As much as I love that book and all the Christmas traditions, I struggle with not actually presenting the story…the beautiful Christmas story the way it really happened. I have glamorized the story and the characters so much in my own mind that they don’t seem like real people any more. What was the first Christmas really like? What happened? What does the Bible actually say? This year I have been wondering about Mary. The real Mary…who was she and what was it like. I’ve been trying to put myself in her shoes. The being pregnant part is pretty easy…but beyond that.
Luke 1 and 2 gives us the Christmas story. First, historically they believe Mary is probably about 14 years old. The teenage idea hadn’t been established yet, and at this very young age Mary was already engaged. I still marvel though at all she handles at such a young age. She still has only lived 14 years, and she doesn’t have much life experience to pull from. Mary has a huge surprise. The first response we see from her is that she is “confused and disturbed”. Mary doesn’t know why an angel is appearing to her. Some surprises in life are overwhelming. It could be the unexpected jobs lose or the phone call with devastating news or a relationship that is lost. None of us truly knows what’s around the corner. God had big plans for Mary, but she didn’t have any warning. The plans were huge and wonderful, but Mary also had some hard days ahead. I think, I would have asked the angel…could you appear to my parents too because I don’t know how this conversation will go. And I would also like you to somehow tell the village here in Galilee because I don’t think I want to explain this a hundred times, and what if they don’t believe me. Shouldn’t Jesus have a mother with a good reputation? This is going to destroy me, and what about Joseph.
The angel does leave Mary with some help though. First, he tells her about her relative Elizabeth who is pregnant in her old age when she thought she was barren. He also gives her verse 37 “For nothing is impossible with God.” So he gives her someone to talk to, someone who would believe her. Elizabeth knew God worked in crazy ways. God knew Mary needed someone with whom to share her heart. We all need that. Secondly, He gave a promise she could rely on through this time. I wonder if this was Mary’s life verse. She needed this when people didn’t believe her…maybe when she doubted if she really saw the angel- was it just a dream. As her life continues to unfold, she surely needed this promise.
So how does Mary respond? Is she worried? Is she overwhelmed? However Mary felt she responded by worshipping. She didn’t make a list of what to do next…she didn’t try to go and explain right away. No, she stopped and worshipped. (Read verses 46-55) In these verses we see Mary’s heart...so humble and accepting. We also see Mary’s hope for her people and God’s plan. Life is very uncertain for her right now and because of that she is worshipping. God is in control, and she isn’t. How are you at worshipping when life has taken an unexpected turn? God doesn’t promise an easy life, but he does give the promise that He has a plan…a perfect plan. He also promises to never leave us.
Now as much as I love my beautiful Advent book, it doesn’t portray what the first Christmas actually looked like. Close to the time Mary is due to have Jesus, Mary and Joseph have to travel to Bethlehem for a census. As a pregnant lady, thinking about making a trip of 60 miles by riding on an animal or walking sounds awful to say the least. Mary is probably not very impressed with Caesar Augustus…Romans…Joseph…or anyone else at this time. When they reach Bethlehem, life doesn’t get any easier or prettier for Mary.
Remember the whole…innkeeper…and the statement that there’s no room in the inn? Well, the Bible doesn’t actually ever mention an innkeeper. And the fact that there was no room- probably refers to something a little different than what we have pictured on our Christmas cards. Mary and Joseph were probably going to stay with family. Everyone was camping out in a large family room. That would have been the normal way to house guests, but because Mary was ready to have a baby they probably decided not to stay in the family room with everyone else. That would have been awkward. Instead they went to the downstairs courtyard. The animals were kept downstairs, and that’s probably where the manager was. So instead of a lonely stable on a hillside Jesus might have been born in the downstairs of a crowded house. Still not fit for a king…not ideal for a baby…and animals were involved.
Mary had to be wondering why can’t I do this at home, and where is my mom! As the pain of childbirth becomes overwhelming, Mary probably wonders about her role in all of this. Couldn’t it be pain-free since it’s God’s Son. Couldn’t the conditions be better? Remember Mary is a real lady…not understanding the whys of her life and God’s plan. God’s plan wasn’t easy…but it was a beautiful. We can see that, but Mary probably didn’t. Our life is the same…all the stuff we don’t like. All the pain and suffering that seems useless to us- it’s part of the big plan.
So what should we do with the real Mary? First, know that life isn’t going to always look like a Christmas card for any of us. It didn’t for Mary. Remember that God doesn’t promise us an easy life. And lastly, when life hurts, worship God. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.