(12/20): 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 • Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 • Romans 16:25-27 • Luke 1:26-38
This week's readings are all about being human. Being human? In my view, it's all about the counterbalance of two forces – Individuality and Togetherness, constantly at work within and between people. Take the prophet Nathan to start. There he is, talking to the king, going along with him and whatever he's saying about building a temple. Nathan's behavior, from my perspective, is a response to the Togetherness pressure – wanting to please and support the king. That night, though, he has a vision with a very different message. Returning to the king, he relays all that he has seen (v. 17). The force toward Individuality, leading Nathan to want to be his own person, took a little time. But they happen. And David rises to the occasion, acknowledging and agreeing to the new plan.
In just a few chapters, Nathan is again going to disagree with his king. His capacity to differ with him – increasing every time those neural pathways are repeated – will be useful. The next time (in the Bathsheba story, chapters 11-12) the stakes are much higher. The process of having to go back to the king and present a different view in today's reading may have helped to prepare Nathan to be more able to counterbalance the tense pressures about to come his way.
Today's Luke reading is among the loveliest stories in the Bible, and maybe in all wisdom literature. Mary is approached by an angel who tells her that she is the lucky winner of the Messiah Mom contest. Assenting to the angel, Mary's response reveals that she is nobody's fool. She is not interested in ingratiating herself to anyone, not even the angel Gabriel. She is stepping up to the situation, declaring who she is and how she will handle the news in a Hall of Fame level I-statement: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Both her efforts to be an individual and her efforts to be together within something larger than herself can be seen in this remarkable passage.
Sometimes this passage, in my opinion, has been misunderstood. When and where and to whom to be a handmaiden are choices! While Mary's capacity for discernment is inspirational, her words cannot be applied thoughtlessly to every situation. If a situation is malleable, a person would do well to consider how she wants to define herself in it. If a situation is unchangeable, a person has a chance to choose her attitude towards it. Both provide opportunity to be, like Mary, true to oneself.
Over her lifetime, Mary had daily opportunities to be the self she wanted to be in the situation she found herself in. It was the same for the prophet Nathan. It's the same for us. While an angel may be missing, (at least to our senses!), daily challenges provide chances to define a self. While a person's efforts to form I-statements may never make the Hall of Fame, they can make a difference every day of one's life.
Morning: What challenges will I face today?
Evening: When did I make an I-statement? How was it useful to me?
The Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.