I met Mary on Christmas Eve, 1984.

Growing up in a protestant church, I heard the Christmas story every year beginning in early childhood.  Back then, I imagined Mary’s angelic face as she held baby Jesus wrapped in a clean, soft flannel blanket while he slept quietly, all snug and warm in the soft hay of a little barn that was illuminated by the brilliance of a star and the glow from Mary’s joy and Joseph’s pride.  The new parents, fresh-faced and gloriously happy, graciously entertained friends and important strangers, who arrived uninvited in that cozy barn to offer congratulations and baby gifts.

Then I became a mother and held my own sleeping baby girl close to my heart in a Christmas Eve service.  As I leaned down to kiss that warm-sweetness of my daughter, my Kirtsyn, the music and scripture readers and soft caroling carried on in worship, but all that faded from my attention with an immediate realization…an absolute knowing in my soul emerged.

The innocent story from my imagination abruptly dissolved into an understanding of Mary’s true story.

Mary must have been scared, really scared.  Even though the angel’s visitation seemed so real at the time, and Elizabeth spent months reassuring her that she would be blessed, Mary’s situation was precarious at best.  A mere woman, she was at the mercy of her husband’s decisions.  She was grateful that he was a man of his word who honored his marriage commitment to her in spite of the doubts he surely had.   A man of faith and product of his culture, Joseph did what was expected of him.

Big-bellied and uncomfortable with her baby due, she dutifully traveled with her husband from her home to an unfamiliar place, arriving bone-tired to discover she would have to lodge with the animals.  In a makeshift cave at the back side of an inn, the smells made her wretch, the close quarters gave her no privacy, and so when her labor began, she bore her first child on the filthy dirt floor among the hooves and manure.  There were no female relatives to attend to her.  Perhaps a midwife was fetched to help since Joseph was never prepared to deliver a baby.

There was pain.

There was crying out.

There was fear.

There was blood.

And then there was a defenseless infant.

Mary’s first, heart-splitting mother’s instincts….Was it breathing?  Was there any spare water to bathe it?  Find something to wrap and keep it warm!

Joseph’s concern…is it a boy?

Yes… a boy.

And then…..bruised, torn, exhausted, and shivering uncontrollably from loss of fluid, Mary brought her tiny child to her breast….leaned down to kiss the warm-sweetness of her son and in absolute knowing in her soul, called him by his divinely-appointed name….Jesus.

Mary had accomplished what was expected of her.

She received unsettling news, pondered it, and trusted.

She sought guidance in kinship with Elizabeth and was blessed.

She waited in hope, facing uncertainty, and received a heart bursting with love.

Last night, I lit a candle during a prayer service, considering all that is expected in my own life.

And I thought of Mary, the once ordinary girl who delivered love into the world.

And I whispered a prayer of gratitude for her gifts to me.

In this Christmas season,

May you trust in the divine ponderings of your heart,

feel blessed,

have hope,

and absolutely know in your soul

that you are loved.