Did Mary Know?

While delivering a Christmas message the Sunday before the holiday my pastor shared with us that his favorite seasonal song is “O Mary, Did you know?” The pastor said that he was moved by the words of the song because it addressed what Mary must have been feeling. “Did you know when you kissed your baby’s face, you kissed the face of God?”

I first heard that tune when my infant son was six months old. Like all new mothers I remembered the overwhelming awe of staring into the face of my newborn and wondering what this tiny being would become. Here he was, so innocent, so helpless, yet so full of himself. He’d come programmed, as if the first nine months of his life in the womb had simply been a formatting of his computer. He arrived fully functional, his tiny brain readied to log on and begin recording. I wept at all he could become; at the responsibility I had been given.

At three days old a neighbor brought him a bunny that played music. His little head turned toward the sound, trying to figure out what was making the music. At six months, he was very aware of everyone and everything in his line of focus. A friend observed, “He’s very with it for a baby of six months.” What else could I do? I beamed.

But Mary’s first days with her son must have been filled with fearsome responsibility.  She knew her son was the son of God.  She’d been told he would save his people from their sins.  Living as a Jewess in a country occupied by Rome, she must have felt terror in her heart when first the shepherds, and later the wise men, addressed her baby as the newborn king.

What tug did she feel on her heart strings as she watched her toddler grow into a little boy?  What anguish ran through her veins when she discovered the twelve-year-old Jesus discussing the scriptures with the men in the temple? And what pain rocked her when he was charged with blasphemy and led away to face those same men later–the very men who would turn him over to Pilate for scourging and execution?  

 Mothers bring hope to the world when they bear children.  Each child has the potential to change its surroundings—to invent a new machine, discover a cure for cancer, or bring peace to a world bent on its own destruction. None of us, though, can know what path our child will follow as we rock his or her cradle. We read books, seek professional help, and pray that this little one God has loaned us for a time will find his path, his niche, his intended calling.   

But Mary was given more information. The Bible says she pondered those things in her heart.  Did she weep over Jesus as I wept over my tiny child?  Did she rock Him with a light touch, knowing He would be ripped from her in the end? Did her prayers beg God for a different path for Jesus? Or did she accept with quiet resignation the blessing bestowed upon her as God’s chosen one to bear His son?

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about this young mother. She appears in the stable, in the synagogue, and at the base of the cross.  We know Jesus loved her because as He was dying He cared enough to give her to John as his mother and He gave John to her as her son. But I’m convinced that Mary did know, and in knowing wept over her tiny infant. He was her baby, even though He would grow up to save her and her world.

So Mary, did you know?

 Yes, you did. And you obeyed God’s request anyway.  Hallelujah.

Keeping Christmas Traditions

I attended a Christmas party this past weekend.  The gathering is an annual event hosted by a long time acquaintance of mine and involves several generations of women coming together for an evening potluck, ornament exchange and cookie sharing.

One of the things we do after the dinner is play silly internet games with the chance of winning a prize.  This year the party game director asked us to share our most memorable Christmas tradition.  My mind went blank.  My family celebrates many traditions, from the decorating of the tree to the Christmas Eve service at the church.  All are important to us, so to pick the most memorable was difficult. I lamely chose one and shared it, but the question continued to needle me the rest of the weekend.  What was my most memorable tradition?

By Sunday, the answer came to me.  The tradition began as a homework assignment for my kindergarten-aged son Jon when we started homeschooling some twenty years before.  I wanted the month of December in our home school to focus on the meaning of Christmas.  I patterned my lessons around the Christmas theme, from making a new ornament, to reading about the birth of Jesus.  On that particular year I decided that I would have my five-year-old memorize the first twenty verses of the second chapter of Luke and recite it as a gift for his grandmothers on Christmas morning.

Memorization is a good skill to have. I have been told that the process sharpens the mind of anyone who takes the time to hide information away in their head.  At five my son was quick to learn and proved to be the proverbial sponge as he committed the chapter to memory. I sewed him a wise man’s costume and made a hat. On Christmas morning we were ready.

In a clear voice Jon stood before his grandmothers and quoted the passage word for word, line by line.  His audience reacted with pleasure and he earned his first kudos for doing a good job.  However, the following Christmas he wanted to recite the passage again. Since we always begin our Christmas morning with the story of Jesus’ birth, Jon’s recitation soon became a tradition.

I asked him recently if he was ready to quote the passage again. After all, he was now 26 and living on his own.  Would he want to recite one more time a passage that had wowed family members so many years before?  His answer was immediate.  Yes.  After all, the Christmas story never fades with time.

Who knew a simple homework assignment inadvertently would become a long-standing Christmas tradition that would truly outshine any others we still keep?

“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the entire world should be registered.  This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.

So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.

Now there were shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Behold an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

Then the Lord said to them “Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign unto you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying”

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was when the angels had gone away from them into heaven that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.

And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told them.  Luke 2:1-20

Merry Christmas

Soggy Days Create Cat’s Malaise

 Rain.

In Oregon where I live, we get a lot of it. Natives say that’s why we have the beautiful, lush forests to enjoy and acres of wetlands teeming with plant life to explore.

On one particular weekend recently, the rain came down in torrents. Puddles filled everywhere. Our backyard couldn’t be traversed. The grass acted as a sponge to hold the water on the surface of the soil. I puttered indoors all morning, not anxious to venture out in the downpour more than I absolutely had to. I cleaned, vacuumed, and read.

In the afternoon, though, my family bundled up to attend the annual Christmas parade. We go every year. This year would be no different. The parade’s theme reflected the area we lived in, every float a replica of a riverboat.  As we stood under our umbrellas, watching the plastic wrapped floats pass by, I thought only here would people stand in the rain to watch a procession of boats.  When Noah’s ark appeared toward the end, I had to chuckle.  Perhaps there was a modicum of warning in the historical boat’s appearance.

Returning home I was glad for a garage to pull into.  The car, though, dripped from its exposure, the moisture making the floor wet.  With so much water in the air outside, the garage didn’t dry. One could feel the dampness hovering over everything. I made the mistake of opening a side door to the house, one that led to a small garden area.  My kitten popped through the door, soaking wet and paws covered with enough dirt to cover his already black fur.

I uttered a cry.  Startled, the animal hurried away from me, each paw leaving its imprint on my newly polished hardwood floors.  I gave chase—a mistake—and the kitten ran faster.  He didn’t disappear until he’d spanned the full length of the hall and found safety under our bed.

I grabbed the mop and shook it at him as though he’d understand what he had done. He waited under the bed, green eyes peering out at me as I cleaned up the mess. When I’d done all I could, I put the mop away and stretched my back. The kitten, though, continued to eye me suspiciously from his hideaway. I could hear him purr. The cat would take his time forgiving me, his trust in someone who always cared for him shattered. As soon as he grew hungry, though, I knew he’d be back. And with the rain would come another trail of paw prints.

God’s Beauty Abounds

Just before the Thanksgiving holiday my husband and I decided to take a quick trip to the coast for a much needed respite from our routine. We chose to stay at an Inn where we had stayed before.  We reserved an upstairs kitchen suite, one with a view of the ocean from our balcony.

The weather had turned unseasonably cold before we left and we worried that we might encounter snow.  One small mountain must be crossed to get from our home in the Willamette Valley to the coastal cities.  We traveled without incident, enjoying a mild and balmy journey. 

To our surprise when we checked in we discovered we’d been assigned the same unit we’d had earlier that summer and we were delighted.  Even though it was the end of November we could pull our drapes back and sit and watch the ocean through our glassed in patio doors. To be able to watch the waves come and go, the breakers rising fearlessly out of the water only to fizzle at the shore and to hear the roar of the Pacific beyond our glassed in retreat was paradise.

Each unit is equipped with a gas fireplace, a television and a small furnished kitchen. When we weren’t enthralled with the ocean, we spent the hours reading, sipping coffee and playing monopoly.  We left the unit once to have dinner, but otherwise we just relaxed and enjoyed our little vacation.

When we awoke the morning of the day we were to return home reality hit home like a baseball through the window.  I rose to make breakfast and when I pulled the drapes I was greeted by two inches of snow on the balcony rail.  The road below us was covered with the white stuff.  For the first time in my life I watched as heavy snow fell on the beach below.  Never before had I witnessed such a sight.  The sun broke out over the ocean and while it illuminated the breakers, the snow continued to fall on the shore.  I felt as if I had been transported to the inside of a snow globe.

We waited until the last moment to leave our cozy suite, hoping the snow would stop and the sun would warm the roads for a safe trip home.  Fortunately, enough traffic had passed over the coastal highway that we were able to travel without incident.  We stopped for gas before heading over the mountain and the worst part was that my husband had to stand in snow over his shoes.

When we arrived home we sighed in relief that we were safe but rejoiced in the fact that we had seen a phenomenon neither of us had ever experienced before—  the beauty of falling snow on a glorious and sunny ocean.  God’s beauty abounds wherever we choose to look.