Advent Reflection: Unplanned Parenthood

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Joseph’s Dream at the Stable in Bethlehem  ~ Rembrandt

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled…And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus…And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lk. 1:26-34).


“I’ll take that baby!” It wasn’t heroic so much as it was impulsive. It just seemed like the only appropriate response to the moment’s need. For weeks, Keldy and I had been talking through a situation with a young gal who was walking through a situation with her friend. Her friend was pregnant. It was unplanned. The alleged father was not answering the phone. Time was ticking.

She didn’t want to have an abortion but was terrified of what would happen if she didn’t. Among all else, she would almost certainly be kicked out of the Christian University she attended. So when she finally decided to confide in her mother, entertaining the notion of proceeding with the pregnancy and the costs of doing so, her mother told her she would be left on her own, unsupported, if she got kicked out of school. Because that was the most pressing issue…

The girl we were mentoring told us that day her friend felt, ironically enough, she was left with “no choice” and so scheduled an appointment at the abortion clinic for the following week. [I wonder how many “pro-choice” decisions came from what appeared to be a “no-choice” situation.] Having no one else she could trust, she had asked her most loyal friend, who was now confiding in us, if she would go with her, if she would support her through it all, because “I cannot do this by myself.” It was just a wrenching mess. And my half-hearted, half-brained offer missed the point altogether. It was based on the stupid assumption that this girl didn’t want her baby. She did want her baby. The problem was that no one else wanted her baby—not the the father, not her mother, not her academic overlords—and neither did they want an unmarried-and-with-child version of her.

What struck me as I mulled over the situation that day and too many days since is that the reason a little baby would end up being aborted by the person it depended on for life is that that baby’s mother had been aborted by the people she depended on for life. It indeed takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a village to abort one too.


And so God forms a village to raise Mary’s Child, God’s Son, while Herod sent an army to abort Him (Mt. 3:16). It was an unplanned pregnancy, at least as regards the young couple’s plans. They had been planning for a wedding but would now have to plan for parenthood. Their only conceivable plan for parenthood up to this point was to become a father and mother after becoming husband and wife, and only after that. But now we have something like a pregnant nun situation. And just as pregnant nuns become ex-nuns, pregnant virgins become ex-virgins, which is grounds for Mary becoming Joseph’s ex-fiancé.

Culturally, Joseph should expose her shame and leave her at the disposal of the community and her unborn child’s father. But she, along with the entire human community from Adam, was already at the disposal of her unborn Child’s Father. And He was going to make sure that she could proceed with the pregnancy without becoming an ex-anything. She need not not fear, for she had “found favor with God” (Lk. 1:30). The young virgin would give birth to the Eternal Son.

“Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to shame her” (Mt. 1:17), but he still wanted to leave her. So God sent an angel to explain the situation and to make sure he took care of her. And Joseph did so until (presumably) he died. She would then, a widow, have to depend on her Son. But He would die young too. Under ordinary circumstances, this would render her among the most vulnerable of society, second perhaps only to the unborn. But the day she stood at her Son’s high hanging feet, his final provision before saving the entire human race was to ensure his mother would be taken care of: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn. 19:26-27). The Gospel begins with Mary receiving an unplanned Son and Joseph receiving an already-pregnant fiancé, and it ends with the Beloved Disciple receiving another Man’s mother. The family of God would forever hence be defined at the foot of the cross.


The Church of Jesus Christ must be pro-life, but we must be pro-life in the way Joseph was pro-life at Jesus’ conception and the way the Beloved Disciple was pro-life at Jesus’ death. We must embrace the life of the unborn precisely by embracing the life of the mother. Churches throughout America have exactly the same amount of opportunities to abort young women (not to mention young men and young couples together) in need of our support as young women have to abort babies in need of their support. We cannot directly prevent the nation’s abortions, but we can directly prevent our own. And we have every reason to believe that when a community of love and support makes the sincere and sustained effort to gather around young women and couples in a way that demonstrates they are wanted and valued, in a way that assures them they won’t have to try to raise their children all alone, live life all alone, we will prevent far more abortions than we ever could by making a commensurate effort to surround ourselves with other people who agree that abortion is wrong, no matter how loud we shout it.

If we truly want young women to be no less than Mary for every unplanned pregnancy, we can be no less than Joseph for every fatherless child, no less than the the Beloved Disciple for every unsupported mother. But this costs more than the occasional protest. It costs us being inconvenienced by others in the way Mary and Joseph and the Beloved Disciples were inconvenienced by others, perhaps even in the way the unplanned Other in question was inconvenienced by all of us.

If Christ shares the burden of human death, surely he can expect us to share the burden of human life, whether that means adopting babies or adopting mothers—for we all are adoptees (Rom. 8:15; Eph. 1:5). And while this may or may not require a formal adoption process, it will require an effort to make room for others in our lives in very tangible ways. It will require welcoming young women and men into our homes and to our tables, into conversations, into mentoring relationships, friendships, and into our gatherings, and doing so before they find themselves in such desperate situations. But it means welcoming young women and men in precisely the same way after they find themselves in such desperate situations, as well. It means being committed to making room for others’ lives so that they can commit to making room for life when it comes, planned or unplanned, because this is always God’s plan for human life.

Indeed, God’s ‘planned parenthood’ for the whole human race began with a little Galilean village that committed to raising a Child as though he were their own, only to later discover that through this Child God would raise them, would raise us all, as though we were children of His own. Because “that is what we are” (1 Jn. 3:1; Jn. 1:12; Rom. 8:12-17).

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).

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Without Homemakers the World is Without Homes

“The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only–and that is to support the ultimate career.”

~ C.S. Lewis [Actually, this is misattributed to Lewis, but I’m certain he would have agreed.]

If the journey of human life, the journey of transformation, is most fully realized by the grace of God through the power of the Spirit in redeeming us to become who we were created to be, the Image of God, then what could possibly surpass the life that has found its deepest joy, peace, and fulfillment as a homemaker? What is the Bible if not a small library of books about the God who from the very beginning is a Homemaker, about the creatures who shortly after the beginning ran away from home, and finally about the God-become-Creature who came to rescue us from the pig sty of the distant country so he could bring us all Home, where there is a Homecoming celebration ongoing without end.

[If you read what follows as a statement for or against any any of the typical arguments regarding gender roles, you will miss the point.]

It is sad to me that in the late history of Western civilization “homemaker” became the “role” relegated to women, which complemented the “role” of “provider” relegated to men. [Prior to the Industrial Revolution, husbands and wives worked together as homemakers, though the word did not yet exist because the division of roles did not yet exist in the way it does today.] Sadder still, as these roles took root in our cultural idiom and eventually became mores, social values, that organized society, such that men had no clear purpose within the home and women had no clear purpose outside the home, the value of a man was reduced to utility–his value is commensurate with what he can provide, produce, possess–and the value of a woman was reduced to subservience to her “provider”–“your desire shall for your husband and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3–God’s description of a fallen world, which always finds its truest expression in the home, which is why redemption always finds its truest expression in the home). Sadder still, men in our culture grew to love being less than men, making a virtue of their slavish pursuit of value, “providing” for their family at the cost of being present to their family. They were exiled from the home they lived to construct for the women who grew to hate being there.

Of course they did. They were never intended to fill the house with the spirit of home by themselves, worse, with men who had lost their spirit of home. Sadder still is it that when this subject is argued in that feminist or masculinist tone (sometimes called feminism and masculinism, other times progressive and conservative, sometimes democrat and republican, sometimes mainline and evangelical–all of which are meaningless if such descriptors find their meaning in aiding accuracy), such that women are fighting for liberation from the home and its warden and men are fighting to keep the women conjugally imprisoned, the argument invariably fails to take into consideration the possibility they’re both wrong. The reason it’s so sad is because they are both wrong. And the more they resist the truth, the more miserable they will be in their respective pursuits that aim the world toward homelessness.

We’re all created to be homemakers, which is both a practical job description of marriage and family but is also a way of life. It only takes walking into a house that has no spirit of home to know why this is so important. Home is a place where people are free to go and love to return. Even the most exotic trips find their culmination in the return home, where the memories can be gathered up and put in the family picture album, to be revisited along with the other explorations of the people who love to share the adventure of life together. But without the love of a place to return and a people to return with or to, the exploration of life is simply a quest for home. There is no ad-venture in life because there is nothing from which to venture forth. There is only wandering in a world without place, the lostness of Neverland, which is not a world of runaway children but a world of runaway parents.[1]

There are far more homeless children in this world than can be quantified by counting houses and kids. [Besides, “homeless children” refers to people of all ages.] We should indeed fight to keep food in bellies and shelters over heads, but I believe that if one were to adopt the principle life goal that is most pleasing in the eyes of his Maker, it would first be to become a homemaker, and second to become a host. Because that is what our Maker is: an impossibly hospitable Father and an amazingly gracious Host.

Hospitality is a topic increasingly making its way into contemporary Christian idiom, but it is misguided if the quality of the host or the house is not prioritized above hospitality itself—the quality of the host/home determines the value of being welcomed in. Nobody likes the hospitality of a person whose house, whose life, does not feel like a home. Nobody wants Hitler to assume the role of host again.

So become a homemaker so you can become a host with something worth hosting. You don’t have to be married. You don’t have to have children. You don’t even necessarily have to have a house—neither did Jesus. But you do have to love the idea of home—Jesus did (cf. Gen. 1-2; Rev. 21-22; Jn. 1-21). If you don’t love home, then you don’t yet understand who God is. You have not entered into his presence if you have not felt at home in his presence. For many, there could be no greater disappointment than to feel “at home” in God’s presence, if home always felt like hell or prison or an interrogation room or a cockfight. But neither God nor Home will be found in our memory of home from childhood. What we will find in our memory of home is a certain kind of heartache. It’s not associated with anything in particular in or about our childhood home—it’s the residue on all the furniture. And the unique thing about it is it feels like a longing both for the home we grew up in and the home we never had. God uses our broken memories to point our desires toward and unbreakable hope, like he did with his temple a long time ago. But Hope aches, and sometimes we despair of it and give it up. It aches so deeply for many, no matter the particulars, some will refuse to ever revisit the memory of it—living a life running away from it. We, each of us, are indeed orphaned into adulthood.

But if there is any latent longing that could possibly direct our steps toward God–and perhaps that is a big ‘if’–it will be found in that ache. It is homesickness, and it has driven the world mad in restless runaway pursuits.

But Jesus has come to the distant country to bring us ‘to our senses’ (Lk. 15) and show us the way home, the way to the Father. Follow him.

#imahomemaker

*Footnote

  • 1. This was the real point of the Peter Pan story and was actually captured quite well through Robin Williams character in ‘Hook’–the father who cared more for his job than his family, whose children were captured by a gaggle of childless men who live together on a drifting vessel fighting a perpetual war against fatherless children, the pirates (a society of male identity construed without reference to home or family). Peter wins the war not by returning to his boyhood and fighting to preserve the Lost Boys (which would be to preserve homelessness) but by returning to his fatherhood and fighting to bring his own boy home. It was a war against Neverland as such. Thus the battle could only be won by Peter killing the pirate he had become, which is obviously what every Lost Boy grows up to be, as Peter’s son Jack was becoming before his father came to rescue him, that is, before his father returned home. Homelessness begets homelessness.

Kindergarteners, Heroin Addicts, & The Gods

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This morning I sent off my son to his first day of kindergarten and headed off to work. Upon arrival, I met Eric retrieving a needle from the roof to add to the cookie jar of despair. The bus is filled with hope and futures, the jar with hopelessness, futures buried alive.
 
I left this morning watching my son’s mother offering up to God the kind of tears that somehow prove the goodness of the world and the meaningfulness of life. But I wonder about the mother’s tears that are falling to the ground today from a heart that needle has pierced. I wonder, with dread, what it is like to see a child bury his future alive, what it is like to anticipate burying a child dead. How does a mother hang on to hope as she watches her son let it go, when her hope is so bound up in the future of her children?
 
Maybe she couldn’t hold on. Maybe she just couldn’t produce enough tears to fight back the famine claiming her family’s future. Maybe she was fighting alone, no father’s tears wetting her son’s heart, no husband guarding hers. Perhaps her heart, chapped and exposed, over time cracked open with so many sorrows that her soul has fractured into sand. The tears she so faithfully offered up for so many years, alone, never yielded a future in the life on whose behalf she offered them, only more God-damned thorns, only more of that entangling thicket slowly wrapping around her son’s neck, crowning its victory over his future, her future. Her tears never found their way to a Garden. The all-consuming ground is dried up of any goodness, fertility, newness. It’s all just burial ground.
 
Who among the gods will come to such a world? Let him come.
 
Who among the gods will come to such a mother? Let him come.
 
Who among the gods will come to such a son–as a man caught up in the thickets, to wear his crown, to be damned into the desert floor? Who among the gods will come to this world, to be chapped, broken, buried?
 
For there can be no other world for this mother and her son, so there can be no other God for this world.
 
“The wilderness and dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like wildflowers. It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing…And they shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God” (Isa. 35).
 
Yes–but only if that glory rains down in a veil of tears, only if that majesty is crowned with a curse, buried with all futures lost. If a new song of rejoicing is ever to arise from the parched ground of this disheartened world it will have to enter at first in tune with a symphony of sorrows.
 
Who among the gods is so willing? Who among the gods is there with a heart like that for a world like this, a God of sorrows, Man of sorrows?
 
Then let Him come. Jesus, come.

The Covenant on The Mount: One Sermon to Damn Us All

I’m becoming convinced that one of the most common (and perhaps willful) fallacies with regard to the Gospel is manifest in two exactly opposite ways, which together hold in tension the opposition between liberal Christians and conservative Christians, speaking here of the hyper- sort. Both groups need to protect the fallacy as a means of self-preservation, because neither group could exist as such without the ‘other’ group to exist against. But, unfortunately for both groups, the Gospel provides no basis to support their opposition as such and therefore neither for their strange and codependent relationship and therefore neither for their group identities as such. The Gospel strips its adherents of any rhetoric that requires a sustained grammar of opposition against a “them” in order to define, and preserve, an “us.”

The Gospel came to all, Jews and Gentiles alike, conservatives and liberals alike, from the Other side of enemy lines. It is only in hearing it declare us its enemies that we can hear it declare us its allies–only the accused can hear their Advocate–because those apparently opposite categories of identity are held together in the Gospel’s one Word of declaration in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter Sunday survives only to the degree that it remains staked to the Friday before. The Gospel thus indeed preserves the language of opposition but transforms it within its unique grammar of reconciliation (established in principle in the hypostatic union from which pours forth a new and holy grammar on all flesh, cf. Acts 2:17). 

But Conservative Christians tend to sanctify the language of opposition simply by sanctifying themselves, that is, by moving “us” onto “God’s” side and thereby dramatically demonizing the “them.” It is Easter Sunday untethered from Friday’s cross and staked only to an eschatological “us.” And therefore Sunday is no longer Easter and Friday is no longer Good.

And Liberal Christians, on the other hand, tend to, with inexplicable immediacy, stand on the grammar of reconciliation without any word of definition, topsoil for an entirely new language, categorically refusing grounds for any accusation whatever by moving “God” onto the side of “us” thereby erasing the possibility of “them” and gently annihilating the “other.” So the liberal speaks of “acceptance,” not “forgiveness,” of “inclusiveness, not “repentance,” an ever-widening and -accepting circle of “us.” It is a fusion, not a union. But, ironically, an opposition must be maintained, namely against any word of accusation. As such, none are excluded except the excluders, none are judged except the judgmental, none are rejected by God except those whose God rejects anyone. And, it turns, each group ends up balancing out, equally exclusive, and–as a group–equally antichrist.  

The underlying fallacy of this circus has to do with a misunderstanding and/or misappropriation of the grace of God under the New Covenant, namely that either:

(a) the grace of God under the New Covenant lowers God’s standard of righteousness (e.g., the sloppy liberal confession that is willing to say “we’re all sinners” in general, according to God’s Word, but unwilling to allow God’s Word to define any sin in particular);

or (b) the grace of God under the New Covenant is an entirely separate category from God’s standard of righteousness (e.g., the militant (but equally as sloppy) insistence that grace means “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except though [‘us’, ahem, we mean ‘Him’]”, on the one hand, and, on the other, that his righteous standard is still based on a Law he established with Israel that the rest of the world should be obligated to apply in principle (or at least a carefully (re: conveniently) selected adumbration of laws), regardless of whether or not they recognize the Law-Giver, which of course suggests that the world needs godliness but doesn’t really need God).

If I may, to both groups, recommend a sermon once preached that addresses this fallacy and both its manifestations found in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapters 5-7. Actually, it is not a sermon. We only call it a sermon, even giving it the formal designation “Sermon on the Mount,” because of a refusal to acknowledge that under the New Covenant God has, in fact, descended to the Mount Himself as the Law, to issue the commands in Person, and thereby reveals an infinitely higher standard of righteousness. As long as we can codify the words uttered on the Mount as mere sermon principles, we can avoid the terrible prospect of hearing them as the codification of a New and binding Commandment. They are nothing less and, indeed, much more.

God’s standard of righteousness, this side of the New Covenant of grace, is no longer defined and established by the Old Covenant of Law—God’s commands to a nation. God’s standard of righteousness is now defined and established in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ—God’s love for the world—who fulfilled the righteousness intended to create a just society and exceeded it with a righteousness intended to create a gracious society. That excessive righteousness is the only way to the Father, which is precisely why Jesus, not Christian fundamentalism, is the the only way to the Father. Only the Grace that comes from the Father can take us back to Him and make us gracious like Him.

So the New Covenant of grace does not effect a decrease in the righteousness God requires but an infinite increase. That is why Jesus said, in effect, the righteousness required to enter his kingdom exceeds the righteousness of the Law-keepers (Mt. 5:17-20); why not-love of another, whether enemy or neighbor or neighbor’s wife, is tantamount to murder; why under His standard all of us are “liable to the hell of fire”; why in the burning light of His love all of us should become one-eyed and dismembered (Mt. 5:21-30); why the self-righteous polarizing rhetoric that identifies one’s own group as sheep by wiping its bloody hands on the forehead of some homogeneously identified other group as goats (whether “liberal” or “conservative” or “fundamentalist” or “skeptic” or “Muslim” or “Christian” or perhaps even, quite ironically, Christ Himself) is tantamount to the kind of scapegoating that can demand holy justice in the world only by permitting the one small exception of its own injustice, the kind of scapegoating the Law revealed was provisionally necessary because it simultaneously revealed that all fall short of its righteous standard, the kind of scapegoating that can be embraced only if the Gospel is rejected.

Christ is either the Lamb slain for a world of goats, or we will simply have to convince God that “we” are of a kind of sheep more spotless than the Slaughtered Lamb and “they” are a kind of goat more stained than Pilate’s hand, the centurion’s hand, the hand not reaching out, the hand clinching tightly to control, to greed, to revenge, to unforgiveness, the hand clicking on the mouse, the hand that is ice cold to the spouse and children that so need its living and loving warmth. We will have to convince God to be more satisfied with a judgment of guilt that exiles the ‘other’ than the judgment of guilt that reconciles the world (cf. Romans 5 and the rest of the Bible).

“Judge not, lest you be judged” (Mt. 7:1).

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12).

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3).

 

The Voided Form: Why Evangelism Isn’t the Answer to Our Lack of Evngelism 

People will believe the Gospel can transform the world to the degree it has transformed them. And they will spread exactly what it is they believe.
 
If churches are in decline in America (while growing at unprecedented rates across the globe), the cause of decline is not a lack of evangelism. The lack of evangelism is merely symptomatic, the childlessness of a barren womb, the non-effect of a void, like the darkness that was over the face of the deep without the Presence that was over the face of the darkness (Gen. 1:2), “a form of godliness but the denial of its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).
 
It’s remarkable how much popular Christian literature pedaling various forms of “multiplication” strategies (that don’t work) have little to no semblance to Paul’s or Peter’s or James’ John’s letters to the churches, all of which have surprisingly very little to say on the topic of evangelism. They are far more concerned with theology, on the one hand, and then some conspicuous “therefore” that precipitates something in the vain of: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). People can’t help but talk about what’s on their mind, so if they know nothing of a power at work renewing their own mind, they’re not going to talk about the One who claims to be making all things, like minds and people, new (2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21:5).
 
Why should they? Better off talking about the kind of power they believe actually does work, even if it just means complaining it is not working well. I can’t think of anything that would encourage me more than if I stopped hearing Christians complaining about the politics that don’t work to change a country (whether in the past or at present) and started hearing them complain about the God who doesn’t work to change them. At least they’d be getting closer to a proper diagnosis. That righteous indignation over the moral decline of moral America or the social injustice of something unnamable but definitely systemic may very well be little more than a therapeutic (and not prophetic) lament about the moral decline of a bitter heart, the social injustice of a systemic porn habit. At any rate, if God were to show up to heal that heart or break that habit, they may not have succeeded yet in restoring their precious golden age (that never existed) or progressing to a utopian age (that once existed in Genesis 11), but at least they’d have something to stop complaining about. And that would be the sound of revival.
 
But I suppose it is far easier to tell people the problem we’re facing is a lack of evangelism in the world (by persons getting, ahem, paid to evangelize them (with their guilt trips)), the solution of which is more human effort (an easy sell to people who don’t believe in God’s present efforts), than telling them the much more likely scenario: that the more basic problem we are facing is not a lack of evangelism in the world but a lack of transformation in the Church, the solution of which is more human surrender–to a Power that always comes first to transform its captive, and then to those whom the captive tells about how they’ve been transformed and “by what power and by what Name” (Acts 4:7). When that happens, it won’t matter if the governing authorities run an anti-evangelism campaign, which have historically tended to be a most effective way to incentivize evangelism, because people who’ve witnessed such a Power cant help but bear witness to it. At least that was Jesus’s actual “Master Plan of Evangelism,” making people witnesses of his power by transforming them by it (Acts 1:8).
 
“So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-21).
 
So maybe instead of speaking for God, we should encourage people to refuse to speak for God until they have witnessed his work in their lives, until their faith in the crucified and risen Christ begins to take shape as a “newness of life” that is replacing their “dead[ness] to sin” (Rom. 6:1-4). The apostles, after all, having gone through a three-year discipleship training program led by a certain Jesus of Nazareth (whose methods seemed frankly a little simplistic and repetitive, if not old fashioned…but who is going to argue method with the Guy who used to be dead?) and witnessing his resurrection, had still not yet earned their title as “witnesses.” They had one last thing to do: “wait” (Acts 1:4)–wait until they witnessed the “same [Power] that raised Jesus from the dead” (Rom. 8:11) do something new in their lives (Acts 2; cf. esp. Rom. 6:1-4). “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses from Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
 
Maybe the first step toward evangelism is to stand still, to wait until we have witnessed an act of God, indeed “the God who acts for those who wait on him” (Isa. 64:4), to wait until God shows up to act in the place we’ve most intimately learned to stop expecting him to act, and pray until he does: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).

It Takes A Mother to Carry the Gospel

As I’m thinking and praying through Luke 24 for my sermon this morning, I’m again struck by courage and faithfulness of Jesus’ most loyal disciples—the women, not least his mother. Not only was Mary the first bearer of the Gospel, which God knit together in her womb, but she and only a handful of other women can be counted among those who truly witnessed the historic Gospel in all its fullness.
If the Gospel truly finds its irreducible summary in “Christ crucified,” as Paul believed (1 Cor. 1-2), then it’s no surprise the risen Christ should first appear to the women and charge them with the task of preaching the Gospel. How could the men bear witness to “Christ crucified” when they had not witnessed Christ crucified? They were long gone. The Shepherd had been struck and the men had sheepishly scattered. They indeed would become witnesses of the resurrection, as well they boasted (Acts 2:32; 4:33), but with regard to the crucifixion they, like the Samaritans in John 4, depended on the “testimony of the wom[e]n” (cf. Jn. 4:39). The women alone are history’s firsthand witnesses to the love of God broken and spilled out.
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It strikes me that in my own life I too have depended on the testimony of women to understand the Gospel in all its fullness. I have witnessed many men who carry the message of Jesus like Zeus carries thunderbolts, filling entire stadiums with exactly half the Gospel. Many of those same men have not stayed loyal even to that half. It’s the women in my life who have shown me what Gospel loyalty looks like, who have shown me how to carry the message of Jesus like Jesus carried his cross, who have demonstrated what it means, as Paul described, to “carry in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:10). I suppose any mother could identify with these words more than even Paul himself could (I bet he got that line from Priscilla). Carrying the burden of life in the body always also means carrying the burden, the worry, of death.
 
Maybe it’s the nature of motherhood that trained the women in the Gospels and in my life in the kind of loyalty the Gospel demands, in sickness and in health, even in death never departing. Mothers learn how to carry crosses even if they don’t want to. Men can run away–they have a habit of doing so (Mt. 26:25; Mk. 14:50). Abortion clinics are filled with single women. It’s hard to carry two crosses on your own. Only Jesus, and every mother in history, has ever done so. So I guess it’s no surprise that the world would need to look to the women if they were going to see a full picture of the God-Man. The cross enters history and is carried throughout the ages cradled in the testimony of the women.
 
And indeed, it’s women who most exactly embody that testimony. I know I’ve seen the life of Jesus manifest in my own mother’s body. You know you’ve seen the life of Jesus in a person when you’ve witnessed a love for you that is greater than the love you have for yourself. That’s cross-bearing love, like the time my mother stayed awake all night at my bedside to listen to my strained breathing after a pill incident. She now sits at her father’s bedside like that, like the women in Luke 23. And I know of a time when my wife carried a little cross all the way to a misbegotten tomb. It wasn’t until her tears taught me how to grieve that I could help shoulder the weight of that disproportionately heavy cross–and my mother drove eight hours through the night that night to share the load with us. And day after day I continue to feel the very real presence of my wife coming up under the weight of my burdens, through her prayers and encouragement and help. She helps carry my whole life, nails and all, and so continues to teach me how to love Jesus with the women on Friday and not just with the men on Sunday. It’s whole Gospel loyalty, and if it weren’t for the women of this world we wouldn’t know the half it.
 
So thank you to the women, the mothers, in my life for preaching the Gospel to me in word and in deed, from the sermons of Francis and the prayers of Hazel to the compassion and care of Kathy and the loyalty and fortitude of Vicki, from the piercing and prophetic words of Gaye to the incarnate and living words of Christi Anna (both preachers in their own right), from the welcome and warmth of my bonus mom, Donalyn, who shared her treasure with me and who is continually willing to let us share our burdens with her, to the daily demonstration of Gospel-centered love from my amazing and forbearing wife for an often hard-to-love husband and a sprawling circus quiver of childlike monkeys. And a special thanks to my mother, the living, breathing, walking, presence and image of Jesus that is Janice Pierce Spainhour.
 
#happymothersday