The Marvel of Christmas and motherhood

Regardless of how many times I read the Christmas story, I am struck by how the entire narrative centers on a mother and her baby. The King of the Universe, Creator, Redeemer, miracle-working, healing God came into the world via a young woman’s womb. He was born in the normal, human way and grew into and out of all the physical stages of a human.

I loved having newborns in our family at Christmas a number of years ago. Two of our granddaughters were born in December, and I still remember cradling them in my arms and being mesmerized by their little, pink, scrunched-up faces. Is there anything more vulnerable than a newborn baby? I wondered what Mary was feeling as she nestled her tiny newborn in her arms. But she wasn’t sitting in a cushioned rocking chair, she was in a damp cave surrounded by hay, animals, bad smells, and strangers. We are drawn to the song, “Mary, Did You Know” because the lyrics capture the mystery of Mary as we try to imagine the tumult of emotions that must have flooded her heart from that moment on.

On Christmas eve, we do an impromptu Christmas drama with our grandkids for their parents. One year, when granddaughters Julia and Halle were 4 and 5, they both insisted on being Mary in our “pageant.” Make no mistake about it: Baby Jesus may be the star from Christmas Day on, but its all about Mary on Christmas Eve. I should have foreseen this looming conflict, and so the only immediate solution to avoiding their collective meltdown was for Joseph to have two wives that year. Yes, friends, full disclosure: We presented a polygamous Christmas story! Joseph solemnly entered the room flanked by a Mary on each arm. Actually, we had two Marys for a couple or years, until I was able to come up with a fancy angel ensemble with yards of white tulle that was much prettier than Mary’s drab robe and scarf. We are under grace, and I was counting on that! (The two Marys eventually lost interest in Mary and played The Two Wise Women from the East, but thats another story.)

In Luke 2, Simeon prophesied to Mary that “a sword would pierce her soul” and how true that proved to be. From her maternal perspective, all of Jesus’ earthly life was a progression of separation from her — from his remaining in Jerusalem at age 12, being “about My Father’s business,” to declaring that His true family was those who believed in Him (Matt. 12:48), even to giving his sonship away to John while He was dying. Jesus was always pulling away from his mother. I believe that was part of Jesus’ preparation for His death. He had to walk that path alone. Watching her beloved son die such a gruesome and humiliating death, all alone, surely this was the sword that pierced her soul,

In Genesis 3, after the Fall, God spoke of Eve’s (and all other mothers’) pain in childbirth . The longer I live, the more I see this prophecy demonstrated, not just in childbirth but continually through a child’s life. Mothers agonize over a baby’s sickness, a preschooler’s tantrums, a school-age child’s struggles, a teen’s sullenness, a young adult’s troubled relationships, and a married child’s choices. Eventually the cycle begins again as a grandmother, except now there are two generations to worry over! The saying, “A mother is only as happy as her least-happy child” is so very true. Becoming a mother fundamentally changes a woman, because the welfare of her child never, ever leaves her heart and mind.

Yes, motherhood is at the crux of Christmas — a barren old woman, Elizabeth, giving birth to a son who will prepare the way for the Lord. Mary, a young woman, birthing the Son of God, who through His sacrifice would purchase salvation for men and women of every tribe and tongue. These two simple, ordinary women stand hand in hand at the crossroads of the epic biblical story of redemption, bridging the Old Testament and the New. Motherhood. Pregnancy. Childbirth. Babies. Family. What a marvel! Christmas!

Published December 14, 2017