As the Christmas story is unpacked again this season, the characters seem to tumble out of the box with resurrected life. It’s like bringing a freshly cut Christmas tree into the living room — the scent of pine filling the entire house, awaking something inside you — bringing up the child-like enthusiasm all over again!
As these characters come back to life, I realize how much I’ve missed them and how much I’ve missed being a part of their lives. I want to invite them all to come out of their boxes and well-worn books and sit down around our Christmas tree …candles lit …sipping hot chocolate or coffee — so I can listen to them tell their personal story of how it really was that first Christmas.
I would listen to Zachariah — a priest of the Lord and loving husband to his wife, Elizabeth –tell the story of his encounter with the angel, Gabriel, and how he had to quickly learn sign language to share the news he was going to be a daddy in his old age ! I would probably respond to that by telling him not being able to talk would have been torture for me so I very much appreciate his learned patience during that time ! (See Luke chapter 1 for more on that story.)
But I lean in close as Elizabeth and Mary –the mamas — share their part of the story. I watch Elizabeth’s worn face as she shares the grief she lived with for so long of not being able to have any children and the pain of friend’s insensitive words spoken over the years. She tells of her own leaning in close to God and how He met her in those moments of social scorn and disgrace. I watch, though, as her wrinkled eyes light up while telling the wonder and joy of finding out she is pregnant with a son after all those years of agonizing in prayer with God for a child of her own — her questions now being answered in a son named John.
But now I have questions of my own for Elizabeth like …what did you do during those five months in seclusion? (Luke 1:23-25) Were you nauseous and weak? Did you start setting up baby John’s room? Were you making clothes for this long-awaited child? Did you go around the house singing loud praises to God for what He had done? Obviously, things were pretty quiet in your household with your husband , Zachariah, not being able to speak and all ! Or did you enjoy a deeper intimacy with the Father and soak up the depths of His promise concerning your baby — that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth …that he would go out in the spirit and power of Elijah (Wow !) …that he would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (bigger “Wow” !). (John 1:13-17)
And never mind the song, “Mary Did You Know?” …I want to ask, “Elizabeth, did YOU know” that your son, John, would end up living out in the desert during those early years? And were you a little concerned about his diet of bugs and honey ? Were you just a little anxious about that promise ever being fulfilled that said he would prepare the way for the Messiah when obviously, his social skills had to be a little awkward after his time in the desert ! Did you even live long enough to see the fulfillment of that prophecy or did you leave this world with that tucked away in your heart …in faith believing?
More coffee and cocoa would need to be poured up for this next story and I’m on the edge of my seat with anticipation. Oh Mary …what was this all like for you? You were just a young teenager without a lot of money or resources and you lived on the “other side of the tracks” from the socially accepted and well-to-do crowd. In looking at her face I’m pretty sure I’d just get up and give her a big hug her and tell her how proud I was of her and what a good mother she turned out to be !
I lean in even closer to Mary as she talks about how scared she was at first and how she was so confused. This makes me love her even more! I think I would tell her how I related to her fear when she saw the angel, Gabriel, show up in her room unannounced ! — and maybe a , ” What ‘on earth’ did he look like, Mary ?” Did she realize that when God is about to birth something miraculous, it is normal to be confused and afraid? Was it the promise of the Holy Spirit overshadowing you that gave you the resolve and peace to say those famous words, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” And would you have imagined how much these words would mean to me this year as I pray for and long for the intimacy of the Holy Spirit to overshadow me and fill me with His presence …praying for that pure surrender to allow His will to be done in my life?
As she tells of the response of her parents and those in her village to her seemingly “unplanned” pregnancy, I try to imagine the feeling of knowing something miraculous and holy is happening inside you and not being able to fully explain it to those you love most. Where was your mom in all of this Mary? Was she torn between the supernatural possibilities and the social realities? Mary, did your mom know that her baby girl would one day deliver the promised Son of God?
I think I would hold her hand and tell her I’m so sorry for the isolation and rejection she must have felt … the misunderstandings. They had been taught to watch and wait for this very thing to happen but they couldn’t see beyond the knowledge … to the reality.
Ah ! but how your soul must have felt fresh air when you were able to share your story with another understanding heart in Elizabeth — knowing you both were carrying babies destined to change the world ! What freedom and relief it must have been when Elizabeth recognized the reality of “God with us” — the Savior coming in flesh — wrapped safely in your womb! What precious time you must have had together those 3 months — sharing stories of feeling the baby flutter inside along with the flutter of your stomach to certain smells and food. Did you stay up late into the night talking about how your boys might play together one day? Did you dream of what God’s promise over these little ones might look like? Did you have those moments of knowing life might be interesting from here on out — that nothing could ever be the same? And did the tears flow as you realized that as your hearts filled and stretched with joy, the stretching would inevitably break your hearts as well? Oh, Mary — how could you have known it all ! How could any mama know all that would come to pass when holding that little newborn baby in her arms for the first time.
Who knew the depth of love a heart could feel as you hold your son and look into that angelic face — a blessing and a miracle from God’s own hand. Maybe that’s why I’m so endeared to the mamas of the Christmas story and try to imagine what must have been going on in their heart because, you see, 27 years ago I gave birth to our first-born son during the Christmas season and my life has forever been changed. How could I have ever known that I would be filled with so much love for this little baby boy …more than I ever dreamed possible. My mama’s heart is still full and, like Mary, I treasure up all these things and ponder them in my heart.