- Holidays and Celebrations
Christmas: Through the Eyes of Mary
For some reason I had decided to wear black boots as I walked from my grandparents’ house on their farm out in West Texas down to the barn and into the daily activity. I wore those boots all day long, and when I got back to their house at the end of my day, I noticed an interesting sight. My boots were covered with dust. Throughout my comings and goings of the activities of the day, just walking around through that day, I picked up the dust that was all around me.
This Christmas, that is what I want for you and for me. As we walk through, yet another Christmas Season, that the truth of this season—God entering the mess of humanity and ultimately doing for us what we could never do for ourselves—that truth would stick to our souls and we would take the time to ponder the eternal implications.
That in a season and with a story with which we are all too familiar, we would resist the temptation to just do whatever it takes to get through another Christmas Season—to buy the gifts, to fight the crowds, to put up the decorations, to send out the cards, to make the meals and all the gatherings—but to miss out on pondering afresh the implications of when “God entering the mess of humanity!”
And there is perhaps no character of the Christmas Story to help us better ponder some of those implications than Mary, the Mother of Jesus. And perhaps, there is no greater activity we could engage in this Christmas Season than to look at the Christmas Story through the eyes of Mary.
What do we know about Mary?
We do know that Mary was “from Nazareth.” Nazareth was Jewish by birthright, Roman by claim, and Greek by influence. It was no more than a quiet town where men attended to their daily work and women their households.
It is very possible that Mary and Joseph may have even played together in the fields as children. But whatever their childhood experiences, when we pick up the story, they are grown up and ready to enter into the rest of their lives together.
Now, according to Jewish custom, their parents would have arranged the marriage that would unite not just the two young people, but the two families as well. The couple was betrothed, which was the most binding form of engagement. Legally, this betrothal meant that Mary was already Joseph’s wife, though they could not be together until after the wedding.
This would have been one of the happiest and most enjoyable times in a young Jewish lady’s life. There would be the exchanging of gifts by the family along with the joy of preparing for the ceremony. There would be the opportunity to wear jewelry and fine clothes, and then finally, she would leave her home. A Jewish young lady would live with the groom’s family, and there the two would begin a life and a family to call their own.
Mary's Cost of Being Available
Mary had so much to look forward to—all of her life and dreams ahead of her—just like any young Jewish lady betrothed. But all sense of normalcy would change beginning with a visit and the announcement by the angel Gabriel, followed by months in obscurity and shame, carrying a baby that was not her betrothed, and then, when her time had come to give birth, she has to endure the hurried and difficult trip to Bethlehem because of the government census.
And she and Joseph would arrive in Bethlehem, and she would give birth to her first born.
The ancient record states it this way:
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
A year earlier, Mary’s dreams of becoming a mother for the first time would certainly have centered around family, parents, grandparents, and friends gathered outside the door, . . . then with the compassionate help of the midwife, the house would erupt with the first cry of her baby. She would rest. And family, along with all of Nazareth, would celebrate.
But here she is, . . . giving birth alone in a stable-cave with sheep and donkeys, a donkey’s blanket as her pillow, and only Joseph and the stars to hear her pain. The reality of the scene is anything but a Silent Night.
But she is not alone, for the angels have been noticeably busy on this night.
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
"This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us."
So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.
When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.
And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:8-19)
Mary Treasured All “These Things”
What things did Mary treasure in her heart as she took in the scene before her?
It may have involved what the angel told Joseph. It may have involved what Gabriel had told her. It may have involved the trouble with their attempts to find lodging that night (like trying to find a hotel room in the middle of the night while on a trip, when you are exhausted, feeling hopeless.) It may have involved giving birth in an animal stable or the visit by the shepherds who told of the angelic proclamation.
Or more than any of these, it may have just been the mystery and wonder of it all!
“Pondering Them in Her Heart.”
Her pain of giving birth is now eclipsed by wonder.
Taking in the scene, Mary ‘ponders’ these things in her heart. The ancient writer chooses the word “sumballo” (Also the word chosen as the Pen Name of Yours Truly), which has the idea of mulling over with the desire to discern the meaning.
Mary was mulling over the wonder before her as best she could at the time. Mary was taking the time and the occasion to take in the scene, . . . to enter into the depths of the mystery (God with us!)
As Mary pondered, to what conclusions did she come?
In the midst of the seeming mundane, was majesty. A moment when Divinity became humanity, and eternity entered time, and heaven entered earth, . . . through the womb of a teenager and in the presence of a carpenter followed by a handful of shepherds.
As Mary looked into the face of this One who had overlooked the universe, she knows, more than anyone else that night, that she is holding God, . . . Emmanuelle, . . . “God with us,” . . . the One who would come to save us from our sins, . . . the One whom the angel had told her, “His kingdom will never end.”
The Challenge For You and Me During This Christmas Season
My tendency during this season is to only get worn out by the activities of Christmas, . . . to quickly glaze by the scene, . . . easily distracted and derailed from the important, . . . more hurried than normal and walking through the Christmas Season with nothing of the Incarnation—God entering the mess of humanity and dwelling among us—nothing really sticking to me.
As you walk through yet another Christmas Season, take and make some time to “ponder.” In the midst of all the activities, take the time and the occasion to take in the scene of the story—Mary, Joseph, the shepherds—watching, pondering the mystery and the miracle of the birth of the Christ-child.
This Christmas, take and make some time to ponder the wonder of the scene through the eyes of Mary!