Behold, the Handmaid of the Lord
Mary. A very common name.
Scholars tell us that in ancient Judea, one in three Jewish women was named Mary, or Miriam in Hebrew. They also tell us that she was young, likely very young. Jewish girls were often married by the age of fourteen. A common woman, with a most uncommon calling.
I think about Mary a lot this time of year. Though she is a constant presence at Christmas time, our focus is often -- and understandably -- on the Savior. But, what of this most uncommon of ordinary women? In the two millenia since the birth of Jesus, Mary has become the object of much veneration. She is Ave Maria, the Blessed Virgin. She has been a saint and a strength to, literally, billions of people. And rightly so, she was the vessel, the most worthy of women, chosen to play the most important role, in the most important birth in history. What a woman she must have been! But, I think, sometimes, in the adulation of Mary, we lose sight of her humanity. And Mary's humanity is, after all, her most important contribution to the life and mission of Jesus Christ.
What was it like to be pregnant with a Holy Child? What was it like to give birth to the Son of God? What was it like to be the mother, and to raise -- for she did more than simply give birth to -- the Savior of all mankind? Only one woman can answer these questions, but I'll tell you what I think...
I think carrying the Child of God in her womb was hard. I think her back hurt, from carrying the weight of a child inside of her. I believe she was anxious and nervous, this being her first pregnancy. I think Mary was probably ready to have the baby, long before the baby was ready to be born. Mary was the mother of at least seven children, and I believe that the birth of Jesus was as painful, and difficult, perhaps more so, as the births of her other children. She was highly blessed of the Lord, but that never means the path will be easy.
I wonder how aware she was of the shepherds' visit that first night. Was she there to receive them and hear their miraculous story, or was she so overwhelmed and exhausted, that some of those things were a little blurry? I wonder if she ever saw the star, or if being up, often, during the night, to feed her new baby, made those hours of sleep precious, and left little time for stargazing? I think she checked on Jesus constantly as he slept. I believe that the baby Jesus cried. I think he cried when he was hungry. He cried when he was wet, he cried when he was hurting. I think, sometimes, like all other newborn babies, he cried for no apparent reason at all. And, through it all, Mary did what all mothers do -- she fed him, she changed him, she burped and bathed him, she cuddled and sang to him. As Jesus grew older, it was his mother who nurtured him, who cared for his bumps and bruises, who wiped away his tears and kissed his skinned knees.
Mary knew what few others knew then, that this was the Only Begotten Son of God. His father was divine, but half of his inheritance was mortality. He could suffer. He could die. And, to fulfill his destiny, one day he would. But, from his mother, Jesus would learn of strength and compassion, and of unconditional love. Those are the gifts of a mother.
When she was told by the angel, of the honor that was to be hers, Mary's response was humble and unequivocal -- "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word."
I believe, because of the responsibility that she was asked to bear, that Mary must have had some foreknowledge of the mission of her son. But, I wonder if she imagined that she would live to see Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead? Did she know that he would be hated, that he would be betrayed by his friends, that all manner of indignity would be heaped upon him? Did she know that she would live to see the fulfillment of the Atonement? Could she have imagined, as she held her tiny boy that first night in Bethlehem, that three decades from then, she would watch the life spill from her son, upon a cross; and then see him reborn, as a glorified and perfect being?
God, our Father, gave his Only Begotten Son, as a sacrifice, so that each of us would have the opportunity to return to His presence. Jesus Christ suffered greater than anyone in history, so that through his blood, and by his atonement, we might all be cleansed of sin.
But, I hope that we never forget that Mary, the mother of the Son of God, also gave her firstborn son, for the blessing of all mankind.