A sermon for Christmas Eve
As the bright lights and noise of this anything but silent night began to dwindle into the pre-dawn stillness which is not very still with a newborn lying near you Mary did the best sort of thing you can do in those hours besides sleep – she pondered. She treasured.
The footsteps of the Shepherds and their shouts of alleluia receded into the distance, the angels gave their singing a rest, and I’d wager anyone that Joseph was completely comatose from overload, snoring in a corner. I know because I’ve been there. But Mary sat awake next to her newborn son wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, pondering. Treasuring.
The tendency of artists, poets, songwriters, theologians and everyone else has been to interpret this attitude of Mary’s as nostalgia. Mary looks down at the child in the manger with the kind of gentle glowy love and amazement that suggests she has just been a part of something miraculous. In our imagination the post-labor glow is a suffix on the end of the annunciation: the resolution of the story which began when Gabriel came to tell a frightened young girl from Nazareth that her life was about to change forever.
But though it makes a nice holiday card to think of the scene this way we can only do so by forgetting who Mary is. This is no shrinking violet. This is the composer of the magnificat, who said that God would cast out the rich and powerful and feed the poor and hungry – and would do so through her. This is the woman who faced a general in the army of Heaven giving her orders that would have seemed impossible to any of us, and said, in essence, “I can do that.” Having traveled 80 miles on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem while in the last stages of pregnancy, and just toughed out labor and childbirth without any painkillers or even any assistance but her inexperienced and most likely terrified fiancée… she was not now going to sit there and blush at her accomplishment like it caught her by surprise. This is not your meek and mild Disney heroine. This is Theotokos – the Mother of God.
Mary was not pondering what had just happened, so much as she was treasuring what she knew was coming ahead.
You see, though giving birth is a miraculous feat it pales beside what Mary did next. Without choirs of angels, or shepherds or wise men, or strange stars, or kings, or any of these things she would be a mother to God. When Gabriel had announced that she had been chosen it was not for just those 9 months to carry some extra weight around, feel her organs and bones shifting, her womb expanding and then suddenly to end one wild night in Bethlehem. Gabriel was saying in essence that God trusted her to be the person who would take him to her breast when he cried. God trusted her to keep him warm and safe when his eyes couldn’t even see the full spectrum of color, let alone the ends of the universe. When God couldn’t recognize a human face, let alone design one. When God couldn’t conceive of time, or self, or good, or evil… God would trust her to be the person who shelters and sustains and teaches all these things. God would trust her to be his mother.
As Mary looked into that manger, while the world slept, she pondered the job ahead of her. She would be the one to teach Jesus to walk, to play, to love, and to forgive. She would be the one to dust off scraped knees, and scold him for misbehaving. She would help him grow to know himself as a man, as the first man – the human being on which all other human beings are modeled. The word made flesh.
Not only for the role she played on that night in Bethlehem, but for the role she played over decades we have known her as Mary, the Mother of God.