Have you EVER thought about what great self images the people in the Christmas story must have had? Yeah. Me neither. But it's true!
The second chapter of Luke begins with Caesar Augustus requiring a census, and Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. As I read the chapter, what I noticed again and again was the excellent self image of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds to whom the angels appeared.
Today, society is more concerned with self esteem than self image. Esteem is how highly (or lowly) we regard and value ourselves. This regard can be manifested in a healthy way (I will not remain in abusive relationships) or negatively (I am my top priority, attaining what I desire is my foremost concern.) The actual definition of self-esteem is “a feeling of pride in oneself.”
Self image is how we see ourselves. (I am a nice person, or, I can’t possibly achieve that goal, I’m not good enough.) Image focuses more on our view or perspective. The difference is subtle, and the similarities are many but I hope you detect the difference. The definition of self-image is the concept one has of oneself, including an assessment of qualifications and personal worth.
I believe that God’s will for us is to have an excellent self-image. I also believe that the definition of an excellent self-image is agreeing with what God says about us, nothing more and nothing less.
Mary’s self image was certainly built upon confidence that what God said about her was true. He told her she was righteous and blessed—and she believed Him! Now I am convinced that this was NOT what all Mary’s neighbors were saying about her. There is not much doubt Mary participated in a community that valued the outward appearance of righteousness. Human nature being what it is, some in her community just went through the motions of a relationship with God, others passionately sought Him and others tried make sure that they were better by comparison with their neighbors so He would accept them.
In a community like that, the moral code is much stricter than the world we live in today; where couples frequently live together outside of marriage and have children with no regard to marriage, but let’s not forget that divorce and adultery were probably very much a part of the area in which she lived. And as Mary came of age during the reign of the most famous Caesar, abortions, orgies and demon worship weren’t unknown. But it is true that the penalty for adultery and children out of wedlock within a small, practicing Jewish village was much stricter than it is today!
Imagine clinging to the knowledge that you are truly righteous and favored of God—because He says so!-- while engaged and becoming more and more obviously pregnant. Yet she faced down those who would declare her an adulteress or fornicator and gave birth to the Messiah. She had options. She could decide that this path was just too tough, the consequences too harsh, and abort. (Abortion is not a recent invention.) She could begin to doubt what she’d heard from the angel (too many figs, a bad batch of wine) or she could simply have hidden from Joseph and not faced what he had to say, living as an outcast. Her self image was based on what God said, and she behaved accordingly.
Joseph quietly and firmly believed what God said about him, rather than what he himself originally thought or those around him said. It was his first thought to “divorce” (end the formal engagement to) Mary. Then, when God sent word that she was pregnant with the Messiah, he ignored what others said about him and his fiancée, and carried out God’s plan despite the criticism he surely faced. What must God have thought of this man’s character, that He would trust Joseph to endure the mockery this birth would surely bring him and then raise Jesus with a kind and loving heart?
Joseph believed what God said about this situation, “It is not a dishonor, but an honor!” If he hadn’t, he would have simply gone on with his own thought, to divorce/break the engagement with Mary.
The shepherds, too, believed what God has said about them! “To YOU a Savior is born!” And they told the story far and wide. Don’t you imagine they heard comments like “Why would God’s angels appear to YOU, you’re just shepherds? Wouldn’t the King of the Universe appear to important people? You surely don’t expect us to believe that God announced the birth of our long awaited Messiah to you first, do you? He would certainly tell the Priests or prophets before He’d bother to mention it to a bunch of shepherds!”
But these men clung to what God thought: they were worthy to hear the news first, competent to find the baby, and qualified to spread the joy!
To have such excellent self images! It will affect everything: what we achieve, how we raise our children, how we respond to our enemies; I can’t think of anything it WON’T affect. So deciding to build an excellent self image is an easy decision. Read part 2 of Self Image, a 3 part series. Click here for part 3.