Perhaps it's not surprising that I’ve found myself thinking about Mary in this Advent season of being “great with child.” Some pretty amazing things happened to her - an angel appearance seems pretty spectacular, and it’s not every day a heavenly being says you’ve found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Still, she had to put up with an awful lot of unpleasantness as well. As I reflected last year on that “holy, messy night,” I imagine the whole experience looked less like a Christmas card and more like Imogene Herdman crying and crying over the baby Jesus.
While her cousin Elizabeth was celebrating a long-awaited baby and the removal of her reproach, Mary was facing shame, suspicion, and likely shunning. The turned backs of neighbors and friends may have seemed a lot more real than the memory of being highly favored. While she was busy laboring in a stable, the shepherds got the whole hallelujah chorus.
Mary experienced a whole lot of trouble along with the glimpses of glory, but after all she had no ordinary role.
After the shepherds and wisemen faded from sight, off to share their moments of epiphany, Mary was still there. She was the one to hold baby Jesus, to gaze into his face, to touch his pudgy cheek. She nursed him and held him through sleepless nights. Imagine seeing the first of Jesus’ smiles, hearing his childish whispers of love.
Mary was there for the quiet years of his growth. The rest of us know so little about his childhood, but she was there through each moment of it. She knew his favorite food and favorite friends. She laughed at his silly jokes. She wrapped skinned knees and dried tears. He was hungry and she fed him, thirsty and she gave him something to drink, naked and she clothed him, sick and she cared for him - every single day.
Jesus’ closest followers got three years with him; Mary had thirty-three. There was much she did not yet understand, but by the time he started his ministry, imagine how much she already knew of him! She had known he was special from before he was even conceived.
She was there at his birth, and she was there at his death. She stayed nearby and watched him suffer, because how could she turn away now? Though she was helpless and brokenhearted, she gave him all she could: her presence in a time of abandonment. And even in his anguish, Jesus made sure his mother would be cared for.
I think it’s appropriate that Mary was one of the first to know of his resurrection. And how did she come to find out? She was going to fulfill her last motherly duty - anointing her son’s body with burial spices. She wasn’t expecting a miracle - she was doing what she could to care for her son, just as she always had.
How is it that she got to be a part of so many big moments - his announcement, his birth, his first miracle, his death, his resurrection? Certainly she was special, blessed among women. But I think she witnessed these things because she was there.
She didn’t miss the big moments because she was already there for all the little moments. She was already there washing his clothes and making his food, worrying if he was getting enough rest. She swaddled him at birth, and she prepared to anoint his body at death. She had the opportunity to see Jesus from the first to the last. After all, she was his mother.