Christmas fell on a Sunday the year I was pregnant with our first. My husband and I enjoyed a quiet morning just the two of us and then headed to church before we would celebrate with family. I remember walking through the doors of our little city church, the old church building was decorated with Christmas wreaths and trees, and joy was spilling out of the building through the ushers greeting people on the sidewalk.
As we stood to sing, I was filled with awe. There was something quite remarkable about expecting our first child while worshiping the One who came as a baby himself 2,000 years earlier.
Four months after that Christmas we entered the hospital husband and wife. We left two days later as mom and dad. I sat next to our newest addition in the back seat of our small SUV as my husband drove our little family of three home to our condo in the city. We had a direct line of sight to each other’s eyes in the rearview mirror. As I glanced back and forth between his eyes and those of my brand-new son’s, I was overcome with so many thoughts and feelings. It felt like we had been waiting for this day for a lifetime. It also felt like it had come way too soon.
As we continued the drive and looked at each other in the mirror my eyes filled with tears—tears of joy, fear, overwhelm, so many questions, nervousness, excitement, uncertainty, and love—so much love I thought my heart might just burst. My husband and my son were the two most important people on earth at that very moment.
I have often wondered, did Mary, the mother of the Messiah feel the same way? Did Joseph look in Mary’s eyes the way my husband looked in mine? Were they filled with hope and fear and joy and uncertainty? Despite being worlds apart, perhaps our shared humanity makes our experiences more closely related than we suspect.
The First Advent
There is a part of me that wants to paint Mary as a superwoman like character. Perhaps partly because the Scriptures leave much unsaid about her story. And Joseph too! My goodness, his story is just a blurb on the scene.
Perhaps painting a superhero picture of them is partly because I often default to assuming when people are used by God in mighty ways they can’t possibly be as “human” as I am. Yet the reality is they would raise the Divine, while not divine themselves.
We know Mary was most likely a young girl somewhere between the age of 13 and 16. Joseph may have been a little older. Neither had any kind of standing in society, just ordinary young people living in Nazareth. Life was most likely rather mundane and predictable.
And then one day it wasn’t.
Where was Mary when Gabriel appeared? Was she walking somewhere? Was she alone in her parents’ home?
In the months leading up to Jesus’ birth, what was it like for her to walk around her village with a growing belly? Did she hear whispers and side conversations that shushed as she walked by? She knew the truth growing in her womb. Did she want to “fight back” with her words? Or, did she stay quiet and absorb the judgement?
What was it like for Joseph to trust God and his betrothed that this little one was not a result of an affair but truly is the long-awaited King? Did Joseph want to defend his honor and that of his bride as the months progressed?
There was time—a lot of time between the Angel’s visits and the birth of Jesus—at least nine months. The soon-to-be parents couldn’t fully know what their life would entail, but they knew the Messiah was coming. What was their personal advent like?
How did Mary feel knowing that all too often women died giving birth? Was she scared as the labor pains progressed in that dark and muddy manger? Did God provide a midwife to help deliver her baby? After all, Bethlehem was busting at the seams with people due to the census. Or, did they turn the birthing process upside down too, and did Joseph help deliver the Messiah?
When she held her baby on her chest for the first time, did she feel the supernatural presence of the Holy God? Did Joseph wonder, how on earth do I parent my Savior?
These questions swirl in my head often when I consider the miraculous scene of Christ’s coming and all that God entrusted this young couple with.
Fully Divine and Yet Completely Vulnerable
There is so much mystery around Mary and Joseph. I like to think one of the reasons is so we can step into their story. Our shared humanity makes their story all the more incredible. And it paints a fuller picture of our Savior’s story.
A young woman submitted to her role in the creation of the Messiah. It’s possible that her DNA ran through the veins of her Savior. A young man saw beyond what the world would call scandal and trusted his holy and personal God.
Why did God choose to come into this world in such a vulnerable way? He entrusted the life of His Son to two inexperienced young people with little means. As a baby, He was completely dependent upon the love of a mother and father, to keep Him safe, to raise Him well, and to keep Him under their watch until His time would come. What an incredible responsibility!
Mary and Joseph’s people were hoping for a valiant rescuer—maybe they were too? Many thought God would send a warrior king to usher in His kingdom and set His people free once and for all. They would be freed from years and years of oppression by this one true king.
Instead, the baby was the King. Born to a known-by-no-one young couple, the 400-year silence was broken in a scene absent of anything royal, surrounded by animals and visited by lowly shepherds. He would be loved and reared in their home until He would bring the Good News of the Kingdom. Eventually He would suffer one of the most brutal and barbaric of deaths with His mother right by His side. In death’s defeat, he would remain seated at the right hand of the Father until His time comes again to usher in the final Kingdom.
And yet, on that first Christmas, they were a little family of three. Perhaps for a few moments they stared in each other’s eyes feeling all the things a couple feels when their first child arrives. Maybe, for just a few moments, the immense calling on their lives fell quiet to their baby’s cry that only they could comfort.
A Mysterious Expression of Love
I’ll never forget those first few days after the birth of our son. The rest of the world faded away for a while as we became acquainted with our little one and our new life. I wonder if God chose to come to this world in this humble manner because He knew it was one more way to show His creation—His children, men and women alike—just how much He loves us. Our hearts and minds are too human to fully grasp what it means to be the Savior, but many of us can understand what it is like to bring a child into this world. And there, in His gentleness, God shared in one of the most incredible human experiences—birth, new life—the all-consuming love that a parent has for a child. In this experience, He has given us a glimpse of His love for us. What a mysterious and profound expression of love!
This Christmas I pray we would grow even deeper in our understanding of just how miraculous the Messiah’s birth really was. And, in that we can see how God invites us in, not just to celebrate, but to intimately experience the raw, real love of God for His Son Jesus through two obedient young adults, serving their Holy God through their tender love.