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The Choice Mary Made

12 Dec

Did Mary have a choice?  It’s a question we were batting around at Bible study last night as we discussed chapters 3-4 of Liz Curtis Higgs latest book, The Women of Christmas.  One of the ladies in my study—an older lady from England—passionately stated, “We are discussing this as though Mary had a choice.  The angel told her that she would bear a son and she accepted it.  What matters is how she accepted it.”  As the Bible study leader (and usually the youngest woman in the room), it delights me when one of the ladies in my group surprises me with stunning insight.  This was one of those moments.  We continued our discussion, but the words of this woman stayed with me far into the evening.  I am still pondering it.

What matters is how Mary accepted it.

Let’s take a quick look at Mary’s angelic encounter.  Luke 1: 26-28 (NIV) records the event:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “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. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Mary only asks one question: How will this be since I am a virgin?  She doesn’t say, “Why me?!” or “Are you kidding me?  Where’s the hidden camera?”  Only one question is recorded—how?  In The Women of Christmas,   Liz Curtis Higgs draws out this point considering that perhaps Mary’s youth made her less cynical, more hopeful, and more wide-eyed with wonder.  In this case, Mary let her words be few, while her cousin Zechariah the priest needed a sign when Gabriel appeared to him in the temple and told him that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would also bear a son. Zechariah was struck mute (and perhaps deaf) by the angel until the birth of the baby who would one day be called John the Baptist.  I suppose that was definitely a sign, but probably not the one Zechariah was hoping for.  (I try not to judge Zechariah too harshly because I’m not sure how I would react to an angelic visitor, especially since God hadn’t delivered a word to His people in 400 year silence between the Old and New Testament writings.)

I don’t know if Mary could have said no or what would have happened if she did say no.  This is one of those situations where I’m not sure how free will and God’s will intertwine.  God created Mary, so He undoubtedly already knew how she would react to Gabriel’s proclamation that she would be the virgin to bear the long-awaited Messiah.

But what if she had said no?  Could Mary have said, “No, you’ve got the wrong girl”?  Would there have been a Moses-like moment where God said that He created her womb, like He created Moses’ mouth?  If she had tried to flee, would God have brought her back with a Jonah and the big fish sort of event?  Could Mary have wrestled with an angel like Jacob? 

If Mary had said no, what would that mean for us?  Who would’ve carried the long-awaited Messiah?  Would we still be waiting for the God Man to break humanity’s curse? 

Of course, that’s if she could say no.  What choice did she have?  And here’s where the Word hits me in the heart because while it seemed that Mary was the girl chosen for the task, she did have a choice in how she would handle her situation.  She could’ve despaired about what Joseph might do, what her parents might think, and what the other women in Nazareth might say about her as they gossiped around the town well.  Undoubtedly, being human, Mary  may have had all these questions and concerns.  Her response though—a question and the acceptance that she was the Lord’s servant—is probably not the same reaction I would have.

I would think about what everyone would think of me my perfect plans for my good life had been ruined.  This isn’t what I want God and I don’t know why You would ask me to do this, to go through this, to live with this.    I can’t do this, God.  You’ve got the wrong girl.

Notice Gabriel’s words in Luke 1:27.  In the NLT version, Gabriel says, “For nothing is impossible with God.” He didn’t say nothing is impossible for God; he says with God.  God could do it all by Himself, but He chooses to do it with us, even in spite of ourselves.

With God, the impossible is possible for me.  For you.  For Mary.  For Elizabeth.

Perhaps I could take a cue from Mary, only a young teenager at this point in the story.  Instead of bemoaning my life’s circumstances, perhaps I could say, “How, God, will we do this together?” and “OK, God, I am Your servant.” I imagine that would make all the difference in how I react to various circumstances that come my way.

Often times we don’t get to choose what diseases befall us, what those closest to us will do to cause us pain, or how the world will beat us up.  But we can choose how we react, knowing and trusting nothing escapes God’s loving attention.  When baby Jesus was finally born and presented in the temple, Mary was told her blessing was a double-edged sword.  Her heart would be pierced, just as her Son would be pierced for our transgressions.  My sins and yours.  The world’s greatest gift also came with huge responsibility, pain, and suffering.

The choice, dear friends, is how we react, what we do with what God has given us—the good and the bad.  May we have the courage, like Mary, to say, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

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The Gifts We Keep

6 Dec

Today I broke down and bought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on DVD.  It seems ludicrous to spend $10 on a cartoon that only 25 minutes long.  But it’s not just about the cartoon; it is about reviving vivid childhood memories that flood over me while watching Charlie Brown and his sad little tree.

When I was a little girl, my father made me two VHS tapes chock full of classic Christmas cartoons and movies featuring Garfield, Yogi Bear, Buttons and Rusty, Charlie Brown, the Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty, and more.  All the good ones were present (and a few not-as-good ones, but I was a kid and didn’t care).  I think about my father, VCR remote in hand, making these tapes for me—his little girl—and I am deeply moved.  These VHS tapes are long gone, yet this year I would give hundreds of dollars just to hold one in my fickle hands, play it on my antiquated VCR, and watch with delight as Christmas came alive for my young mind.  I wish I understood then what those tapes would mean to me 25 years later.

Back then it was OK to have nativity displays and talk about Jesus coming to save us all, which is probably why I like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the most.  Who can forget when Linus takes center stage and recites the Christmas story?  It’s one of the most beautiful, iconic moments as blanket-carrying, thoughtful Linus shares the KJV version Luke 2:8-14.  The musical score, Lucy’s psychology booth, and of course, Charlie Brown’s pathetic Christmas tree add to the beauty of this cartoon.  For me, it’s more than that.

While “Charlie Brown” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” are my absolute favorites, I like them all because my father introduced them to me through those videos I watched year after year.  The video collection itself was an endeavor.  To capture commercial-free cartoons, VHS recording meant the viewer would have to stop recording as soon as commercials hit and start recording right before the show came back on to avoid commercial interruption.  Dad must have sat there and watched over eight hours of child’s programming because the commercials were carefully edited out.  Occasionally, Dad missed a few seconds here and there, so toy commercials from the mid-80’s would break into the narrative.  (What little girl didn’t want Voltron?)   

I think about my Dad sitting there, maybe when I beckoned him to play with me or when my mother asked him to take out the trash.  “No,” he argued.  “I’ve got to record this show.”  I probably I walked away disappointed and my mom probably rolled her eyes.  A grown man watching Christmas cartoons—what nonsense!  It was love for his daughter than kept him there enduring “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (and perhaps a little childhood nostalgia of his own.)

 If I still had these tapes—if they hadn’t been broken with age or angrily trashed before my parents’ divorce—I would watch them once again.  Over and over.  I would laugh at Yogi Bear and cry with Rudolph (those other reindeer were mean).  I would wonder at the mechanics of Claymation and get up to dance with the Peanuts gang as Schroeder rocked out on his mini baby grand.  And I would remember, appreciate, and thank God for the gift of these videos.

So I bought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” today, not so I could forget the real meaning of Christmas in a silly, dated cartoon, but so I can remember what Christmas really means to me—a heavenly earthly Father’s love for his beloved child made real in my earthly father’s love for me.

Santa, Elf on a Shelf, and Missing the Point

3 Dec

Because this overindulgent Elf on a Shelf picture says it all…and it’s funny.

When I was a kid, there was no Elf on a Shelf and the threat of “you’d better behave or Santa won’t bring you anything” was rarely used in my house.  But there was a little game my father and I used to play called “put the crazy 70’s elves in silly places and laugh our heads off.”  Yes, we owned several of those freaky little elves with the vacant smiles (like these).  The elves would appear in various places during the holiday season–on the toilet, hanging on door frames, ripped apart by our Yorkshire terrier (I don’t think that one was planned), and so on.  Certainly we didn’t have the creativity that parents are now using these days with Elf on a Shelf and yet it was enough.  A few years ago, I even though of purchasing a couple of those wacky old elves on eBay for nostalgic purposes, but alas, nostalgia isn’t cheap. (And neither is Elf on a Shelf, almost $30 for a plastic elf and a book?!  Seriously?!)

Maybe it’s because I’m not a parent, but Elf on a Shelf bothers me and not just because you can buy a skirt to accessorize the elf and turn “him” into a “her.”  (I’ve been informed there are now female elves.  Whew!) I’m not even sure how to feel about Santa Claus anymore.   It may sound unholy, but as a kid I was much more excited about getting presents from Santa Claus than the birth of baby Jesus.  I mean, I was glad to hear about His birth and liked wearing a pretty dress at Christmas.  I was taught about the importance of Jesus year after year; it’s just that the presents (like Barbies and My Little Ponies and video games) given in honor of His birthday were more exciting.  Christmas meant a lot of things, but mostly, I’d get stuff.  A lot of stuff.  And have a week off from school.

As an adult, I still get excited about Christmas.  I mean, I’ve got holiday shopping sprees, big church productions, light displays, cookie exchanges, and heartfelt movies about the true meaning of Christmas (which is usually involve meeting Mr. Right or being with family).  I pause to ask myself, is this what the holiday season is *really* about?  I mean, we all remember the Christ child.  Some of us even make a semi-annual pilgrimage to church on Christmas Eve or put up a little nativity scene among all the other inflateables and what not in the front yard’s December light extravaganza.

But what does any of this have to do with the Savior of the world being born?

Scholars don’t even think He was born in December!  It is far more likely Jesus entered the world in the spring time.  The stable was most likely glorified hole in the wall (no, seriously, like a cave) and the wise men didn’t show up until at least a year or two after Jesus’ birth by which time the holy family was living in a house.  Recently, I heard on the radio that Jewish custom always made room for visitors, so it’s more than likely the inn keeper could have made room for Mary and Joseph at the inn.  I mean, who puts a teenager in labor in the barn?  The commentator said perhaps news of the out of wedlock pregnancy went ahead of the young couple and while there may have been room for others at the inn, Mary and Joseph were simply not welcome. (Incidentally,  the song “Just a Girl” by Brandon Heath puts an interesting spin on what may have been the innkeeper’s inner monologue and seems to support this theory.)  Like I’ve said before (read The Awestruck Apathy of Christmas), the real event was sweaty, painful, and dirty…yet miraculous, even scandalous.  Perhaps it was easier for Mary and Joseph to stay in Bethlehem with baby Jesus because their families simply didn’t understand God’s plan (I mean, they traveled to Bethlehem to the census, but we don’t know why they stayed there.)  The Bible doesn’t tell us how either family reacted, only that Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist believed Mary’s story.

It’s not that I’m against “Happy Birthday, Jesus” merchandise or photos with Santa or even Elf on a Shelf.  I like my church’s Christmas musical and appreciate a good cookie exchange.  I just wonder, like I do every year, if we’re shoving Jesus out of the our inns as well.  Sure, we  give Him a place out back in the stable.  We’ll say we’re keep the “Christ” in “Christ-mas” and refuse to say “Happy Holidays,” just “Merry Christmas,” but are we really seeking Him?  Are we setting out on journeys like the wise men who followed that star for a year or more, even when the sandstorms whirl around us in the desert, even when we feel like we can’t go on, even when it seems like we’ll never get there (wherever “there” is)?

(This version of “Star of Wonder” by JJ Heller is one of my favorites.  One day I’ll work up the courage to sing it in church!)

I don’t want to miss the point anymore.  I can do all the things I’m “supposed” to do–go to church, buy a present for a needy kid, drop money in the Salvation Army kettle, and say it’s all about Jesus.  I can also live my life on autopilot–say all the right church things, do all the right Christian things, and go through all the motions.  None of that gets me back to a dirty, stinky manger in the small town of Bethlehem.  On the night God came down, all of Heaven watched the sight, but people barely noticed.  Only the lowliest of shepherds paid honor to the King of the Universe.

And I don’t want to get excited about Jesus’ birth because it’s Christmas; I want to be excited about the reality of what He did every single day of my life!  God wrapped himself in human flesh to save you, me, and everyone else!  Can you think of a greater story?  I can’t even imagine it!  Then we, humankind, actually kill God-in-human-flesh and it’s all part of His plan to save humanity from the curse we brought upon ourselves.  Admittedly, I’d go for a happier tale with rainbows and glitter (lots of glitter).  Not being kept hostage to death, Jesus miraculously rises from the dead and then ascends to His Father promising to return.  So, we wait.  Again.  It seems that life is an eternal advent, doesn’t it?

In the meantime, we play hide-and-seek with elf dolls and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”   We sing songs about an elderly gent who is always watching us and has a sleigh of flying reindeer.  I could say that we should get rid of everything that isn’t about Jesus and His birth, but I’m not even sure Jesus would say that.  It’s interesting we have so much fanfare around an event that went unnoticed by so many.

I wouldn’t trade those elf hiding days with my father for anything or dressing up as a shepherd for the children’s Christmas play (even though I wanted to be an angel) or even my belief in Santa Claus because it led me here.  It came with candlelight services, “O Holy Nights,” live nativities, and the reading of the Bible, yet it was so much more.  It gave way to Easter celebrations in which Christmas paled in comparison.   Even then, I was pretty excited to get candy and wear a pretty dress, but I understood there was something far greater going on.

In the backdrop of holiday madness, there is something far greater going on.  As so many bumper stickers used to say, “Wise men (and women) still seek Him.”  Every day, wholeheartedly, they chase after Him and seek to know Him more.  Isn’t that the true meaning of Emmanuel–God With Us–to be with Him?  While you’re looking for that silly little elf, don’t forget to dust off your grandmother’s nativity and seek what or rather Who truly matters.

Let’s talk about it…how have you missed the point?  What traditions do you like to keep alive in your family?  What are you doing to remember Jesus’s birth as a holy event?  How are you seeking after Him today?

Updated Review Policy and My Love Note to the FTC

10 Mar

Hear ye, hear ye!  I have updated parts of Backseat Writer’s Review Policy and added a bit of plain speak to my FTC Disclosure.  Read on, you know you want to…

REVIEW POLICY

Request for reviews/interview/marriage proposals can be sent to amy@backseatwriter.com.

Why, yes, I would love to review your album, book, movie, or product!  Due to time restraints, that book I’m eventually going to write, and my personal preferences, I may not be able to honor all requests for reviews, interviews, or Nigerians who want to wire me money.

Before you hit me up with your latest and greatest, please note that I will only accept music for review (and artist interviews) that is downloadable or send to me via snail mail.  Additionally, I will only accept books that are readable on Kindle or sent to me in hard copy format (again, in the mail).  My reasoning?  I need my music and reading material to be portable—to go with me where I need to go.  That’s how I live life and that’s how I review materials.  I cannot be chained to my computer listening to music or reading books.

Additionally, I retain the right to accept or reject all materials based on quality of content and whether or not I believe the materials fit in with the vision of Backseat Writer.  Usually I can tell whether or not something is a good fit by the press release and I will tell you so before you send materials, so feel free to send your queries to amy@backseatwriter.com.

I also added this to that terribly interesting FTC Disclosure or what I like to call “My Love Note to the FTC”…

I do not get paid to do reviews or interviews (though if anyone wants to hire me for freelance work, I’m listening.)  I do not accept money in exchange for posting press releases or endorsements.  All content is generated for the pure love and joy of writing!

Links included in posts are for informational purposes only and are never composed for the purpose of including advertising.

No record company, publisher, publicist, band, artist, hobbit, or gnome will ever influence the content, topics, or posts made in this Backseat Writer, though they may inspire a few!

Any time you want to review parts of my publications policies, you can click on the “About Backseat Writer” tab and read your little heart out.  It is slightly more interesting than watching paint peel.

UnWrapping Christmas with musician Josh Wilson

6 Dec

Yup, we used this pic last year. It's still great though, isn't it?

Musician extraordinaire Josh Wilson is a faithful friend.  Despite the fact he’s already participated in UnWrapping Christmas twice, he’s willing to go another round with Backseat Writer.  Fortunately, being the creative genius that he is, Josh provides fresh and insightful answers each and every year. Exciting things are on horizon as Josh’s new album is set for release in February 2011.  Currently, the album’s first single, “I Refuse,” is playing on Christian radio stations throughout the country.

Did you score any good deals on Black Friday? Is it a day of great deals or terrifying chaos?
I decided to continue my Black Friday tradition of sleeping in.  I scored the great deal of getting a massive amount of rest.

Where are you spending Christmas this year…and what are you looking most forward to?

I’m spending Christmas this year with my wife Becca’s family.  This will be my first Christmas with her family, so I’m most looking forward to learning about their traditions and getting to know her parents and siblings more.

What was the best Christmas gift you ever received? (Don’t say “Jesus” because that’s a given!)

The best Christmas gift I ever received was my Taylor guitar.  I had been saving up for the guitar for months, visiting the store daily to play it.  One day, it had disappeared from the wall and I was devastated.  On Christmas morning, the guitar showed up under the tree.  My dad had secretly bought the guitar for me.  I’ve had it 10 years, and it’s still my primary guitar.

Describe one of the most hilarious Christmases.

Looking back, this is hilarious to me, but I’m sure my parents hated it.  Growing up, my sisters and I would wake up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning because we were so excited about what Santa had brought.  Our parents told us not to go in the living room until they were awake, because they didn’t want us to see the presents without them being there.  So we would stand in the hallway by our bedroom at 4:30 am and scream at the top of our lungs, “Moooooooom!!!  Daaaaaaaad!!!  Waaaaaake uuuuuuup!  Santa came!!!”  After 15 minutes or so, my parents would groggily come into the living room and let us see our presents.  We usually finished opening everything by 6am.

What’s your fave Christmas song/Christmas movie or cartoon/Christmas cookie?

Favorite Christmas song is probably “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  Incredibly haunting melody.  Favorite movie is either Elf or Home Alone.  We watch them both every year.  Favorite Christmas cookies are my mom’s homemade sugar cookies.  My mouth is literally watering thinking about them right now.

New Year’s resolution—yes or no? If yes, what is your resolution?

As usual, my New Year’s resolution will be to make no New Year’s resolutions.  I’ve held to it every year.

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