Marolt: Thank God for a liberal exchange policy
December 22, 2013
Usually I zero in on baby Jesus this close to Christmas. The other night, though, I was sitting by the tree, eggnog in hand, full moon casting shadows across the mountains into the living room, fake logs hissing under the bluish gas flame beneath the mantle, and I started to think of Mary. You know — she's the blessed mother of Jesus, the holiest of saints, the purest human being who ever lived.
An angel came to her nine months before our Lord was away in the manger behind the inn and said (I'm paraphrasing here), "Don't freak out. I know you are a virgin and engaged to a wonderful guy, but you are now pregnant by the Holy Spirit with the Son of God. Joseph and everyone else are going to be asking a lot of questions and undoubtedly you are scared. This is by no means going to make your life easier, but don't worry. You are favored by God, and everything is going to be very cool."
Mary had little idea how this was going to work out. This happened long before the New Testament was a work in progress. She couldn't Google the situation to find tips and support groups. Imagine trying to explain it to folks. All she had was an impossible-to-believe story from an angel who came to her in the night and her faith.
She humbly said, "Let it be."
All that considered, I wondered how much easier it might be to live a virtuous life and do all the right things during my short walk across the face of this planet if God, or even an angel, appeared before me and plainly laid things out. Give me a roadmap to heaven. I'm good with maps, even Apple Maps.
Then I thought again. Salvation as a long-term goal gives me some daily wiggle room that probably wouldn't be afforded in a face-to-face confrontation with God. What if he asked me to do something difficult? What if I wanted to put it off until my schedule opens up? I have some last-minute Christmas shopping to take care of, and we're trying to leave town this afternoon!
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Remember the parable in Matthew about the Nazarene yuppie? He was the wealthy ladder-climber who approached Jesus. He said, "Lord, please tell me how to get to heaven." (You can tell from how he addressed him and the nature of the question that he knew exactly whom he was talking to.)
Jesus told the young executive that he needed to follow all of the Commandments and to treat his neighbor like he would want to be treated. Fair enough.
"I do this already," the yuppie said, for he had no trouble following checklists and most likely had been offering matching contributions to his employees' retirement accounts, among other nice things he regularly did for people.
"Great," Jesus said. "Then sell all your stuff, give the money to the poor, and come follow me."
This is pretty cool when you think about it. Jesus was opening up a roster spot for this guy. He was inviting the yuppie to become the 13th apostle. First string! Who wouldn't take that offer? But, and this is a big "but," we are told that the yuppie walked away and was very sad because he had so much.
I can so much relate to the yuppie that it scares me. If God appeared to any one of us, he might ask us to do the same thing. And my answer might be the same as the yuppie's! I mean, I've got it good here — family, friends, a Premier ski pass, a nice mountain bike; for crying out loud, I live in the most beautiful place on the planet! I've got way too much to give up. Never mind that The One who might ask me to give it all up is The One who gave it all to me to begin with!
Getting back to Mary and her visit with the angel: I am afraid I couldn't stand up to the pressure of a personal audience with God. It's merciful of him not to subject us to that kind of all-or-nothing deal in a single moment without a cooling-off period allowed. We're weak, he knows it, and he loves us too much to expose us to certain failure. Instead he allows us to feel great joy, especially this time of year, in being kind and generous in increments, to get the ball rolling in the right direction. That's encouraging. Talk about a nice Christmas gift!
Roger Marolt wishes everyone a merry Christmas! Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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