meditations on mary, motherhood & a manger

Tomorrow marks my 25th week of pregnancy. Being pregnant during advent season, a time of expectancy and anticipation, has had me thinking a lot about Mary.

Mary — the peasant girl who found herself supernaturally carrying love.

Within the womb of a poor peasant girl from an obscure village in Galilee, God the Son became one with the seed of Adam. (Francine Rivers)

It’s pretty incredible.

I have to admit — I’ve heard the Christmas story every year for the past 24 years. I know the drill. Virgin, baby, manger, wise men, gifts, star, shepherds. And so it goes.

But this year, as I feel our son growing and kicking and moving inside me, I can’t seem to get Mary off my mind. I find myself imagining the details — playing those nine months over in my mind.

Mary…who were you?

Did you deal with heartburn? Were you exhausted from uncomfortable, sleepless nights? Were you as scared as I am when it comes to childbirth?

Could you fathom your role in the redemption of the world?

God didn’t have to dwell on earth at all. But he did — and chose a young girl of little-to-no status to carry him and to raise him until he was ready to leave — two both incredibly amazing feats.

When the Gabriel the angel first appeared to Mary, he told her she was beautiful — that she radiated God’s beauty inside and out.

She was shaken, so he tells her not to be afraid. I’m just guessing, but I’m pretty sure he told her that because she was freaking out.

Can you even imagine? Did she really believe he was an angel? She was spiritual — did she think it was some sort of demon trying to trick her?

It makes me wonder — how many times has God been telling me something, but I’m too scared to respond? Too riddled with fear to stand firm in faith and trust his adoration? To trust his blessings? To follow through in his mission for me?

Thankfully, Mary believed.

She had faith that the utterly impossible was amazingly tangible with her God.

The angel also gave Mary a head’s up that her beloved, believed-to-be-barren old cousin was also expecting, which was a huge miracle and probably an answer to Mary’s (and many others’) prayers.The Message says this is what happens next:

Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed! And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

Mary spent the next three months staying with Elizabeth. I wonder if they ever stopped marveling together. I could just see Elizabeth’s old hand on Mary’s expanding belly, waiting to feel a kick from the long-expected babe — to physically feel the hint of the redemption of humanity. The Message says this is how Mary responded to Elizabeth’s joyful proclamation, emphasis mine:

I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Theologians and scholars agree that Mary was young — I’ll be 25 this Christmas, and chances are, she was much younger than me. Barely beyond a child. And yet such wisdom poured out from her. She definitely wasn’t a clueless girl — she was steeped in spirituality.

So, let’s fast forward to the night we know (or think we know) so well: The night love came down. The night that changed everything.

I’ve decided to create a birthplan for my labor and delivery. (Slightly neurotic, I know.) I’ve been reading, researching, and replaying scenarios in my mind. We’re going to a childbirth class in January. I plan to deliver at in a hospital room with a lovely view. It has a whirlpool tub. I’m getting to know my physician well. I’m creating a birth playlist. I’ll have my baby-is-coming bag packed three months early.

Mary — who carried the most important baby of all time — did not have the luxury of doing this. (Well, that I’m aware of. Educated guess.) Maybe she had plans to give birth with a trusted midwife. Maybe she imagined close friends and family around, with her mother there to hold her hand, whispering soothing songs. Maybe she pictured a serene scenario — she was giving birth to the prince of peace, after all.

But as we all know, things didn’t quite happen that way.

Poor Mary — nine months pregnant and required to travel. And not in a comfy leather SUV, either. I’m already fatigued when it comes to thinking about travel — I really can’t even imagine her comfort level in that warm, Mediterranean climate, riding a camel as it weaved and swerved through the night, bumping her up and down. (Or maybe she was walking? Exhausting either way.)

Did she have a headache? Did she have early contractions? Was the sweat matting her hair to her forehead? Did she complain? Did she still radiate that inner and outer beauty that Gabriel had told her about before?

Giving birth out of town, out of your comfort zone, would be one thing, but delivering somewhere where her newborn was placed in a manger? With all of those hormones blazing?

I imagine exhaustion and excitement racing through her veins…with only Joseph by her side. Did he know anything about birth? Did he comfort her? Or was he freaked out, too?

Did Mary doubt God? Do you think she kept waiting for God to open up a room for them — for a servant to come running to her and Joseph, breathlessly inviting the couple to warm and safe quarters where Mary could deliver the king of kings and lord of lords?

It begins to put my birth anxiety in perspective.

From all we know about Mary, she was was willing. She was blessed with an incredible honor, a divine selection — and she never forgot it.

I think Mary was really brave.

In Greek, Mary is theotokos — which means God-bearer. Could she fathom that she would give birth to both God and man, divine and human?

Can we really fathom it now?

What a beautiful mystery.

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