My grandfather made us a wooden nativity ornament set the first year my husband and I got married and I’ve put the pieces hodge podge on our tree every year since that first year 7 Christmases ago. Maybe I’d pause to make sure the Baby Jesus piece was somewhere it could be seen instead of hidden in the back, but maybe not. I definitely didn’t give the other pieces a second thought as I found places for them all over the tree. This year, however, when I pulled Mary out of the box, with my 4-year-old unwrapping ornaments next to me and my 18mo old pulling the ornaments off the tree just as fast as they were going up, I paused. I saw that figure kneeling in her nondescript robes and pictured Mary as a mom. Yes, I’ve always known Mary was the mother of Jesus, and I’ve marveled at the obedience of her words, “let it be,” but not often have I stopped to picture, really picture, her as a mom. Not the Holy Mother, but “mom.” As I pulled that little Mary out of the box and found a place for her on the tree, I started thinking. I started picturing. I started picturing Mary as the human Mom that she was. Jesus was fully human and fully God, but Mary? She was fully human. An extraordinary human, no doubt, but human nonetheless.
The verses in Luke that are read every year state quickly, “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.” As I have had the extreme privilege of being pregnant and given birth two times myself, I began to think about those verses and what they actually mean as a human woman, and I started picturing Mary.
I pictured that human Mary gazing at the stretch marks adorning her growing belly, tracing them with her fingers as she pictured the tiny nose she would soon be tracing. I pictured Mary tossing and turning at night, wadding up extra linens to support her sore back as she tried to sleep. I pictured Mary giggling like the girl she was, when the baby in her belly kicked and rolled, causing her skin to ripple like the dessert sand on a windy day. I pictured Mary, large and uncomfortable asking Joseph to help her strap the sandals around her swollen feet as they got ready to make the 90mile trek to Bethlehem. I pictured Mary telling Joseph they had to stop so she could pee…again. I pictured Mary feeling the first contractions, knowing it would soon be time. I pictured Mary, slightly panicked as the pain intensified and the alarms in her brain started going off, her voice tense and choppy between contractions, pleading with Joseph to find a place, any place, they could stop. I pictured Mary telling Joseph the stable was fine, telling him to hurry, telling him it hurt-so-bad. I pictured Mary moaning in pain as her sweaty body rocked back and forth with the back to back contractions. I pictured Mary feel the tell tale pressure, eyes wide with fright, pain and excitement as she gasped to Joseph – “He’s coming.”
And oh, I pictured Mary, human as I, grunt with the guttural, instinctual cry of physically pushing life out into the world. I pictured her half laughing, half crying as she held her son for the first time on her chest. I pictured her trying to get him to latch, and picture her wincing when the latch isn’t quite right. I pictured her wearily waking in the night to feed her babe as Joseph lay peacefully sleeping on the hay a few feet away. I pictured her changing his swaddling cloths in the night, shushing him back to sleep while she paced the inside of that stable, rocking him gently in her arms, feeling her heart explode with love so pure and so profound it was a little scary. I pictured her pondering these things in that heart.
I picture all this and more. Mary tired for weeks on end. Mary beaming with pride over her boy learning to walk. Mary crying quietly by herself because her son was growing so fast and she knew he was destined for greatness beyond her. Mary as a toddler mom being frustrated that her cooking wasn’t received well at every meal. Mary realizing in panic that her tween was missing. Mary as a mom of a teenage boy. Mary having all the mixed emotions as she saw crowds start to follow her boy. Mary at the cross. Human mom Mary, wailing with despair over her son. That little baby she held in her arms only 33 short years before in the stable on that first Christmas night – being hung up before her eyes. Dying before her eyes. Her baby. Yes, the Savior of the World, but also, her sweet baby boy. I wonder, did her moans of pain as she watched the life leave her son’s eyes sound reminiscent of the moans of pain that ushered in that same life? I can’t imagine.
Mary – chosen by God to be Mom, in all her humanness, to the Messiah. To Emmanuel. When she gasped those words to Joseph, “He’s coming” she was gasping to the World. She knew, as she snuggled her babe and breathed in his intoxicating newborn scent, that He was not hers alone, or hers to keep, and yet… she was his mom. What a profound gift and a profound burden for a human woman to carry.
May we, as humans, as women, as moms, learn from Mary. Learn how to demonstrate humility and grace in this role we’ve been given as moms. Learn to love without bounds and without restraint, the littles we have been given on this Earth. And let us remember, they are not ours alone, nor are they ours to keep. May we surrender their little hearts and big futures to the One who formed them.
And may we trust our role of “mom” to the One who knew the pain Mary would endure as a flawed human in her role, but also knew the great capacity for love that human heart beating in her chest held and so entrusted her with His very own son sent to redeem us all.