordinary motherhood doesn't provoke enough anxiety!
And what I learned doesn't have so much to do with that at all.
Babies, puppies and engagements. They all invoke a sweet, precious sort of love that is reserved for all things innocent, and a love that is somewhat one-sided. Its a love that springs from the way someone or something makes you feel, and the delight that you take in that person. How can you not absolutely drink up a sweet five month old baby? Or rub the full little belly of a sleepy puppy? Or be madly, deeply in love with your recently betrothed?
I remember the first time I wore my engagement ring out in public. I was 18, tall and thin with a long slender ring finger. And the sun was shining. I walked with my best high school friend with that shiny gold ring just glittering light, blinding both my eyes and my heart. I was just smitten----by the ring, the man, the whole idea of being a wife. Just consumed by it.
And the ring! Well, I loved showing it off. I was so sure that it was the best ring ever (because it was a diamond you could really see and not just take on faith), that I worried about appearing too boastful. I loved people asking me about it, looking at it when I was driving, and how it made my hand go from that belonging to a teenager. . . . to that belonging to a woman.
At our marriage I was given a plain gold band. Very simple, with absolutely no detail. I picked it out. It is very thin and I wanted to be sure that my engagement ring maintained top billing. I don't have to worry about it much. It is dependable, stays put, and doesn't get snagged on anything or scratched.
Marriage is so summed up in those two rings.
That engagement ring is a symbol of laying a claim to something. It is sort of like a beautiful form of mutual branding---"Property of the J.Stotler Ranch". I was claimed, and anyone looking at me who cared to glance at that hand would have seen that. We were young, and took great delight not only in the person of each other, but in the whole new, young love experience, and in dreaming of our future together. A future that has largely, at nearly 40 years old, become the present day.
An engagement relationship is lots of flash. Lots of excitement and activity and "look at me". Delighting in one another, and being delighted in. It is a beautiful season of life.
But that wedding band. . . . that band is a utility piece of equipment. It isn't made to say "look at me". It is made to be worn easily. It is easy to serve others with that band on----in the garden, changing oil in the car, washing dishes, mowing the lawn. The real beauty about the wedding band is the hand it is on-----worn, rugged, strong, wrinkled, calloused. It is a hand marred by working and serving the other. To the eye it is not much to see, but oh what a deep, lasting promise it is! It is for better or worse. When we talk about our vows, usually the one that gains our attention is "in sickness and in health". "For better or for worse" can both occur during the same day!
The cares of this world may pause the dating for a season, and the frenetic pace at which we move may tempt us to disengage for a while. But we are past the engagement ring. We are working off of the band. The band is a covenant to serve one another, with joy and gladness and tenderness----a covenant made with our betrothed, and with God. It is the part of marriage where we learn to love like Jesus.
And it is deeper, and stronger, and more satisfying and beautiful than the first type of love ever could be. When you give your all to your spouse, and they give their all to you, marriage is a picture of perfect heavenly love. If you are struggling to do this, ask God to help break your pride. In eighteen years I have had to do this many times, and I am sure that my hubby has too.
(Well. . . . probably at least once.)
You are loved this Christmas by God and me,