Inside the stable, tucked in a corner away from the draft, a feed trough in front of her, the new mother sat, eyes closed, her sway keeping time with her softly hummed melody. The baby in her arms awake, motionless for the moment, stared intently at the source of the sound he heard and felt.
She was lost in her own jumble of thoughts. She had been so often in the last nine months. The events of this night, the whole pregnancy, left the young mother with no words and a knot of emotions that she lacked the words to express.
Musty hay, blatting sheep, and earthy smelling cows were nothing but a forgettable backdrop as the weight of the child in her arms pulled her deeper into her own thoughts. This was a moment of introspection and contemplation, certainly not the first, likely not the last. Her exultant moment of pain culminated in the small wrinkly bundle in her lap.
Mary sat and pondered, not just the events of tonight, but everything that had led to this moment.
The shepherd’s story forced her back to the night Gabriel appeared. Mind Gabriel. Mary wondered if he was the one the shepherds saw. Miraculous births seemed to be his mission. Zechariah said that Gabriel was the angel who told him about the coming pregnancy of Elizabeth. He may have been the one who visited Joseph too. Angels had delivered some astonishing messages about this little child.
Mary remembered Gabriel’s visit. As scared as the shepherds had said they were when the angel showed up in the sky overhead, that wasn’t what Mary remembered. The disturbing part of Gabriel’s arrival wasn’t the sudden appearance or the heavenly figure; it was what he said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” What did that mean? He didn’t explain. Not really. Only said that she had found favor with the Lord. Why? What for?
The answer to the second question would change everything, not just for Mary . . . for everyone. And it would start Mary on her path of reflection and contemplation. She was going to have a very special baby, a baby who would be a ruler.
In the stable, Mary thought of Gabriel’s words. She had indeed become pregnant despite being a virgin. She cradled the boy in her arms and smiled at him. She still wasn’t entirely sure why she had been chosen for this pleasure. Gabriel had said, “favored,” repeated it, and as the infant grabbed her finger, she knew she was indeed favored.
Mary looked at her son. How would he become king? This little one was to sit on David’s throne forever, but she was a simple girl and Joseph a carpenter. How would their child become the ruler of Israel? Surely the God who gave her the child could give the child the throne, but Mary wondered how, when. What would it mean for her and Joseph? How would they raise a king?
As she gazed at the infant king, Mary thought again of the angel’s message to Joseph.
She remembered his dream and his confession to the reason for the angelic visit—his thoughts of her infidelity and plans to divorce her. She had tried to explain, she told Joseph of Gabriel’s visit to her, of her faithfulness to him and the divine source of the life in her womb. She understood how implausible the whole thing must have seemed. She was still grappling with the reality herself. Not surprising that a heavenly message was needed to convince him.
She remembered the change in Joseph after his dream. His words of love and commitment to her and the unborn child, the boy who would be “God with us.” She knew this would be a difficult path for both of them.
Mary reflected on what the angel had told Joseph of the child’s destiny: “He will save his people from their sins.”
None of that had been a part of her girlhood fantasies. Pregnant before marriage was not what happened to good Jewish girls. What would her family say? If Joseph didn’t believe her, why would they? How would she face her friends or go to the synagogue? Was she in over her head? Had her submission been too rash?
As she sat with the animals, she remembered the glances and whispers. She had guessed what they said about her, about Joseph, and had feared what they would say about her child. But looking down at her son, the fact that in her innocence she endured the accusations of sin, mattered little. The bundle in her arms was going to save people from sins.
She pondered her tiny sin-rescuing savior. Images of the Temple and sheep filled her mind. How did this little one relate to that? Bulls, goats, blood, Mary thought of her own sins—though this little one was not the result of any—and the sins of a nation. How could this little one rescue? What did her precious boy have to do with the sacrifices of the Temple?
Mary remembered these events and she pondered the future of this little one as she held him: a ruler, a savior, God with us.
She didn’t know what it would mean to raise this little one in her arms. She wondered whether the advice of other mothers would apply to raising “God with us.” Mary was overwhelmed with the angelic words spoken about her unborn child. And that was before the shepherds peaked in.
Timid heads peaked around the corner. They were calm, but vibrated with a clear tremor of excitement.
Awkward introductions followed. Strangers wanted to see her baby, her Jesus. Didn’t they know how special he was? They did. Mary listened as they recounted their tale. Another angel with additions to the list of amazing things this child would be. For all the things that the angel had told Mary and Joseph about the birth of Jesus and who he would grow to be, the angel had told the shepherds something new, Jesus was the Messiah!
Mary watched these strangers stare at her son as she thought of that single word, Messiah. Jesus, her new baby, the child who not many hours ago was still in her womb, was king, savior, Messiah. How could she raise Messiah? What would she tell him? What would she need to tell him? A new mother has so much to learn, but to raise the Messiah? Her mind began to wander to all the things the prophets had said about the coming of the promised one.
There was much to treasure and ponder. Ramifications
It’s easy to be infected by the shepherd’s excitement and wonder. We can post our banners of Jesus being the reason for the season, the need to keep Christ in Christmas. We can tell people that Christmas Joy starts with Jesus, or proclaim that wise men still seek him, or that the manger was the first King size bed! To run off and tell all who will listen, and even some who won’t, of the birth of the Savior.
But perhaps this Christmas Mary is our example. Has it has been a while since you have contemplated the meaning and depth of the birth of Jesus?
Perhaps this Christmas is the time to ponder the savior, to sit and treasure who he is. To wonder that a savior comes to save, as the angel told Joseph, “he will save his people from their sins.”
Maybe this Christmas it is time to reflect, and reflect specifically on what Jesus has saved you from. It is easy to be thankful for forgiveness generally, but it is difficult to own the sins from which we need to be saved. Take some time to look back, and reflect on the sins that Jesus has saved you from. Not in guilt and humiliation, but in quiet thanks that those actions were part of the very reason that God the Son became Mary’s son and lay wrapped in clothes surrounded by the animals.
This Christmas may be the one to contemplate the birth of the king. Jesus, the one who now sits at God’s right hand will sit, forever, on the throne of David. As you celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is a season to remember that as king he is both ruler and leader. Perhaps it is a Christmas for you to ponder your own response to Jesus. Who do you say he is? How does that reality bleed into your life?
We can live in rebellion to the king: ignoring his life, seeking our own rights and desires, spending our time, energy, and money in pursuit of our own ambitions, passing by those who need our help with even a glance, claiming that what we have is ours by right or earning, declaring to the world that none shall infringe upon our self-sovereignty.
Or we can live in allegiance, living the life he showed us: honoring God, loving others, caring for the orphans and the widows, befriending those who are downtrodden, giving to those who cannot give back, recognizing that what we have is given to us by him and using it ways that he would ask, and inviting everyone we meet into his kingdom, to join us in the life we were intended to live.