I find myself returning to this little chapel in the woods.
At the center of the chapel’s sanctuary is this simple wooden cross. It’s perched up along the apex of the walls, illumined by two small lights.
This wooden cross has captured my gaze.
I remember the first day that it arrested me. I was at the chapel preparing for an event when I looked up. I could not take my eyes off of this cross that I’d seen so many times before.
It held my gaze.
As I stared at this cross, these words seemed to overtake me. They came up like a breath. This prayer that my heart did not know was hidden there. It was a prayer of longing.
I am the Lord’s servant. It is who I am.
It was this simple refrain – a song of Mary, the mother of Jesus – that would not release me. And so I kept offering these words of devotion to the Lord: I am the Lord’s servant. It is who I am.
This breath prayer that I found gazing upon a simple wooden cross.
Be it unto me according to your will.
I was captivated by the Cross again – the place of devotion to the Lord Jesus.
So I went in search of this prayer in the Gospel of Luke, where we first read the story of Mary and these words of devotion.
And this is what caught my attention. Just before we read of the birth of Jesus, we’re introduced to the forerunner’s story – the story of Elizabeth and Zacharias, and the birth of John the Baptist.
Elizabeth and Zacharias have no children. She is barren. He is a priest working in the temple of the Lord. The scripture tells us they were an extraordinary couple, blameless in the sight of the Lord (Luke 1:6).
So here we have this “blameless” couple who have lived a lifetime of shame and disgrace because they have no children. And now Zacharias finally gets the chance of a lifetime to enter the sacred precincts of the temple. But he comes out mute.
Zacharias is quite literally left speechless after the angel delivers this word of a promised son in their old age. (Luke 1:8-19)
His wife is barren and he is a mute priest.
All they now have is a word and a promise from the Lord. Zacharias, being mute, could no longer fulfill his priestly duties. He’s basically unemployed. And his wife remains barren.
But they have this promise from heaven. They have this word of the Lord.
They are in a place where they have nothing left, no other option but to put all of their trust in the Lord. They’ve put all of their eggs in God’s basket.
There are these moments in life when we are left with no other option but to believe the word of the Lord over our lives.
It is in these places of our greatest longsuffering – where we are waiting to see the fulfillment of the Lord – that God steps in to transform into places of our greatest rejoicing.
In the secret place, out of public view, Elizabeth and Zacharias carry this promise of the Lord.
She becomes pregnant against every single odd. It is a virtual impossibility.
God makes the impossible possible. After years of shame and disgrace, Elizabeth rejoices.
I have lived with the disgrace of being barren for all these years. Now God has looked on me with favor. (Luke 1:25)
Your place of longsuffering and disgrace is becoming a testimony of praise.
The story in Luke then shifts attention to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is a parallel story. Mary is about to experience her own encounter with the angel of the Lord, and the miraculous conception of the Christ-child.
The angel of the Lord instructs Mary to go see her cousin Elizabeth who is now also miraculously with child.
I believe the Lord sends Mary to Elizabeth for many reasons of mutual encouragement, but also to learn from a “blameless” woman who has lived a lifetime of shame and disgrace.
I believe Elizabeth spent those three months with Mary imparting courage and strength for the days ahead.
Mary would be viewed as having an illegitimate child. And this son of promise, the Messiah, would ultimately be crucified before her eyes.
Mary would again find herself “pondering these things in her heart” at the foot of a cross.
When will my shame and disgrace turn into a place of praise?
I imagine Mary had to recall Elizabeth’s words of encouragement – to persevere when it gets hard, to hold on to the word of the Lord and to never give up. To believe that though the promise may take time, it will certainly come to pass.
At the foot of the cross, like Mary, we often find ourselves asking:
When will my places of longsuffering, shame and disgrace be turned into a place of praise?
On that day at the Chapel gazing at the Cross, it’s as though the Lord confirmed these words of Mary to my heart:
Here I am. I am the Lord’s servant. That is who I am. Be it unto me according to your will.
You are the Lord’s servant. That is who you are.
And so, we are being led together to the Cross of Calvary – the place of death and resurrection.
Surely Elizabeth’s dream of having children had died. Surely Mary pondered at the foot of the cross what seemed like the death of the prophetic words spoken of her son, the Messiah.
As followers of Jesus, after dying comes resurrection.
For many of us, we have come to that place of what feels like dying – dying dreams, dying prophetic words, dying legacies and destinies yet to be fulfilled.
And the Lord wants to point us toward the resurrection.
At the Cross – with our eyes fixed on the finished work of Jesus Christ – we hold the promise of dead things being brought to life. We have this assurance at the Cross of Calvary. The word of the Lord will never return void.
In this Advent season, I believe the Lord wants to restore our hope in the miraculous conception.
Because Jesus came.
Because Jesus bled and died for you and me.
Because Jesus rose from the grave.
I know that he is trustworthy. And can earnestly pray –
I am the Lord’s servant. Be it unto me according to your will.
I have seen God divinely connect “Marys” and “Elizabeths” through the Unveiled Cohort program. We were not created to walk alone. I hope you’ll consider joining.
I find myself returning to this little chapel in the woods.