Inside the stable, tucked in a corner, away from the draft, a feed trough in front of her, the new mother sat. Eyes closed, her sway keeping time with her softly hummed melody. The baby in her arms awake, calm for the moment, stared intently at the source of the sounds he heard.
Lost in the disorienting jumble of her own thoughts, as she had often been in the last nine months, the new mother closed her eyes. The events of this night, the whole pregnancy, created a knot of emotions that she couldn’t untangle.
Musty hay, blatting sheep, and earthy smelling cows were nothing but an unremarkable backdrop as the weight of the child in her arms pulled her deeper into her own thoughts. This was a moment of introspection and contemplation, certainly not the first, likely not the last.
Her exultant moment of pain had culminated in the small wrinkly bundle in her lap. The birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s infant son, the one who had been announced by angelic visitors, had finally happened.
Mary rocked and pondered, not just the events of the night, but everything that had led to this moment.
The shepherds’ story drew her back to the beginning, the night Gabriel appeared.
Gabriel and Mary
The shepherds’ fear was not Mary’s; her unease came from his words. The scariest part of Gabriel’s arrival wasn’t the suddenness of his appearance or his heavenly figure; it was what he said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
What did that mean? He didn’t explain; he only said that she had found favor with the Lord. Why? What for?
The answer to the second mystery would change everything, not just for Mary, for everyone. And it would start Mary on her path of reflection and contemplation. She was going to have a very special baby, a baby who would be a ruler.
In the stable, Mary thought of Gabriel’s words. The Holy Spirit had come, she had indeed conceived despite being a virgin—incredible, miraculous, immaculate. She cradled the boy in her arms, smiling; still unsure why she had been chosen for this pleasure. Gabriel had said, “favored,” repeated it; as the infant grabbed her finger, favored was the appropriate description.
Mary looked at her son. How would he become king? This little one was to sit on David’s throne forever, but she was a simple girl and Joseph a carpenter. How would their child become the ruler of Israel?
Surely the God who gave her the child could give the child the throne, but Mary wondered how and what could that mean for her and Joseph? How would they raise a king?
As she gazed at the infant king, Mary thought again of the angel’s message to Joseph.
She remembered his dream and his reason for the angelic visit—his thoughts of her infidelity and plans to divorce her. She had tried to explain, she told Joseph of Gabriel’s visit to her, of her faithfulness to him and the divine source of the life in her womb.
She understood how implausible it must have seemed; she was still grappling with the reality herself. Unsurprising that heaven needed to speak to convince him.
She remembered Joseph after his dream, the change that had overtaken him, his words of love and commitment to her and the unborn child, the boy who would be “God with us.” She knew this would be a difficult path for both of them, and she was glad that she would not walk it alone.
This was not how her girlhood fantasies had unfolded—pregnant before marriage was not what happened to good Jewish girls. Questions tumbled over each other in her mind: What would her family say? If Joseph didn’t believe her, why would they? How would she face her friends or go to the synagogue?
Was she in over her head, had her submission been too hastily conceded?
Mary reflected on what the angel had told Joseph of the child’s destiny: “He will save his people from their sins.”
As she sat with the animals, she remembered the glances and whispers. She had guessed what they said about her, about Joseph, and had feared what they would say about her child. But looking down at her son, the fact that in her innocence she endured the accusations of sin, mattered little. The bundle in her arms, she thought, would save people from those very lies and the slander they had spread against her; he was going to save people from their sins.
She pondered the tiny sin-rescuing savior. Sins, she thought, and her mind filled with bulls, goats, and blood, the priests who offered their prayers and slaughtered their sacrifices. Mary thought of her own sins—though this little one was not the result of any—and the sins of a nation. How could this little one rescue; what did her precious boy have to do with the sacrifices of the Temple?
Mary remembered these events and she pondered the future of this little one as she held him: a ruler, a savior, God with us.
She didn’t know what it would mean to raise this little one in her arms. She wondered whether the advice of other mothers would apply to raising “God with us.” Mary was overwhelmed with the angelic words spoken about her unborn child. And that was before the shepherds peaked in.
Timid heads peaked around the corner. They were calm, but a tremor of excitement vibrated beneath their tranquil exterior. Mary and Jesus, tucked away in the corner, almost didn’t notice them.
Awkward introductions followed—strangers wanted to see her baby, her Jesus. Didn’t they know who he was, how special he was? They did, perhaps more than she. Mary listened as they recounted their tale.
Another angel with additions to the list of amazing things this child would be. For all the things that the angel had told Mary and Joseph about the birth of Jesus and who he would grow to be, the angel had told the shepherds something new, Jesus was the Christ!
Mary watched these strangers stare at her son as she thought of that single word, Messiah. Jesus, her new baby, the child who not many hours ago was still in her womb, was king, savior, Christ.
How could she raise the Messiah? What would being the mother of the Christ require of her? What would she tell him; what would she need to tell him?
A new mother is ignorant of much but raising the Messiah would challenge even the most seasoned parent. Her imagination floundered in the flood of prophesies about the promised one.
The riches of God’s faithful promises through Israel’s prophetic voices delivered much to treasure and contemplate.
Pondering for Ourselves
It’s easy to catch the shepherd’s infection of excitement and wonder, posting our banners of Jesus being the reason for the season, and the need to keep Christ in Christmas. We can shout our conviction that Christmas Joy begins with Jesus, or proclaim that wise men still seek him, or that the manger was the first King size bed! We can tell all we encounter who will listen, and even some who won’t, of the birth of Jesus the Savior.
But perhaps this Christmas, Mary obliges us to witness and reflect her example. Mary the mother of Jesus modeled a different approach to celebrating the incarnation. When did you last contemplate the meaning and implications of the birth of Jesus?
This Christmas ponder the significance of the birth of Jesus. Reflect on the coming of the promise, the incarnation of God.