Mary, Did You Know?
Every year, as preparations for Christmas are underway, I find myself pondering one aspect of Advent or another, compelled by the mystery of it all to quiet my heart and make room for Jesus.
This year, I can’t stop thinking about Mary and the way God Himself chose to enter humanity. No doubt this is because I have had the great privilege of coming alongside many expectant mothers this year, helping them and their husbands mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically prepare for the profound experience of childbirth. I’ve seen several babies (including three Waypoint babies!) come into the world this year in all the anguish, struggle, mess, and beauty that each unique birth entails. In my view, there is nothing else more humbling, raw, powerful, or glorious than childbirth—I truly tasted the glory of God at each birth!—and the exhausted mothers, every time, are my heroes.
The births I’ve experienced, including the births of my own two sons, were in clean, Western hospital settings, with mothers and fathers surrounded by a network of support at the birth as well as at home.
("Virgin Mary Consoles Eve" - Crayon and pencil by
Sir Grace Remington, OCSO. Copyright 2005,
Cistercian Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey.)
Ah, but Mary…
Mary, who was hardly older than a child when she learned, quite by surprise, that she would carry and give birth to God’s son. Mary, who would be pregnant and unmarried—a punishable offense in her culture at the time—still said “yes” (“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38, ESV). Mary, who had no hospital checklist ticked or bag packed, but rather had to travel by donkey to a place unknown… who probably coped in and out of labor contractions while on the back of the lowly animal, with no certainty of where she would deliver the child. Mary, who was offered a stable as her birthplace, surrounded by animals and animal poop… Teenage Mary, with only her husband beside her, who struggled and groaned and cried out in the night as she surrendered herself to the power of birth. And Joseph (who I doubt had accompanied Mary to childbirth classes!), who singlehandedly delivered the baby! Their only option for a place to lay the baby: a feeding trough. The unconventional aspect of every aspect of our Lord’s birth plan is remarkable when you stop to consider it. How could Mary have known all the uncertainty of what was before her when she submitted to grow and carry a child to be named Jesus? She didn’t, but she serves as an example to all of us to surrender and trust God’s plan.
And I’m left to wonder if Mary had any idea of how her son’s birth would serve to fulfill a long-ago curse on Satan and redeem a long-ago “curse” placed on womankind? When Eve and Adam, tempted by disguised Satan’s deceit, disobeyed God’s one rule in the Garden, sin entered the picture and humanity’s fellowship with God Himself fractured. Interestingly, God did not interrogate the snake but immediately cursed it, forever removing his protection, favor and presence, and marking its future: that one of woman’s offspring will crush it and the evil, sin and death that the snake represents. Meanwhile, God’s reprimand of Eve and Adam was harsh but not hopeless, each receiving the “curse” of painful toil/anguish (“itsavon” in Hebrew) in childbearing and earthtending. There is a great deal more I could say about pain in childbirth—how it differs from pain in illness, injury or stress in that it’s purposeful—but it’s remarkable that, even in Genesis, there is God’s maintained protection, favor, and presence on His children and a glimpse of redemption.
While the effects of the Fall abound and we experience this daily, God designed the process of conceiving, carrying, birthing, nursing, and rearing offspring—as well as work—as opportunities to co-create and co-labor with Him, in partnership. How amazing is that?! Women and men alike can look to Mary as an example of a servant of the Lord who willfully and gracefully submitted and trusted in God to be used by Him, even if it involved uncertainty, anguish, loneliness, yet joy.
Even more profound than Mary’s surrender and the unconventional circumstances of Jesus’ birth is that God would choose pregnancy and childbirth as His means of entering the world. He could have supernaturally appeared as a full-grown man or come gloriously robed in victory as we trust He will someday; but no, He came meekly in the form of an ordinary, completely helpless baby, in the same way every single human being since Adam and Eve has come into the world—in the mess of childbirth. In the words of author of Holy Labor, a book I love to give to expectant couples in my childbirth classes, “The Creator of all took on the form of a baby and entered the womb of a young woman and was nourished by her body. God Himself was squeezed by contractions in the uterus and pushed through a vagina, his head molded and misshapen by the stress of birth. He was connected to a placenta, covered in blood, and struggled for that first breath—though He Himself gives the breath of life. He rooted for Mary’s breast, receiving nourishment from His mother’s milk though He sustains all life in the universe … if Jesus was a real human, then, He subjected Himself to real birth, with all its messiness and blood and trauma. God did not avoid the birth canal, the infantile dependence, and the utter humility of this part of the human life. He entered right in. His participation in the reality of birth and infancy makes the incarnation all that much more incredible” (p. 75, capitalization added). Suddenly, in the still of the night, God had restored His presence among His people as a baby—what an extraordinary, yet ordinary, moment in the history of the world!
When I think about Mary this Advent, I wonder if she had any idea that in her joyful obedience and the unpresuming birth of her son, the promise of a redeemer who crushes the evil one, would be fulfilled? While Eve’s fruit led to brokenness and misery, Mary’s fruit—the fruit of her womb, Jesus—was blessed (Luke 1:42)! Indeed, God came meekly, and fellowship with mankind that He had intended was restored. The Kingdom of God broke through that night. The rule of evil was broken. Sin no longer reigns. And now, redemption is unfolding all over the earth, and will come to a glorious climax with the return of King Jesus. Let us all rejoice in this “good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10) and marvel at the wonders of God this Advent Season!