Christmas is my favorite time of year, with all its rituals, music, decorations, celebrations, and even all the secular songs and emphasis on buy, buy, buy. The magnitude of our Christian belief that God has come to us as the lowliest of humans does not deter us from Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman. The thing that brings me so much joy, even celebrating the secular holiday, is how it changes everyone. People are suddenly more aware of others’ feelings, more willing to share what they have, and more willing to let down their guard and just make merry. I’m talking ugly sweaters here!
Sometimes it seems that the lost player in this story is Mary herself. She just rode a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem (70 to 90 miles, according to various Google sites). It probably took a week. Did her back hurt? Were her legs and feet swollen? Did she complain to Joseph, or tell him when she just could not go one more mile? When they arrived in Bethlehem, I’m sure she wasn’t expecting deluxe accommodations; she was probably just glad to get off that donkey and check her swollen ankles. But did she know she would deliver her baby then, or did he come early from all the stress of travel? I hope some angel midwife came in and helped her with her labor and delivery, holding her hand and telling her when to breathe, then catching the baby, washing him, and wrapping him in warm clothes. I hope she showed Mary how to hold Jesus’ head and helped him latch on to her breast. I hope the angel midwife brought a basin of warm water for Mary to wash in, and then helped her into some clean clothes. I imagine Joseph, the carpenter, preparing a warm soft bed from the manger, then making a comfortable bed in the straw. I hope that angel midwife taught Joseph how to hold baby Jesus and change him, and comfort him when he got fussy. And I hope those boisterous exuberant angels waited quietly, if excitedly, while Mary had a good sleep before they broke the news of his birth and invited everyone to the stable.
Because what comes next would tire any mother of a newborn. Here come the shepherds. Luke says they left their sheep behind, but every good manger scene has to have some sheep along with those shepherds. Ditto the cow and the donkey. Some manger scenes have the whole village show up. And then there’s the little drummer boy! Manger scenes also like to have the wise men there, dressed in colorful clothes with shiny gifts and at least one camel. Mary must have thought, “I wasn’t planning on a party.”
What Luke tells us shows something important about Mary: she pondered what happened to her. When the shepherds tell about the angels summoning them, all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:18-19). After Jesus’ circumcision in the temple, Simeon prayed, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him (vs. 29-33). Finally, when Jesus was twelve, they lost him on the way home from Jerusalem. When they found him in the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus’ own words confounded them. But (Mary) treasured all these things in her heart (vs. 51). She did not know what the future would bring, but she continued to listen to God’s will and follow it obediently in trust.
The secular celebration of Christmas will end promptly at midnight on December 25. Songs over, decorations dismantled, merchandise replaced by valentine items, no doubt. For us, it is not that way. Like Mary, we can ponder in our hearts the profound gift we have been given. We can walk in the light we have received, helping as we are led, speaking up and standing up for Jesus’ mission in the world. Live intentionally. We are called to usher in God’s new kingdom.