I am fascinated with Mary. She was a mere woman, yet chosen for the special grace of bearing the Son of God. There are traditions about Mary’s life, even her ascension to Heaven and coronation as the Holy Queen. Many believe her to have been a perpetual virgin. There are volumes written about Mariology or the beliefs about Mary. There is a tradition of Mary devotion and some pray to Mary. For many, Mary is exalted to a level just below Jesus. She is not God, but she is the mother of God, the theotokos. I am fascinated with Mary.
Mary’s story begins in Luke chapter 1. The angel Gabriel visited her greeting her with words of favor and promise. Gabriel tells her she has been chosen by God to bear a son who will be named Jesus. God will give Jesus the throne of David and there will be no end to His kingdom. This will all take place as the Holy Spirit overcomes her and she will conceive God’s Son. Gabriel reminds Mary that nothing is impossible with God.
After the conception, Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s husband was a priest. The deduction can be made that Elizabeth was from the tribe of Aaron, or the priestly tribe, because she was married to a priest. Typically, people from the priestly families only married into other priestly families. Since Mary and Elizabeth are cousins, it is likely Joseph and Mary were also of the priestly tribe. Thus, Jesus was not only from the lineage of David, but also had priestly family ties.
While at Elizabeth’s home, the Bible tells us Mary rejoiced and praised God which is recorded in Luke 1: 46 – 55. It is known as the Magnificat. One of the Sunday school classes learned about Mary’s Magnificat which is Mary’s praise of God for what He has done for her. She acknowledges that she will be considered highly favored among all women and she rejoices in God’s salvation.
We don’t know when Mary returned home to Joseph, but, a few months after her return, the whole region was called to go to their hometowns for a census. Mary and Joseph were likely married by this time. Joseph’s family was from the line of David and he was called to return to the city of Bethlehem. So, the couple set out on the 16 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a journey that took a whole day.
Joseph may have had a tie to Bethlehem, but the story leaves us wondering where his family was when he and Mary arrived. Joseph doesn’t take Mary to stay with his family. There is no family to greet them. They are a young tired couple alone in an unfamiliar town.
Joseph takes Mary to the innkeeper to look for a vacant room. The innkeeper was the town hotel proprietor who completely disregarded this peasant couple because either there weren’t any rooms left or he was holding out for a wealthy guest. The innkeeper relegated Mary and Joseph to the barn and likely forgot about them after that. He had no compassion for a young woman about to deliver a baby.
There was no one to take pity on Mary who was about to become a mother for the first time. No one to take to heart her condition that she did not have anything a mother needs to deliver a child. There she is without any preparation alone in the darkness, without any one offering her assistance. Some movies have portrayed the innkeeper’s wife serving as a midwife. However, there is no historical proof of her help or the innkeeper’s presence for the birth. It is likely that after the innkeeper directed them to the stable, he completely forgot about them.
Our Christmas pageants and the movies like to clean this part of the story up, white wash it. We think of Mary in a blue robe gazing lovingly at a tiny white baby while a clean shaven Joseph is attentive to the mother and child. There is the warm glow of a lantern illuminating the family. Quiet animals watch from a distance. The innkeeper and his wife have helped Mary through child birth. The shepherds gaze in wonder and streams of light beam down from Heaven.
The truth is, Mary was a scared teenager who was about to give birth. Jesus would be wrapped in whatever rags they could find. He would be place in a smelly, flea-infested feeding trough in the midst of a dark musky smelling animal stall. I’m sure Mary was exhausted after having given birth to her baby boy looking around for a clean spot on the hay to rest her own head when shepherds appear.
“Shepherds were on the bottom rung of the social ladder stereotyped as liars and thieves who couldn’t find decent work. The testimony of shepherds was inadmissible in law courts and many towns had ordinances banning shepherds from city limits. Shepherds were ritually unclean and were considered sinners by virtue of their vocation, just like tax collectors and prostitutes.” Yet, these shepherds are the first to hear the good news of the angels and take that news to Mary.
An angel had come to the shepherds in the fields with wonderful, joyous news. The angel tells the shepherds that the Savior has been born who is Christ the Lord. It is this news that the shepherds take to Mary. The Bible tells us that Mary treasured these words and pondered them in her heart.
Mary pondered the news from the shepherds.
I have missed this point in previous readings of Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ birth. It hadn’t seemed important, but it stuck out to me this year. I had thought that Mary would understand the significance of her baby’s life after having been told by an angel that He would take the throne of David. But, if she understood, she wouldn’t have found the report of the shepherds as something to ponder. This was the first time she had heard that the baby Jesus was the Savior and Lord. This news she has to ponder.
I can relate to Mary in this story. I can imagine sitting there with a baby in my arms wondering what His life will be like. Can you imagine? She knows the baby is God’s Son. He will rule from the throne of David and His kingdom will be unending. And, now she knows He is Savior and Lord.
Let’s sit with those announcements for a little while. Let’s not skip ahead to Jesus’ ministry or the cross or the resurrection. Let’s just sit in the stable with the baby Jesus sleeping in our arms. Let’s look into His Holy face and wonder as new parents wonder.
While we’re imagining, let’s not sit in the dirty stable that was the reality of Jesus’ birth, let’s sit in the clean stable of our Christmas pageants with bright lanterns, the soft soothing noises of animals in the background, angelic praise off in the distance, a clean bed of hay, and a warm white blanket to wrap the baby in. Let’s take a break from our hectic reality and dream about how Jesus will save us.
Without the knowledge of the cross or the resurrection, let’s ponder as Mary did.
How will Jesus save us? What is it in your life that needs to be reconciled to the Kingdom of Heaven? How is your life out of balance with Jesus and His Way of abundant life?
Jesus, the Messiah, is the incarnation of God. He is Emmanuel, God with us. God has humbled Himself taking the form of a gentle, mild, and meek baby to know the joys and pains of human life. It is our salvation that God would become one of us to heal and reconcile us.
Let’s ponder. How will Jesus, the Son of God, Christ the Lord, save us?