One of my favorite Christmas hymns is “Mary Did You Know“. Something about the haunting melody. But the most powerful aspect for me is the words. Words that cause me to stop and realize that what we now celebrate as Christmas has a very human side.
Mary was a young woman when visited by Gabriel and told she would conceive by the Power of the Holy Spirit and bear a son. She was asked to name him Jesus – Emmanuel which means “God with us”.
I wonder if in the mili-seconds prior to giving her consent to PAPA’s Will, she thought about the ramifications of being a single pregnant girl in the culture of her day? After all, they stoned women for such behavior. And how in the world would she explain that she had not been with a man?
What about Joseph, her betrothed? How would he convince the villagers of Nazareth that he had not been sexually active with the woman who was not yet his wife? And on my, would he desert and brand her an adulterous young woman who betrayed his trust?
We know the story backwards. And we tend to romanticize it. After all, we know that the worst case scenario did not occur. Joseph took her as his bride and made her pregnancy and child ‘legitimate’ in the human eyes of all.
The truth of the Christmas story is that it happened to real people. It isn’t a glorified fairy tale, but the true story of a young woman barely out of her teens, if that age at all. A young woman who risked it all to say “yes” to bringing God’s Son to life within her and from her.
It’s the story of a bewildered man who dearly loved Mary and wanted nothing more than to be her husband, raise a family with her and protect her for the rest of his earthly life. Suddenly he’s thrust into history and faced with the choice of a lifetime – to wed her. Or brand her a “scarlet woman”.
When I raised money for a Roman Catholic agency that provided services to young single pregnant women and their babies, I shocked the board and donors alike with the statement that Mary was a single pregnant girl who faced death for being an unwed mother. Shocked because the religion has surrounded the very human story of Christmas with a romantic aura that keeps us from experiencing the Christmas miracle as it occurred over 2000 years ago!
Without the knowledge of how it was; we can hardly comprehend the reality that took place in order for each of us to be reconnected to our Heavenly PAPA – something He longed to have happen! And it did – because a young woman faced a hostile cultural environment to do His Will. And because a real man obeyed the commands given in a dream to bring the reality to pass.
One of my favorite films recounting the Christmas story is “The Nativity Story”. It presents the human side of the story better than any other media. Mary’s bewilderment at Gabriel’s announcement becomes real; as does her recognition that having said “yes” puts her in a precarious situation. We live her decision to spend a lengthy visit with cousin Elizabeth, only to return obviously pregnant. Then there’s the shame and consternation of her parents, and Joseph’s decision to take her as his wife regardless of what others may think.
But the real beauty is in recognizing the hardships the young couple endure to live out the Father’s Will. An arduous journey by donkey over dry rough terrain to reach Jerusalem in time for the census ordered by Augustus Caesar. Women, imagine being 9 months pregnant and riding a donkey in the hot Judean sun knowing labor will soon begin?
My dear friends, Jesus’ birth was anything but ‘romantic’. It occurred in a stinky smelly dark and dank cave because that was all that was available. It was most likely cold because the desert nights are as cold as the days are hot. There was no epidural to relieve the pain. And no OB-GYN to oversee the birth and make certain all went well. There was not even a midwife – just a loving husband giving his all to assist in the birth of a child he would take as his own.
And I doubt there was a halo about His head. When he emerged from the birth canal, he was covered with embryonic fluid with no nurse to bath and wrap him in a blanket with a blue bonnet to denote his gender. No, instead he was wrapped in cloths used by the innkeeper to clean his establishment. Hopefully they were clean cloths!
The only family to rush in and ooh ahh were the animals and a host of angelic voices announcing his birth to those who had ears to hear!
One of the reasons I so love “Mary Did You Know” and “The Nativity Story” is it’s focus on how it really was. For how it really was makes the miracle of what happened to 2 young Nazarene’s in that smelly cave over 2000 years ago even more miraculous.
For had it come down from Heaven’s heights as the romanticists describe – it would not be rooted in the very humanity His birth was designed to heal!
Blessings in this Season of Joy,
Linda S. Fitzgerald, Visionary Partner
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