When Charlie Brown yelled in desperation, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” his friend Linus calmly replied, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” Then Linus moved to center stage and quoted from the second chapter of Luke. Linus knew the right place to go, and today–Christmas Day–we go there too as we begin this twelve-day journey of adoration of our Messiah. We do so because it is through the first two chapters of Luke that we get a glimpse of Christmas through the eyes of one who certainly knew what it meant to gaze in awe and adoration at the newborn king: Mary.
Luke alone mentions many of the details of that first Christmas: Mary and Joseph’s travel to Bethlehem, placing the baby in a manger because there were no rooms for them, the shepherds in the fields, and the angelic message of “good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” If I want to complete the move from Advent’s waiting to Christmas’ adoration, and to enter this first day of Christmas with the appropriate awe for what today represents, the words I want to start with are Luke’s, because the eyes I want to see through are Mary’s.
Having been present for the birth of my two children, it is undeniable that a) I am not their mother, and b) as much as I enjoyed my first opportunities to gaze into the eyes of my kids as their father, there was nowhere near the same experience behind my gaze as when my wife first held them, looked at their faces, and loved them in ways that only a mother can do. So when I imagine Mary’s gaze on her miraculous newborn son, I can’t help but to also picture those moments through the lens of my memories of watching my wife gaze at our kids. There had been a lot of waiting, a lot of pain, and then it had given way to a great deal of joy.
In addition to those moments of joy, I also remember how tired we were. (And even as I write that sentence, I realize how inconsiderate it is to mention how tired I was after my wife gave birth to our children, since about the most exertion required of me in the process was walking all the way down the hall to find another cup of coffee.) I was tired, and she was off-the-charts tired. And then, of course, a night’s stay in the hospital is never as restful as one would hope, with nurses coming to check on patients, checking vital signs, etc. (I mean, really, couldn’t they tell how much the dad on the couch needed his rest?) But I remember waking up in the middle of the night after our daughter was born, expecting to see my wife fast asleep in her bed, when instead I saw her holding our little girl, staring into her face and smiling. When she saw that I was awake, she said to me with the kind of smile that comes from someone’s depths, “I just love her."
Observing those moments makes me wonder what Mary’s first day and night with Jesus were like. Rather than being interrupted by nurses, Luke tells us how some shepherds burst in straight from the fields, finding things just as they had been told by the angel: "a child, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” When they saw it and related why they were there and the reason for their certain astonishment, the manger and the bands of cloth on the baby were no longer just what Mary and Joseph had at hand for the child, but they had become the confirming signs pointing to the child’s identity: this child, attended by his young peasant parents and some startled shepherds, was to be Israel’s king.
When Luke gives us glimpses through Mary’s eyes, the child’s destiny is always part of the story. When the shepherds left, the story says that she "treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She adored her newborn boy, to be sure, but the night was also surrounded by mystery, which Mary knew more than anyone. Why was all of this happening, and why was it all happening like this? Her openness to God has appropriately continued to be the model for disciples through the centuries, characterized by her earlier response, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Surely as Mary stared into her baby’s face, the joy of his life would have pervaded her, and awe at his identity as the newborn king would have been hard to grasp.
So, on our first day of Christmas on this journey of adoring our savior, what does Luke’s portrait of Christmas through Mary have to teach us?
One realization that comes to my mind is that there is always more to this child wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough than I have yet understood. To have come in such extraordinary yet humble circumstances, to have been foretold to be the new king of God’s people, whose life, death, and resurrection would change the course of history, and who promised to now be here-with me, even as I write this, and with you as you read it…my heartfelt awe and adoration are called for.
And also, though I’ll (quite obviously and contentedly) never be a mother, I have a tremendous amount to learn from Mary’s example–to learn from her openness and availability to God, as well as from her habit of treasuring things and pondering them in her heart–even when much of it may not make sense.
So perhaps that’s as good a place as any for us on the first day of Christmas this year: to realize that words fail us, that we can’t wrap our minds around all that today means, and as we learn from what Mary’s perspective has to teach us, may we today take a few extra minutes to look around us, to listen, to treasure the things that have been given to us by God’s pure grace, and to ponder them in our hearts.
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Alleluia! To us a child is born: O come, let us adore him. Alleluia!*