“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, one God now and forever. Amen.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how sometimes the most seemingly unimportant things in your life assume great significance in hindsight. What seemed ordinary becomes extraordinary. What may have struck you as an inconvenience at the time is revealed as being full of consequence. I’m not quite sure why that is. Some might say it’s really only a question of chance, or of circumstance. That could be true. In my better moments, I tend to see the hand of the Almighty. Perhaps that helps me cope better with what I can’t understand. But perhaps I’m simply being a bit presumptuous. After all, what do I know of the ways of the Almighty? I am but a simple girl.
It all began some nine months ago, back home in Nazareth. The afternoon was a quiet one, and I was sitting in the kitchen preparing food for the evening meal. I remember feeling a bit strange, anxious, as though something were about to happen. You have to understand that my days are really rather mundane—yes, almost boring at times. So anything the least bit out of the ordinary can assume unexpected importance and colour. Perhaps I was daydreaming, but I remember a voice calling me by my name, and telling me not to be afraid. But I was afraid. I thought someone was in the house. One can never be too careful. Perhaps my curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to listen. The voice told me that I was with child. Me, with child? How could that be? Joseph, my fiancé, has been so good with me. “It’s impossible,” I said, “that I could be with child.” And then I heard the voice say something extraordinary. It said that nothing was impossible with God, and that my child would be exceptional. In fact, that this child would be holy. I felt like asking: “Aren’t all children exceptional and holy in the eyes of their parents?” but I thought better of it. I’m really not sure what happened next, or what I said exactly, but I remember thinking that this was the moment of choice in my life: that everything else that came after would flow from this precise point in time. “Yes,” I heard myself saying, a bit to my own surprise. I really no exact idea what this “yes” truly meant, though, strangely enough, I’m getting more and more accustomed to it. That tells me that it was most likely the right thing to do.
You can probably imagine what happened next. It took a while for Joseph to believe me—but, as I said, he is a good man. He decided to stand by me. And, yes, I was pregnant, with all the joys and physical discomfort that this implies. It was my first, so I must admit that I was a bit anxious. The concerns of the wider world, however, always have a way of breaking one’s sense of peace and security. We were told that the Roman Emperor had decided that he wanted a census, and that we had to go to the towns of our ancestors to be counted. We had no choice in the matter. So here I was, almost at term, and we had to travel some distance to the town of Bethlehem, where Joseph’s ancestors of the house of David hail from. It was an arduous and risky journey. Though we travelled with others for protection, I felt vulnerable the whole time. Really, what expecting mother wouldn’t? Several times en route, I wasn’t sure that I still wanted a part in whatever drama was being played out in my life. And then, to make matters even worse, once we arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph could not, for the life of him, find a place for us to stay in. We are not rich, so our options were limited. Finally, after much searching and aimless walking about, we were given a hillside cave. I felt that my time was coming, so I was especially concerned about finding a warm and safe place for my infant child. Joseph also had to find me a midwife.
So here he is, my firstborn son. What an incredible joy this has been for me, but also for his father. He is a beautiful baby, as cuddly as any other newborn. Yet I will admit that everything about this unexpected child puzzles me. The manner of his conception, that curious voice in Nazareth telling me that he is destined to greatness—I’m not precisely sure what sense to make of all that. Joseph is no better. He too is unsure, though he keeps telling me not to worry about it. And just now, quite out of the blue, some shepherds from the hillside opposite have come by for a visit. Strange, isn’t it? How would they have known about my giving birth? They too had extraordinary things to say—angels in the sky, and something about my son being a saviour. My son? But why him? And why me? All I want right now is some peace and quiet. The shepherds have finally left. I gaze tenderly into his bright eyes.
My son, dare I hope that you are the long-promised one? Voices and angels and shepherds have said that you are. The shepherds who were here just now kept repeating such extraordinary things about you. They too were told, as I was, not to be afraid, and that in the city of Bethlehem—here, today, in this very place—had been born our saviour, the messiah. They told me over and over that this is you.
These are unusual events, disturbing to me. Of course, as any new mother would, I’m prepared to believe and hope for the best for you. But is this really the time? We have waited for so long that our fragile hope has worn thin. At times, I wonder. Am I being blasphemous? Have I, the least and most anonymous of all the women of Israel, truly been chosen to bring our messiah into the world? This is all so difficult for me to understand, harder still to accept. Like Esther, the great heroine of our people, has God chosen me as the vehicle for our liberation? But am I perhaps being presumptuous? I am but a poor simple girl. Who am I to discern the ways of the Almighty?
Then I gaze into your eyes, and my heart soars with praise and thanksgiving. An unexpected voice told me months ago back home in Nazareth that nothing was impossible with God, nothing. When I hold you and touch you, I somehow know deep down in my heart that this is true. I may not be able or worthy to discern the ways of the Almighty, but I can trust, and I have been clinging desperately to that simple truth these past nine months. I have little else to go by. Ever since I felt you moving in my womb, I have held on to that. As with any child, of course, you are a sign of hope and promise. You are the stuff of life itself. You are the delight of your father and me. I want you so much to be safe and happy and always there, to become all that the Almighty has chosen for you. Whatever that might be.
I will admit, however, that I am fearful. A mother’s heart always worries. What does it mean that you are the chosen one? I have these images of grandeur and power and glory in my head, all of those things that we have been taught about the forthcoming messiah. How is this possible? We are but a poor family. Those things are not rightfully ours. Are you to walk a different path, another way? I wish I knew. To protect you; to help you figure it all out. I guess I will always feel that way—always wanting to be there, always hoping against hope that the path you choose will make you happy. Always trusting the Almighty, as I hope you will, throughout all your days.
But tonight, as I rock you gently in my arms, your eyes full of sleep, I want to bless the Almighty, and I want to bless you, my son. I want to bless and thank the Almighty for entrusting you to my care. Whatever path has been chosen for you, and for me, is God’s doing. Blessed be the name of the Most High. And may your life, my son, be worthy of God’s calling. May you have the courage and the wisdom to be true to it and to yourself, for they are but one. My soul magnifies the Lord. Sleep well, my eternal love. Amen.