I’m not sure what you got for Christmas. I got COVID. Thankfully, my physical symptoms were mild. Unfortunately, my emotional and spiritual reactions were poor. Because of the quarantine guidelines, I missed out on participating in our Christmas services. And I missed our family gathering, which included eating, gift giving, and Christmas caroling with 50+ relatives.
To say the least, I was bummed. In fact, my personal pity party was downright embarrassing. I was consumed with a myriad of negative emotions. I was angry for being stuck in my house when I felt fine. I was sad because I couldn’t be with the people I love. I felt shame for having contracted the virus in the first place (shame and humiliation seem to be common feelings for those who have been infected).
I did finally get out of my cave of self-loathing. In the days leading up to Christmas, our family read the Christmas story according to the book of Luke. I grew up reciting these words for our Christmas service, and I’ve preached on them numerous times, but this time Mary’s story struck me in a new way.
I considered the multiple disruptions in Mary’s life. She did not plan on being pregnant before marriage. She did not plan on traveling to Bethlehem late in her pregnancy. She did not plan on giving birth in a barn and laying her baby in an animal’s feeding trough. And yet, during these dilemmas, we don’t hear that she complained about her situation. Instead, she composed a song of praise that we have been singing for two millennia.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)
Instead of focusing on her problems, she magnified the Lord and all the blessings she had received from his hand. Instead of musing on her misfortune, she pondered the wonders of God and treasured them in her heart.
Mary’s story teaches us: whatever we focus on gets magnified. When we keep our eyes on our problems, it’s like those problems get put under a magnifying glass. Something small gets bigger and bigger. But if we look at God and all that we have received from his hand, our joy and our gratitude grow.
As we start this new year, you can expect your fair share of disruptions. You or someone you love will get sick. Your life will be put on hold or go in directions that were not according to your plan. When that happens (and it will) you have a choice: You can either think about, focus on, and ruminate on your problems, and you will be sad, angry, and ashamed. (I know from experience.) Or you can give your attention to God and all that you have received from him and be filled with gratitude and joy.