Every month at our MOPS/MOMS meeting a mentor mom gives a quick devotional and a short prayer. December was my month and since we didn’t have a speaker for the meeting I was asked to talk a little bit longer. So I wrote something up and I decided to post it here. Because, you know, it’s already written so I may as well. Keep in mind it was written as a speech. I was going to finagle it into my kind of writing, but changed my mind.
I hate to state the obvious, but Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. We all know he wasn’t really born on the 25th, or in the month of December for that matter. And even though Christmas – or Christ’s Mass – was created to replace a pagan holiday with a Christian holiday, the idea is still worth celebrating.
Most of us grew up learning about the virgin Mary’s visit from an angel and her fiancé, Joseph, and their trip to Bethlehem in which she rode a donkey while very pregnant (though I don’t even think that’s in the Bible) and finding no room in the inn and Mary giving birth to Jesus in a manger alongside the animals and wrapping him in swaddling clothes and a multitude of angels and a bunch of shepherds and three wise kings bringing him gifts and all that. Even non-Christians know all about that story.
This is more than just a story and it’s really easy to forget that.
The Christmas story took on a whole new meaning for me 19 years ago. That was my first Christmas with a child. I remember looking at my precious 8-month-old son and wondering how it had been for Mary. Obviously they didn’t celebrate Christmas, but I tried to put myself in her place.
Luke 1:30-3330But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
So this is where the first difference came in. I conceived my son the good old fashioned way. More than that, though. Mary knew the child she carried was from God. She understood he was special beyond imagination. But I suspect that when she felt that precious child kick for the very first time she felt no more in love than any of us when we felt that first kick.
Luke 2: 4-7 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Do you remember when you held your baby for the first time? Some of you may have adopted a child and I don’t believe it’s any different. Whether biological or not, your own child is as precious to you as Jesus was to Mary and to behold that little being for the first time is nothing short of a miracle – immaculate conception or not.
Luke 2:8-21 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
I want to hone in on one sentence out of that long bit of scripture – verse 19. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Now when I birthed my babies there were no hosts of angels or bright lights or people I didn’t know flocking to their bassinet to see them, but family and friends did come and they ooooed and awwwwed and I kinda liked it. And just like Mary, I treasured up all those things and have kept them in my heart.
Luke 2:22-35 22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[b]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[c]
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
How many of you don’t like to hear the nice things about your kids? I remember picking one or another child up from preschool or maybe a babysitter and hearing, “He/she is so well behaved. So polite,” and thinking they must have the wrong kid! Even so, I liked hearing it.
But what must she have felt hearing the last sentence? “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Mary was a good Jewish girl and was probably fairly well versed in the scriptures. But I wonder if: A) she knew all the prophecies; and B) she understood what that meant for her son.
About a month after that first Christmas as a new mother, my son, Taylor, didn’t wake up one morning. He tried, but his little lips were gray and his eyes would just roll back into his head and he’d pass out. My husband had bacterial pneumonia so I had to drive Taylor to the Emergency room while Todd talked to the doctor there on the phone and warned of our arrival. They ushered my cherished child and me into a private examination room and performed all manner of tests on him, including a spinal tap. He didn’t flinch. It was at that point a doctor took me out in the hallway and told me I had to be prepared for anything.
Taylor was diagnosed with RSV and admitted to ICU where it was touch and go for the first 24 hours. He’s a strapping 19-year-old now, but to hear “You have to be prepared for anything” 18 years ago is still fresh in my emotion bank.
Some of you have had to hear much worse. Imagine what it was like for Mary to be told, albeit poetically, that someday her heart would break. Maybe she knew exactly what he was talking about or maybe she didn’t. But I’ve no doubt she experienced fear and pain with that one sentence.
Luke 2:36-38 36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[e] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Anna and Simeon served as a reminder to Mary that her son was not your average baby. And yet to Mary he was her treasured child just as our children are treasures to us.
Luke 2:39-52 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[f] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Again, Mary treasured all these things in her heart. There would come a time when she would have to face the unthinkable, but as he was growing up she was making a heart journal, if you will.
For the rest of us there comes a time when we have to let our children go. Our goal as mothers is to train them up in the way of God and see them off into adulthood. As the mother of an out of state college student I can tell you, it’s not easy. I’m happy he’s having such a great college experience and I’m proud of the man he’s becoming, but at the same time I miss my little boy. And for that I’m thankful for everything that I have treasured in my heart over the last 20 years.
When I look at Mary as just a mom and not the mother of the savior of this world, it helps me to see the Christmas story as real. I can relate with a great deal of her experiences and the supernatural parts I can’t relate to help me to see the magnificence of the miracle of Jesus.
So this Christmas, instead of just reading the story as a story, read it as a mom who loves her child beyond description reading about another mom who loves her child beyond description.