And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Christmas brings a wonder that fills our hearts and spills out into our lives as we celebrate the coming of the Son of God to earth. Each year, we recall the sacred stories that surround the birth of the Savior as we read the Scriptures of Advent and Christmas with joyful hearts. We bask in their message of hope and warm ourselves in the spirit of comfort they bring to our lives. But we must be careful not to let our familiarity with the accounts of the birth of Christ caused us to miss the incredible and powerful reality of the incarnation.
The song of the angels, the awe of the shepherds, and the humility of the lowly stable speak to the profound nature of the God of the universe taking flesh and pitching his tent among us. But perhaps what should cause us to marvel the most at Christmas is when we witness the breadth and depth of the joy that the Blessed Mother of Jesus experienced as she surrendered herself to God’s will and bore the Son of God in her womb.
Joy Inexpressible, Expressed with Profound Perfection
Luke’s Christmas stories contain a depth of understanding that we may fail to grasp without the eyes of faith. What seems like such a simple narrative is actually a deeply profound expression of the eternal power of the incarnation and the joy that it brings to hearts longing for the peace that is found in solemn surrender. Luke contrasts so perfectly the fearful doubt of Zechariah the holy priest with the total trust of Mary the humble virgin. While Zechariah’s unbelief leads to speechless astonishment, Mary’s seeking heart leads to a joyful acceptance of her role in salvation history.
We can feel each rapid beat of this young girl’s heart as her life’s longings for the Messiah find their fulfillment in her obedient submission to God’s call upon her life. Here, the one who had committed her life to virginity is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit of God. Mary becomes the new Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle of flesh where the presence of the Almighty will dwell among men. There is no hesitation in her response to the angel’s explanation. The one who is called “Full of Grace” willingly, joyfully becomes the woman who will bear the Savior of the world as her “Let it be done unto me!” resounds before the hosts of heaven.
In Haste, In Awe, In Love
Mary shows her deep understanding and her humble acceptance of the sacredness of the moment by immediately racing to visit her kinswomen, Elizabeth, so that she may witness the power of the Awesome and Almighty God who has opened this barren woman’s womb. Luke is careful to show the incredible parallels to David’s experience with the Ark of the Covenant. Both David and Mary, “arise and go.” The unborn child of Elizabeth leaps for joy in the presence of the Lord as David leaped in the presence of God. And the joy Mary and Elizabeth express to one another mirrors the joyful cries of God’s people before the Ark.
What happens next in the narrative is even more powerful, as Mary, filled with the wonder of God, pours forth her grace-inspired psalm of praise over what God has brought forth in her life. Her Magnificat is overflowing with words from the Old Testament Scriptures, from the prayer of Hannah from 1 Samuel 2:1-10 to the many psalms of praise to the One who redeems his people, humbling the proud and lifting the lowly. This beautiful vessel, prepared by the hand of God, who consecrated herself to the cause of salvation, takes the holy words and makes them her own, as they ring out as prophecy fulfilled, and yet unfolding.
The Birth of Christ and Creation’s Response
Luke’s beautiful narrative is made complete in the story of the birth of Jesus and the visitation by the shepherds. The mighty Caesar’s decree becomes but a small step in the working out of God’s perfect plan to bring the Mother of God to Bethlehem, the House of Bread. Here, the Messiah, the Son of David, will be born the Anointed King in the lowly stable.
Luke shows us so powerfully just how weighty and meaningful God’s coming to live among men truly is. Through the humble circumstances of the Nativity and the heavenly host announcing the birth before the lowly shepherds, we see just how incredible it is that the God of the universe should leave his throne in heaven to take on flesh and dwell among men.
Through all of this, the Virgin Mother ponders in her heart all that the Mighty has done for her. All generations will call her Blessed because the grace of God entered her heart, the Holy Spirit came to rest upon her, and she received with perfect humility and total obedience the child within her womb.
It is no accident that at this point in the story Luke shows us a silent Mary, giving birth to the holy child as Creation rejoices in awe and wonder. As the Shepherds — the outcasts — come forth to witness the coming of the Good Shepherd, we see the Child sleeping peacefully in the manger, the feeding trough. One day, he will feed humanity with his flesh as he gives his life for the world!
And Wonder of His Love
So many may miss the awesome reality of Mary’s holy motherhood, her incredible humility as the virgin who bore the Son of God, and her total and unhesitating obedience to the will of the One who made her full of grace. Her profound act of surrender in assuming her role in bringing the Savior to the world should cause us to ponder the perfect love of God that broke open the heavens and poured forth his peace upon the earth.
The joy of Christmas is so much more than feelings of warmth and goodwill. For believers, the incarnation of Jesus — God becoming man so that man could be reconciled to God — should overwhelm us and cause us to surrender our lives daily to the One who died to set us free. Mary stands as the new Eve, the mother of all those who have new life in Christ, her Son.
Let us take in the stories of Christmas with longing, deep and abiding love, and hearts filled with wonder and awe, so that, like Mary, we may make a place within our hearts for the Messiah. May God fill you this Christmas with the joy that led the virgin mother to surrender her whole life for the One who came to dwell among men.