“…and Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”
– Luke 2:19
It’s laughable to me how many nativity scenes position Mary kneeling in quiet prayer, hands folded or clasped to her chest as she watches Jesus sleep peacefully in the manger. It’s a still, quiet scene perhaps more fitted for life in a resort town than a stable. Or is it? Is there something to be learned by Mary’s quiet posture?
We know very little about Mary’s labor and delivery with Jesus. Was she already feeling the increasing pressure of contractions as she traveled to Bethlehem? I know that every jostle and step had to make her full-term, pregnant body ache. When did she know that this was it? That it was time? No more anticipating or false alarms. What unique ways did she rely on Joseph in lieu of her mother or midwives? What things did she remind herself of as she labored to bring her son into the world? What look did Joseph have on his face as he watched his wife cradle their newborn, the prophesied hope of the world?
All we know is that Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger. We know his birth was celebrated by the lowest classes on earth and all the invisible realms of heaven that, for a brief time, burst into visibility in the form of angels singing praises birthed from divine realms of glory and a star that beamed God’s delight over his son’s arrival on earth.
Yet, having carried and delivered two children I can fill in some of the blanks. I know that every part of Mary’s body ached in every conceivable way imaginable. I know there was blood and pain and the increasing weight of milk arriving to feed her little one. I know there was the sharp pain of after-birth contractions and the uncertainty of those first hours and days of new motherhood. Kneeling by a manger is likely not a position she could have gotten into less than a day after birth (at least not for any length of time) and it’s likely that Jesus spent little time in that manger as he would have preferred the nearness of the mother whose body had cradled his for ten months. I know there was the rapturous swelling of love for her son that threatened to make her new mama heart explode and a weariness more profound than anything she had experienced before.
And there, there in the midst of pain, tears, blood, contractions, colostrum, straw, manger cloths, newborn cries and new parent worries we know that Mary treasured, Mary pondered. In the midst of pressing circumstances that were far from ideal or what a new mom would choose for her infant or herself Mary chose to celebrate the beauty of all the good that still was, to wonder.
There is unimaginable hurt and brokenness in the world and in our lives that arrives well before December 25th and persists long after. Empty hearts, empty arms, empty seats and empty beds. The dull ache of a reality that things are not as they should be that persists even in the happiest of moments.
Christmas is not peppermint hot cocoa, twinkly lights, cards, carols, plaid wrapping paper, dreams of snow or perfectly chosen gifts. Those “hallmarks of Christmas” are modern additions to an old, old story. Christmas is choosing to ponder, to treasure, to wonder when our circumstances clamor for us to do otherwise.
That is the reason that, regardless of what is going on in our lives, we can all celebrate Christmas with abandon. With the freedom and freely demonstrated hope of those who have been rescued by the sacrifice of a God who “contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man”. We can follow Mary’s model of celebrating through treasuring all the circumstances of our lives regardless of what exactly those circumstances are.
This has been a year of transition for my family. Of birth, of death, of losses both public and private. Of hellos and goodbyes, of the closing off of chapters in our lives that will forevermore be inaccessible. The weight of everything is hard to process and impossible to find closure to. Yet, despite that, this Christmas season has been full of wonder. Not magic, magic is based on choosing the right snacks and creating the right holiday atmosphere but wonder. Wonder not only exists but thrives in the most difficult of places because it’s divinely planted and sustained by a God who supersedes times and circumstances.
Joy to the world, our Lord has come, welcomed by a donkey’s bray rather than a trumpet’s song, cradled by a manger’s hay rather than a palace’s warmth. The quiet of that long-ago Bethlehem night broken by a newborn’s cries and stained with the blood of a virgin all preceding the hurried pounding of shepherd’s staffs and the celebration of angels shouting to an oblivious world that their King had finally come.
And all of it, all of it was treasured in the heart of a girl who had sacrificed her body and her life to mother the Savior of the World.
May we treasure the circumstances of our lives the same way.
Have a wonder-full Christmas.
O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.