About 2000 years ago, there was born in Palestine, a Jew who changed profoundly the course of human evolution. So great was his impact on his contemporaries that the gospels of Matthew and Luke employ the birth oracle, a popular OT form used for announcing the birth of a savior, to describe the circumstances of his birth. His conception and birth is foretold by a messenger of God, and his name is preordained - ‘Jesus’, the Greek form of the Semitic ‘Yeshuah’ which means ‘Yahweh saves’, identifying him as the one who will “save his people from their sins” and “rule over the people of Jacob forever (in a) reign (that) shall have no end” (Mt 1:21; Mk 1:30-33).
The infancy narrative of Luke however, also integrates a commissioning story. And here, interestingly, the key figure is not Jesus but Mary, called to be the mother of the Messiah. It is her “Yes” that makes possible the birth of God’s Word into our world and the fulfillment of God’s plan to redeem creation. It is she who first makes visible Emmanuel, ‘God-with-us’.
But it does not come easy to her. As I reflected on the Christmas story one sentence stayed with me: “And Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Throughout Luke’s gospel she ponders over the tumultuous happenings in her young and innocent life. When the angel addresses her, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you”, instead of beaming with pride, she is troubled at the angel’s words, maybe she was also thinking, “Why me? What makes me so ‘highly favoured’?” And so she boldly questions God’s herald. Ultimately this ‘handmaid of the Lord’ accepts God’s challenge but it must have still bothered her, for the first thing she does is take off to meet her aging cousin Elizabeth who like her, is with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is another woman who would understand the turmoil in her life and provide wise counsel. This leads to the ‘Visitation’, an occasion where two women come together when events in their lives are too much for them to handle alone. It provides the setting for Mary’s revolutionary song of freedom from oppression, the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55), a prelude to her son’s Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:3-12).
Mary’s childbirth itself is a celebration orchestrated by God. Along with the gentiles from the East are invited the shepherds, the dispossessed and despised, lowest rung of Jewish society. When the shepherds relate what the Lord had made known to them about her newborn, Mary treasures all these things and ponders them in her heart (Lk 2:15-19). And when the wise men later visit her home, worship the babe in her arms, offering gifts fit for a king (Mt 2:11) what I wonder was running through the head of this humble carpenter’s wife. Was it awe? Fear? Confusion? Again when she meets the prophets Simeon and Anna (Lk 2:25-38) she is left wondering at their prophecy which she fails to understand even when she sees the first signs of the “light of revelation for the Gentiles and glory for God’s people Israel” (Lk 2:32) as her 12-year old teaches the elders in the temple (Lk 2:46-50).
Despite this Mary’s belief in the promises of God never falters. She questions, reflects and waits patiently for God’s plan to unfold trusting in God’s wisdom.
This Christmas let us spend some time pondering the birth of Jesus, not in our heads, but as Mary did, in our hearts. As we reach for bigger, higher and more prominent living let us reflect on the significance of God’s gift to us in the child born that day of a simple, village woman, in an obscure stable in a little town named Bethlehem. In our multi-religious and caste ridden society let us dwell on the message implied in the presence of the religious and social “outsiders” at the birth of our Saviour. Amidst the plenty that we enjoy let us be inspired by Mary’s Magnificat that proclaims the “greatness of our God” who “fills the starving with good things”. Finally, let us contemplate our role as Christ-bearers in the birthing of the Word of God into our greedy, corrupt and selfish world, that we may find a place among Jesus’ “Blessed….who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).
May you experience the love, joy and promise of the miracle of Christmas in your life.
Astrid Lobo Gajiwala