You guys, I’ve never met Aubry Smith but we are friends. How can you NOT be friends with someone who has traveled halfway around the world to serve and educate pregnant and postpartum women AND written an awesome book about God’s role in childbirth? So pleased to be able to share her brilliant and beautiful words with all of you today. Welcome, Aubry!
We live on a dusty street in the Middle Eastern desert, red sand dunes out one window, ancient limestone mountains out the other, the tremendous heat bearing down on all of it. After two years, I’ve transitioned from speaking like a toddler, but my language can’t cover up my social blunders.
I am told “Please cover your hair,” and also, “Why do you cover your hair? Don’t!”
I accidentally take the seat of honor because the seats all look the same to me.
I show up to the party at the wrong time, because while everyone told me 7, I shouldn’t have expected anyone to be there until at least 8.
I accidentally use the most offensive word in Arabic because it sounds nearly identical to another word.
My dear local friend pats my head and says, “Habibti,” which literally means “my beloved,” but contextually seems to mean, “You precious little idiot.”
On a daily basis, I make a fool of myself just by living here as an outsider. I long for a sense of normalcy, to understand the deep waters of the culture and the language. While I love living here many days, and feel very strongly that God has called our family here for several reasons, some days the cost feels too high. In America, I knew what it was to be modest, reasonably intelligent, and honorable. Here, I’m none of those. I seem to bring shame on myself constantly.
I’m struck by Mary’s song of worship after the news that she will give birth to the Savior. Mary lived not so far from where I live now, and the culture was similar. An honorable reputation is everything in the Middle East, especially since a person’s identity is bound up with their family and community.
If you are shamed, no one will marry you, no one will come to your house, and no one will fix your car or provide favors for you. You are not first and foremost an individual; you are a member of the community first, and you must bring honor and not shame to the community. And in some cases, killing the source of shame restores honor to the community.
Here is Mary, with her strange news of impending shamefulness. It is almost certain no one will believe her. According to understandings of the Jewish law at that time, she might have been stoned to death for adultery because of her threat to the community (John 8:2–11). Joseph would most certainly expose her and divorce her, shaming her in the community and condemning her to a life of singleness and, therefore, poverty.
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors”
(Luke 1:46-55, NIV).
Mary worships God for his goodness, his blessing, and his faithfulness in his promises, even if it costs her everything. She accepts the honor that God has given her, rather than the shame that will likely come from her people.
Her vision is a long one: she recognizes her son as the fulfillment of a promise made to Abraham. He is the One who will make a great nation out of little, oppressed Israel, though not in the expected way.
When we, like Mary, are able to see God’s long story from Eden to glory, we finally see our own place in it and begin to rightly see ourselves— and the risks God may ask us to take. Our own plans for our small lives are put into perspective.
Submission to God’s purposes becomes a joy and an honor, because we are flabbergasted that we have any part in them at all.
In Mary’s Magnificat I see deep gratitude and celebration for what God has done and will do in her, though her suffering will increase as a result. Her coming shame is a reality she doesn’t dwell on; she receives the honor that comes from God’s hand.
Her perspective is rightly placed; he is God, and she is his servant. And because she is seeing rightly, she is able to give herself to honest and heartfelt worship.
This Advent, I long for Jesus’ return, when he will give honor to those who are in places of shame, and exalt humble servants like Mary.
And I pray for the grace to let go of my own need for exaltation and honor, and seek my home in Him—where I am never an outsider.
Aubry G. Smith is a childbirth educator, doula, and author of Holy Labor: How Childbirth Shapes a Woman’s Soul (Kirkdale, 2016). An Arkansas native, Aubry now lives with her husband and three children in the Middle East, where she educates and empowers multinational expatriate women giving birth in a foreign culture. Aubry can be found on her blog and on Facebook..