During Advent, I often wonder about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Perhaps it is because Protestants don’t pay much attention to her that she intrigues me.
This year, we went to our congregation’s late night Christmas Eve service (11pm) which also ushers in Christmas day. At one point, as we were sitting there enjoying the music, singing carols, and listening to the Christmas meditation, my daughter leaned over to me and said, “if this were the first Christmas, Mary would be in that stable, with all the animals, in labor.” I nodded, unwilling at that moment to destroy my pristine service with that rather uncomfortable thought.
But after church, my daughter brought the subject up again. She noted how ironic it is that we spend Christmas Eve thinking about the birth of Jesus, our Savior, and say nearly nothing about the one who painfully gave him birth that night.
Of course we don’t talk much about her the rest of the season either. She may get a nod on one of the Sundays in Advent depending on the gospel reading for the day. Or maybe, some astute preacher will spend a little extra time one week on Mary’s song. Personally, I have heard very few sermons that focus on Mary. And I have never been in a church where the season of Advent brought in Mary as anything other than an afterthought or part of the “holy family.”
But having carried and given birth to three children, it is striking to me what Mary sacrificed for the sake of our salvation. Did she have morning sickness? Swelling ankles? And what about that walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem? I am told it was about a four day journey. Nine months pregnant and walking for four days, about 20 miles a day??? That does not sound like an insignificant thing to me. I bet she did not bargain for that when she replied to the angel’s announcement, “May it be to me as you have said.”
And then, forty days after giving birth in a stable, that ominous announcement from Simeon, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Did she wonder what sort of blessing that was? Did she think the old man had lost his mind temporarily? Did she remember those strange words some thirty years later as she stood in pain again at the foot of the cross?
I don’t, of course, know the answers to any of these questions. But I do ponder them. And as a woman, who not infrequently wonders what a Godly life looks like, I find Mary a poignant example of self-sacrificial love and submissive service to God. In fact, for me, the question “what would Mary do,” that is, what would a woman who is merely human and not divine do, is a much more helpful question than “what would Jesus do.” Her suffering and sacrifices I can truly relate to.