Decades ago I held my first child, a son, in the Winter months– born right at the beginning of the holiday season– and the Christmas Story came to life for me. That year I could enter into Mary’s experience as a young mother: her wonder, her fears, the myriad changes in her own flesh, and all these experiences new and strange, as if the whole world had suddenly been born new with her labor pains. And in the utterly down-to-earth flesh and blood of pregnancy and delivery and the physical needs of a newborn, the Incarnation of the Son of God was no longer a theological concept, but an Everyday reality. That the Almighty One of Heaven who spoke the worlds into being would enfold Himself into the waxy translucent skin of a newborn…just a small warm fragile body held snugly in a mother’s arms…was wonder beyond wonder.
And in the years that followed, my whole world shifted, tilted, redefined itself in unexpected ways, as I struggled to live out my faith as a stay-at-home wife and mother, discovering that the small messy places of life where we bend to serve others can become something sacred– an offering of worship to God– because the Eternal One stooped into Time and Space to submit to an ordinary woman’s care. One of Jesus’ friends would explain it this way, later: “This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)
Mary must have known well how much she would lose, in listening to that angel. Any woman can imagine what it meant to give up dreams of a wedding day, the approval of her friends and neighbors, the comfort of her family circle. But in bending to God’s will, Mary mirrored His own humility and love, and found unexpected treasures of the heart that beckon to all the women that have come since. Her song still rises: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:46-49) God bent down to us at Christmas, to show us what True Love looks like, and when we bend down to serve others, we become His image-bearers, reflections of His heart.
This Winter I gained another daughter, and I look at her fresh young face and wonder what roads lie ahead of her, see how hard it will be to listen to the right voices in this world– too many clamoring opinions about beauty and worth and meaning as a woman, and what makes a good life. I wish I could tell her and all the young wives and mothers that the best thing they can do with their lives is to live like Mary, to learn to say “yes” to God…to allow Him to shape them around His Son in the small things of Everyday Life. There are so many goals and dreams to chase out there, but it is in Christ that we learn who we are, discover our true worth. It is in following Him one step at a time that we find our purpose. It will be ordinary and humbling, often invisible to others…and quite probably difficult. And we will become beautiful and extraordinary women, if we can listen and learn from Him. A sister-writer said it well: “A woman’s most sacred responsibility is to be so comfortable not just only in her own skin, but in being in Christ, in being shaped and formed like Christ, like the Cross…that she becomes more interested in the ways of Christ than in what others think of her — or what she thinks she wants.” (Ann VosKamp) It is a high calling, a privilege indeed, to be a woman made and defined by God.
This is Christmas that can last all year round: to wrap our arms and our hearts around each other and bear one another’s burdens, to become Love in flesh, for all the world to see, as our Savior did, once upon a time in Bethlehem.
“This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.” (I John 4:10, The Message)
“The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is not let anything but the Cross explain her life.“ (Ann VosKamp)