Christians are Christ-Bearers like Mary by Elisabeth Elliot
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “Be Still My Soul,” published in 2003.
I have spent my life plumbing the depths of what it means to be a Christian. I am, as of this morning, still learning. One thing I learned a long time ago is that we have to receive the life of Christ ourselves before we can live it. We have to live it before we can give it to others. Receive, live, give. The theologians call this “incarnation,” and it applies as much to us as Christians as it does to our Lord Himself.
Before Jesus was born, a young virgin named Mary responded to a heavenly summons and allowed God’s Spirit to become flesh. She gave her body to be the chalice into which the life of God was poured. A chalice is a cup. What Mary did is what you and I are meant to do, every one of us, every day, no matter where we are or what the circumstances—to carry Christ into this world. We are like chalices, empty vessels willing and ready to be filled with the life of God. Cleaned out in the process, we are poured out for others. Our lives illustrate what God is like much more by what we are and dothan by what we say. We incarnate Christ by taking up our crosses and following Him, doing exactly as Jesus did when He was obedient to the Father.
The word incarnation means “taking on flesh” or “being manifested in a human body.” It comes directly from two words meaning “in the flesh” or “the enfleshing.” God, who is Spirit, took on visible form for thirty-three years in the person of Jesus Christ. When Jesus died, the world could no longer see Him or touch Him. But because He gave us His Spirit when He rose from the dead and returned to His Father, Jesus made sure that the world could continue to see God in the flesh. The same Spirit that is in Him is in us Christians, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27b). Even though Jesus may have become invisible to the eyes of people in the world, you and I are quite visible to them and to each other. In us, the world may in fact see God.
When the angel went to Mary, he said, “‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words” (Luke 1:28-29, NIV). The angelic message was alarmingly clear and Mary’s response was awe—and bewilderment. When something interrupts what we are doing (the angel interrupted Mary’s housework, I suppose), most of us fret. God’s message to Mary would have seemed to most engaged girls an enormous inconvenience, even a disaster. For her, it caused a moment of puzzlement (how could this be?). Then, as far as we know, she raised no objections about what would happen to her or her fiancé. Her answer came very simply, “Be it unto me according to Thy word.”
Whether or not an angel ever comes to us, we might be troubled at some of God’s words to us as well. We might wish we’d never heard them. But our response should be modeled on Mary’s and that of her Son Jesus—immediate obedience. Like someone holding out a cup to be filled when a drink is offered, we need to put our hearts forward right when God offers to pour Himself into us for an assignment, large or small. It’s the attitude of a Christ-bearer.
A writer once said, “Mary’s was the purposeful emptiness of a virginal heart,” not a formless emptiness without meaning. Like Mary, we are best suited as Christ-bearers if we too have a purposeful emptiness, a readiness to be filled. If we fill up on trivialities or anxieties, we won’t have room in our hearts for Him.
For Christ-bearers, there is no dichotomy between secular work and spiritual work. There wasn’t for Mary and there shouldn’t be for us. Her work was to say yes to God’s will and to follow through by doing the everyday tasks that needed to be done. She tended to the simple but time-consuming needs of her husband and family. She raised the baby Jesus into young manhood. She released Him to do the work of the kingdom of God.
Our life may seem more complicated than Mary’s, but the basics are the same. We live in a continuum of visible, tangible things. We live with the washing machines that break down and the dinner that burns and bills to pay and traffic jams. It is an act of obedient surrender as you tend your small child with all his mess and endure sleepless nights and juggle your responsibilities at work and at home.
The baby Jesus would not only be fed at Mary’s breast and learn at her feet and in the carpenter’s shop, but He would one day feel the blindfold, the ropes, the lash, the thorns, and finally the blood, nails, and the splinters of the cross. The Lord of the universe had taken on the body of an ordinary, vulnerable, mortal man in order that He might suffer and be totally emptied and annihilated—to bring God’s life into the world. “The bread which I will give is my own body and I shall give it for the life of the world” (John 6:51b, PHILLIPS). What bread do you and I have to give to the world?
We are meant to be chalices, life-bearers. As God’s expression of what He is like, we become broken bread and poured-out wine. There is no greater fullness. [7-11]