The Worth of Challenges
Different people respond differently to challenges. Some people require a challenge to do their best. Others fear challenges, and shrink from even the mildest of them. Some people seek out challenges as an afirmation of their own abilities. Others hide from challenges, or dread them. Still others seek small challenges. Frequently challenges are forced upon people, and how they respond is a good indicator of the true character of that person. The response by President Bush to the challenges of September 11, 2001, is an excellent example of how a fairly ordinary person can rise to greatness in response to a challenge.
We're fast approaching the one of the two greatest times in Christian life, when we celebrate the miracle of the birth of Jesus, God born as man. This, too, was a time of challenge - for Mary, and Joseph, and even more for the priest Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth. Zacharias and Elizabeth were devout Jews, following the commandments and doing the work of God, yet they were unable to have children. Elizabeth was past the age most women gave birth when God sent an Angel to Zacharias.
11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
Zacharias wasn't quite up to the challenge of learning his wife would bear him a son, even when an angel of the Lord spoke to him. The angel punished him for his disbelief by preventing him from being able to talk until the child was born.
None of the Gospels record Mary's turbulent thoughts as she faced God's chosen angel:
26 ¶ And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
39 ¶ And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
Mary believed, and accepted the challenge laid upon her. Elizabeth and her cousin Mary must have been fairly close, for Mary to just walk in and stay for three months, but both women were willing to accept the challenge God had laid upon each of them. Today we revere Mary for her joy in her son Jesus.
Joseph also faced a challenge. He and Mary were to be wed when he discovered that she was with child. A woman bearing a child out of wedlock was considered an anathema to the Jews. Joseph would have been perfectly within his rights to reject Mary, and turn against her, even to having her stoned in the streets. Once more an angel of God threw down the challenge:
18 ¶ Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
Joseph, too, accepted the word of the angel, and rose to the challenge. He was faithful to Mary, and to her son.
Challenges are a part of life. Some are small. Some, like those faced by Elizabeth and Zachariah, and Joseph and Mary, can change the world. These people didn't accomplish what was necessary to overcome their challenges on their own, but through the help, guidance and support of God in Heaven. President Bush, too, acknowledges that God played a large part in his response to the tragedy of 9/11, and to the current challenges he faces as President of the United States.
Each day, as we face life's challenges let us remember the words the angel of God said to Mary: "For with God nothing shall be impossible.". By turning to Him, and asking His help and support, we can accomplish whatever we're asked to do, in His name. There is no challenge too great for God, or for us, with God.