How much did Mary know about the things that were happening in her, and through her? How much of Isaiah and Micah had percolated into her understanding from brother or father, some man who had received some formal training, who had been taught to read the texts? When she breathed the word “Messiah”, what collection of ideas did that word stand in for?
Mary treasured up these things, and pondered them.
I would love to know the pathways that her mind ran down as she marveled. The months between the angel and the birth must have seemed an eternity – certainly long enough for doubt to creep in. Did he really say … does this really mean … will he really be …
When the shepherds arrived, with stories and songs, it must have been a flood of emotions, confirming everything that Mary had been told.
Unto you is born this day a child, and He is Christ the Lord.
What an absurd celebration we have embraced to remember the incarnation.
We celebrate by filling up. Calendars, full. CD players, full. Gift lists, full. Credit cards, full. Belly, full. Every moment of this season is dedicated, months in advance, to being filled up. Not all of the filling up things are bad things – time with friends and family are good things, gifts given out of selflessness and friendship are always a good thing.
But taken all-together, the result is a season that is every moment filled up, without a second to breathe, and no time to think or reflect.
What an absurd way to celebrate the incarnation. I wish we could push all of that to Easter, the great celebration. Let’s move our Lenten fast to Christmas, and celebrate the incarnation by imitation.
Who, being in very substance God, did not consider his divine prerogatives as things to be gripped tightly, but emptied himself. Made himself nothing. Humbled himself.
This is the Christmas story that has captured me. The folding down of the divine person into the frail and corruptible human story, the setting aside of every perfect glory to take up this mundane flesh. All the redeeming that is to come begins in that moment.
As sung by the APU Men’s Choir. Sorry this link will only work if you have a facebook account, but it is so amazing, it might be worth signing up just to hear it. We saw this concert live twice, and got a little weepy both times.
UPDATED: Here’s the same thing, now hosted on YouTube for all to hear.
Of The Father’s Love Begotten
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!
At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!
He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!
O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!
This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!
O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!
Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!
Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!
Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!
We don’t know if Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. We like to think she did, because what kind of a jerk would make his pregnant wife walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem?
But that raises a different question, one I haven’t heard much about. Why did Mary make the trip at all? The census (maybe, probably) required only the male head of household to register, so Joseph could have legally made the trip alone.
I don’t know much about 1st Century Judean birthing practices, but somehow I don’t picture the husband hunched over the birthing bed, coaching his wife through her Lamaze breathing. I’m going to rely on the evidence of pre-1980′s world-wide cultural norms here, and say that most of the time the husband waited in the front room smoking the hookah with the fellas while the women of the family (and maybe a trained midwife) coached the mother through her labor. The husbandly role, throughout history, has been to fret nervously in a different room, then boisterously take credit once the child is born. Mary didn’t need Joseph around during the delivery, she needed her family, her female relatives, the local support network. Why go to Bethlehem?
The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 100 miles, through some rough terrain, and the hill country along the way was constantly populated with bandits (the parable of the Good Samaritan starts with a man being mugged along some of these same roads). I got nervous when my wife walked a few miles through Rome on a hot summer day while pregnant. I can’t imagine Joseph’s stress over Mary making the trip with him through that rough country. Again, why make the trip? Why not leave Mary in the care of her family while Joseph went to fulfill his legal obligation.
Luke tells us why Joseph went to Bethlehem. Why did Mary go?
There are a few possibilities, I guess. Maybe Joseph was a thoroughly modern and sensitive husband, and just couldn’t stand the thought of his wife giving birth without his support. Maybe Mary was a rock-hard badass, and the thought of grunting out our Lord and Savior un-aided in the barren rocks above Jericho just made her shout, “Bring it on!” Maybe Luke invented the census and the trip to Bethlehem in order to make the birth narrative fit Micah’s prophesy, in which case of course Mary had to go along.
There is another possibility. Maybe Mary had no reason to stay. Maybe the embarrassment of the pregnancy left her estranged from her friends and relatives, with no support and no family. Maybe nobody had added up the dates yet, and everyone was assuming it was Joseph’s child. Perhaps Mary was eager for a chance to get out of town, and give birth away from the chattering gossips and back-biting spinsters, away from the prying questions that an actual birth date would inevitably give rise to.
And Mary danced before the Lord. Hands raised, head thrown back, spinning with the joy of the young, an innocent girl in the presence of a Holy God. And Mary sang.
His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts he has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones.
The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The humble will rejoice. The proud will be brought low. We celebrate Christmas as the advent of peace and hope – but also as the emphatic statement of God’s intent to upend the established order. The Kingdom of God brings down rulers from their thrones. It raises up the humble. It gives voice to the voiceless, and makes a mockery of those who cling too tightly to this world.
When we read the Christmas story, perhaps we should pay more attention to the role of Herod. Christmas is the great subversion of Herod’s kingdom, and those who, like Herod, abuse their power. “Peace on Earth” is a rallying cry – peace is coming, and it will come on the backs of those who love violence and celebrate fear. For them, Christmas is the first rumblings of the coming revolution, the beginning of God’s culminating restoration and remaking.
Peace on Earth. But fear and trembling for those who love their thrones.