This December you can have a Mary Christmas or a Martha Christmas.
- In a Martha Christmas you are so frantic doing good things that you miss the best gift of all.
- In a Mary Christmas you recognize what is truly important and find the best gift of all.
Meet Mary & Martha
About six months before Jesus would head to Jerusalem for his last time, he visited Mary & Martha (Luke 10).
Martha lived in Bethany with her sister Mary and their later-to-become-famous brother Lazarus. Martha may have been widowed for she appears to be oldest and the manager of the household. She was also a woman of great faith as she tells Jesus in John 11:27: “I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
Her sister Mary appears to be a younger single adult living under the same roof. There are several Marys in Scripture. This is Mary of Bethany, a godly woman who is part of a household that is rather well-off.
Our first picture of Martha is positive. When Jesus appears with twelve hungry men (and who knows how many other followers), Martha voluntarily provides the hospitality expected in her culture — which was not an easy task, especially since she probably had no advance warning. Jesus could not call ahead on his cell phone nor send her a telegram.
Of course, Martha is busy! And Martha is busy doing good, right, proper and necessary tasks, from which others will benefit. Now what happens? She’s loses her primary helper.
Picture the scene. Both Mary and Martha began to prepare the large meal. As they went about their tasks, they could probably hear the Lord conversing across the dwelling, as houses were not large in that day.
The words of Jesus distract Mary from her task. She stops what she’s doing and listens intently. And then, maybe without even thinking about it, she quietly sits at the feet of Jesus, eager to hear every word.
Minutes pass. Suddenly Martha realizes she’s handling all the preparations alone. Of course she comes unglued. Who could blame her?
Martha appeals directly to Jesus for help. To Martha’s way of thinking, Mary’s actions are selfish and irresponsible. Who has time to hear the words of Jesus when there’s work to be done? Who has time to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear the words of life when hospitality is at stake?
That’s Martha’s mistake. Martha was so busy with her preparations that she lost the main focus of the moment.
The Son of God is sitting in her living room! The Messiah — who is going to Jerusalem in a few short weeks to die on the cross to redeem his people from sin — is sitting in her chair. Yet she couldn’t listen to the words of Jesus, because she was too busy with the work and stuff of daily life. Notice it’s her activity-level that Jesus corrects.
Jesus does not rebuke her for her hospitality or her preparations for the forthcoming meal. He’s concerned with her priorities.
1) Proper Priorities
The first step to a Mary Christmas is proper priorities. Martha was concerned with too many things: the work of meal preparation and hospitality; the chores of caring for and meeting the needs of a household. While good and important, none of the work of daily life is more important than listening to Jesus. Nothing is so important that you can’t drop it when the Messiah comes to town.
Priorities matter. Some things can wait. Some things can’t. Knowing Jesus is more important than doing good things for Jesus. Jesus didn’t want Martha’s service. Jesus wanted Martha’s fellowship.
I think Martha meant well, she loved the Lord, and she thought she was serving him, but her priorities were off. Martha’s idea of what was necessary was different from Christ’s. Martha thought all her busy, frantic activity was necessary to please the Lord when from Jesus perspective only one thing is necessary: her simple humble faith.
2) Proper Desires
The second way to have a Mary Christmas is proper desires. Mary was hungry, but not for dinner. She was hungry for spiritual food. She wanted to hear the words of eternal life, and was not going to miss the chance while Jesus was in her home.
Jesus calls this “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Who wants to eat food when the Messiah is sitting in your living room! She was being deeply fed by the bread of life and living water. Mary desired the right thing, and wanted what is truly important.
The third step to a Mary Christmas is to be honest about who you are and what you truly need. Mary knew it was more important to learn from Jesus than to complete her do to list, serve the perfect meal or host the perfect Christmas. You can’t earn your salvation by being good. You can try harder but it will never be enough to negate prior sin and disobedience.
Jesus was born on Christmas Day to keep God’s covenant and live a perfect life. Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday and was resurrected on Easter Sunday to pay the penalty for our sins. God accepts his voluntarily death on the cross as payment for our crimes. Because of Jesus, God can forgive us and save us from sin. The third step to having a Mary Christmas is knowing where life is to be found. It is to be found in Jesus and not self-effort.
4) Choose faith.
The fourth way to have a Mary Christmas is to choose “the good part.” In other words choose faith. Trust that God — through the blood of Jesus Christ — both intends to and will in fact save you from your sin. The “good part” — the best gift of all — is sitting at our Lord’s feet in order to learn the words of life. Meals will come and meals will go. Christmas will come and go. Gifts will be wrapped and opened and broken. Memories will fade, but the word of life will last forever.
There is only one thing truly important and necessary thing, and that is knowing Jesus. Trusting Jesus and believing that he loves you and came to die on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins.
To do lists can wait. Good works can wait. But knowing Jesus can’t. There will always be work to do; good, important work that seems so necessary. But only one thing is truly necessary: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
My prayer for you this holiday season is that you have a Mary Christmas — a Christmas where you grow in faith and the love of Christ; a Christmas like Mary where you leave the kitchen and sit at the feet of Jesus; a Christmas where you can be still and know that He is Lord.
Part of the series: Christmas Messages
Photo used here under Flickr Creative Commons.