One Week Later
First Sunday after Christmas
December 31, 2017
It has been a bit of a strange experience being pregnant during Advent and Christmas season. It’s something I haven’t talked about a lot. I’ve heard lots of jokes and Adam, in fact, has joked he should have me preaching more during this season as I truly can commiserate with poor Mary. But it was something I just couldn’t quite wrap my head around. While the child growing inside of me is most definitely a miracle and one for which I am eternally grateful. This isn’t the Christ Child. So comparing and thinking about Mary in the context of my own situation was something I just couldn’t quite bring myself to do, until Christmas Eve. When we again heard the story of Mary and her journey to Bethlehem and giving birth in the stable. And there was something about watching those children, if you came to the 4:30 service, carrying up the pieces of our crèche and placing them and placing the child and thinking about what Mary was experiencing in this new beginning and thinking about my own new beginning that is coming and the new beginning of being ordained as a priest that had just come that allowed me to think more deeply about what she may have been going through. Not as the mother of God, but as just a mother, a woman giving birth for the first time, in less than ideal circumstances. And those thoughts have stuck with me this week. And as I began to think about this, our first Sunday after Christmas, I began to wonder about what her first week was like. We don’t get much more about Mary’s story until much later in the Gospels. She, of course, plays a key role in the beginning of Matthew and Luke and then kind of disappears for the next 30 or so years, until she reappears at the beginning of Jesus’ formal ministry. But her role as mother doesn’t change. So I began to think about what her first week may have been like. So I invite you to take a few moments with me now and imagine Mary, seven days later.
The sun has just broken over the hills but the light has not yet filtered its way into the stable where Mary sits, a blanket pulled close around her, to fight against the early morning chill. Her limbs feel weighted; she is tired…she is so tired. The small babe who is currently is fast asleep in the manger which has become his bed near her is relentless. Every couple of hours his cries break the silent night, awakening her and Joseph, and anyone else nearby, with the insistence of needing to be fed or needing to be changed. Mary can’t remember the last time she slept through the night—and it’s only been a week.
She again pulls the blanket closer around herself, feeling the chill of the morning and feeling the chill also that has entered her heart. This isn’t quite the way she thought it was going to go. When the angel Gabriel came to her and asked to her to be part of God’s great and wondrous new beginning, sitting in a stable with a one-week old infant was not quite what she had pictured. Yet here she sat, alone. Joseph had to go out and find work if they had any hope of exiting this stable for a warmer and safer place to stay. He had taken work with a carpenter friend of his in town and would rise early in the morning and not return until late in the evening. She spent a lot of time alone with this little baby.
Her mind wandered for a moment, thinking about how different things could have been if only they could have stayed in Nazareth. Her mother would have been there with her, maybe even her cousin Elizabeth with her own newborn, would have been there to show her how to do this thing called motherhood. She had no idea what to do with this little, crying infant. She had taken care of cousins and younger brothers and sisters, but “mom” was different. And so she longed for companionship. She longed for people to come around her and help her know it was going to be ok.
She takes a deep breath and her nose wrinkles. When they found this stable—when Joseph helped her in the midst of the throes of labor she remembered thinking how sweet the fresh alfalfa smelled. But that sweetness she sensed has been replaced with a bit of a farm animal stink. This isn’t quite the smell she imagined raising her child in for the first week of its life.
She tries to push away these thoughts, tries to think of something else, to picture some other thing. But somehow the silence and the smell and the loneliness continues to surround her.
The baby in the manger nearby stirs quietly and she reaches out her hand and touches his stomach, rubbing gently to help lull him back to sleep. And as she does this simple movement, this movement that is instinctual, her mind begins to wander back to other memories.
To memories she had stored away in her heart over the past nine months. And in that moment, in that gentle touch, she can almost hear again the thunderous voice of the angel Gabriel. Not loud, terrifying thunder that comes with the great storms that roar across the land, but the distant thunder, one that promises a soaking, gentle, restoring rain. She hears his voice asking if she will participate in God’s great new beginning and she remembers her own heart racing as she says “yes.”
Another memory floods her mind as she feels Joseph arms wrap around her and feels his wet tears soak her shoulder as he begs her forgiveness for not believing her when she first told him what God was doing. She remembers his voice cracking as he says, “I’m so sorry, I should have believed you.” Then he told her of his dream and a smile filled her face.
She remembers the first flutters of movements she felt in her womb, as this strange and miraculous child grew.
She remembers too the night of his birth. She remembers the small, plaintiff little cry that grew into a monstrous yell as air filled his lungs for the first time. All of these memories, all of these moments Mary has stored up in her heart to ponder.
She remembers the sound of angels singing. She remembers the musty smell and gruff voices of shepherds who had come to welcome the child. And as she sits and ponders these things, her hand resting on the infant beside her, her eyes begin to fill with tears.
She’s not alone. God has been with her all along. God has been walking this path right alongside her each and every moment and as she sees the infant’s eyes flutter open, she reaches down, picks him up and draws him to her.
God truly his with her. God is with her.
May God be with each of us as we step into our new beginnings this new year. Amen.