Somehow the Christmas story becomes fresh for me each year like an untouched covering of snow. As life changes, I am able I see Jesus' birth in a new light. This Christmas season I find myself reflecting on Mary. No, I haven't converted to Catholicism, I just feel like I can relate to her now more than ever before. I know what it's like to carry a child, give birth, and care for a newborn. I keep wondering how Mary did it.
Her birth story happened amidst extenuating circumstances. As a woman pregnant outside of wedlock, she was looked down upon. Many judgmental glances passed her way. Her fiance almost up and left when he found out she was expecting. She and Joseph were scorned by their family who didn't buy the whole "immaculate conception" story.
As Mary drew near to her due date, a census was taken. Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to register. This meant that Mary had to ride for miles on the back of a donkey--while she was full term. I could barely handle being in the car for two hours when I was that pregnant! After that long journey, Mary couldn't even find a place to kick back and put up her swollen feet. There was "no room at the inn."
According to some biblical scholars the "Inn" referred, not to a hotel as we'd understand it in modern days, but to space in a home. In this time period, hospitality was the norm. Rather than staying in a hotel when you traveled, a family would host you. Since Mary and Joseph had traveled to Joseph's hometown to for the census, this actually meant that Joseph's distant relatives wouldn't take them in, and instead pointed them to the nearest stable. "No room," was just an excuse. Can you imagine being so shunned by your family members that they would turn away a woman who was nine months pregnant? This is how God chose to come to earth.
When it came time to give birth, Mary's delivery happened in a cold, dark cave probably next to a pile of sheep poo. She had no midwife coaching her. No mother encouraging her. No epidural. Nobody bringing her ice chips or wet rags. Her only support came from a man, her betrothed, that she barely knew. Yet this is what the Lord tasked her with. He gave her this job because he considered her "honored," "chosen," and "favored."
Even after the birth she had to go into hiding because a jealous king wanted to kill her son. Joseph and Mary had to flee to a foreign land to escape his wrath. How alone they must have felt. Throughout all of this adversity, Mary had to take care of baby Jesus. She was promised a savior, and yet for months he was just a crying, pooping, (hopefully) sleeping baby. It was years before Jesus did anything remarkable. I wonder if Mary ever grew weary waiting for God to fulfill his promise. Did she ever get lost in the mundane chores of keeping this little "Son of God," alive and well?
Not to mention, Mary had to do all of this without the modern conveniences that we have today. Mary didn't have nursing pillows. She didn't have lactation consultants or nipple butter. What if Jesus had latching issues? Or Mary got Mastitis? What on earth did they use for diapers back then? How did she wash Jesus' clothes when he had, yet another blowout? Who did Mary ask for help? She couldn't google, "Is his poop supposed to be that color?" She couldn't text her mom, "Is this normal?" Or "Will this get better?" I don't know how she did it.
I find myself asking, "Mary did you know?" And not the cutesy version. More like, Mary did you know what you were getting yourself into? Did she know how this was all going to play out when the angel came and she humbly, boldly stated, "I am willing to be used by the Lord." If she had known what this was going to cost her, would she still have said, "Yes," to God? At any point throughout this journey did she begin to ask, "Really God? This is the honor you chose to give me?" Did she ever think to herself, "Some favor."
Without a doubt, Mary suffered. It might sound strange and a bit sadistic, but that fact gives me hope. Because, to really be honest with you, I have been suffering for the past four months. It feels wrong to even say that. The words come out with a tinge of guilt. A baby is a blessing! I love my son more than I have ever loved anyone else. There are times that I just stare at his face and think, "How did I get so lucky?" I have a husband who loves me. I got pregnant without difficulty. My son is healthy, happy, and thriving. Yet, at the same time, this is the most difficult thing that I have ever done.
Having a baby has brought much joy, but also much pain. I've had to give up my independence. Live life according to another's whim. Give of myself whenever this wee human beckoned. I've had to go without sleep. And finally start getting some sleep. And then go without sleep again, without any foreseeable cause. I've gotten lost in the drudgery of another diaper change. Another rocking session. Another mess to clean up. I've felt alone. More alone than I've ever felt--like the walls of my home might close in on me. I've wondered, what is the point of this? This work that God has asked me to do, will it amount to anything?
Then, I think of sweet Mary. God chose her. He had a great work in mind for her. She was blessed among women: hand-selected for this particular role. Did he make her a preacher? An evangelist? A missionary? A philanthropist? Nope. She was just a mom. I find strength in knowing that part of God's great rescue plan for the world involved a woman doing the very things that I do day in and day out.
Mary's suffering lead to hope. She suffered through pregnancy and childbirth and the light of the world came. She suffered through raising her child, and he became the hope of nations. Then, Jesus following suit, suffered the cross. His suffering brought forgiveness and reconciliation. Through suffering came hope. I can only hold out as much hope as I can muster that maybe, something good will come of my suffering, too. That like Mary, the things I do every day might mean something. That through my suffering, I will find hope and bring it to others. Maybe, my ordinary, at times painful, life will make a difference in this world. I will hold on to this hope. (And on the days that I can't, will you hold onto it for me?)