A CERTAIN WOMAN, A CERTAIN TIME.
Her beauty couldn’t protect her from the gossip. If the men fell silent when she walked into town (and followed her with their eyes until she was out of sight), it would only have caused their wives to be more vicious behind her back. How many times did they fall silent when she approached? How many times did she choose to look away when they stared pointedly at her waist? She may have tried to shrug it off when they gathered their children or talked about their pregnancies. But it wore on her.
She held her chin high every day, but the slow erosion of self-confidence surely sapped the fire from her beautiful eyes. When she would go home, he would hold her, of course, and whisper to her that it didn’t matter. “Let them think whatever they like. They’re just jealous. They’ll never be what you are, and they hate you for that.”
She loved him, but how could she not have longed for a chance to get out of town … to start fresh somewhere else?
Her name was Sarah. She may have been a very beautiful woman (Gen. 12:14), but what did that matter to her? She was not pregnant, and apparently never would be. And though she never knew it in the daily pain of her barrenness, God had big plans for her and her husband, Abram.
ANOTHER WOMAN, ANOTHER TIME.
This woman, too, knew the sharp edge of pain. Her own village was just as cruel. People smirked and fell silent when she walked past. They stared at her body, too, but for very different reasons. And just like her great ancestor, she looked away and walked with her chin held high. But she, too, would wilt at home behind closed doors. Her name was Mary. Do we ever think of her as Mary with the red-rimmed eyes? We’re not sure exactly how long she lived in Joseph’s home as his wife (pregnant with a child that was not his own), but Matthew tells us “when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took Mary home as his wife.”
Did you ever think of him holding her at night, feeling that new life kicking against the inside of her belly? No doubt he would whisper to her that the gossip of the women didn’t matter. “Let them think whatever they like. It doesn’t matter.”
THERE IS A SORT OF CANDLELIGHT THAT THESE TWO WOMEN SHARED.
A candle’s light is sweetest when the other lights are dim. It’s not lit in the sunlight of noontime or enjoyed when lamps are shining brightly. The beauty of a candle is only appreciated in the dark.
For Sarah, the candle of hope burned brightly against the darkness of her barrenness. When Abram heard the voice of a God that he did not yet know, it called him to leave his hometown and follow. Would he have been as likely to leave his hometown if his home were full of children? When God told him to go, He also promised him, “… I will make you into a great nation.” I have no doubt that they found it easier to go—at least in part—because of the sadness Sarah felt at being childless. Perhaps God allowed the darkness of Sarah’s barrenness to push them from the nest in search of the light of hope.
For Mary, the candle of hope burned bright to push back the darkness of her circumstances. She lived in Nazareth. Bethlehem was a long journey for a pregnant woman nearing childbirth, and she was not required to go and register in Bethlehem as Joseph was. Would she have taken the long and difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, lurching, apparently, on the back of a donkey, if it were not such a sweet relief to avoid the spotlight of her small town’s scrutiny? Perhaps God used the darkness of Mary’s misery to draw her to her destiny in Bethlehem.
Mary’s candle flared to life in the first gasping cry of a newborn. When Jesus was born, God closed the chapter on centuries of darkness, and turning the page, He wrote, “Chapter Two.”
Where God sees darkness, He lights a candle.
That candle burned against every form of darkness: An oddity of the Jewish law was that the shepherds who tended the flocks used for the temple sacrifices were not permitted to have those lambs sacrificed on their own behalf. They who raised the sacrifice for others could not take part in it themselves! But against the black darkness of their exclusion, the candle of hope suddenly burned. A lamb had finally been born for them! The good news was to be for ALL people, not “all except the shepherds.” How wonderful it must have felt to have the angels say to these outcast shepherds, “For unto YOU is born this day in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord!”
Brothers and sisters, if this year finds you in a place that is a bit darker than usual, God has lit a candle for YOU in the coming of Jesus, too. Look to that candle!
There are times when the bright and beautiful thing that God is doing in you can only be accomplished against the backdrop of a dark time in your life. You can trust Him. His plans for you are “for good and not for evil; to bless you and not to curse you; to give you a future and a hope.”
His Word will continue to come true: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light! On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned!”
The day is coming soon when you will find that the darkness He allowed for a season actually made His Christmas Gift sweeter and more beautiful.