Women clucked their tongues. Girls whispered and giggled. Conversations stopped suddenly when Mary appeared. Unless human nature has changed greatly in two thousand years, the Mother of Jesus must have experienced these humiliations.
Perhaps she wanted to shout, "I've done nothing wrong. The child in me is holy, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit." What jeers that would bring! And it would have involved endless explanations: "Well, this angel appeared to me--yes, I was frightened--and he said, 'Greetings, You who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.'--Of course I'm a peasant girl, a nobody, that's what makes it so wonderful..."
No, it wasn't something she could talk about. She'd had an inkling it would be like this when the angel first broke the news. "How can these things be?" she had asked. "I've not slept with any guy." But after he'd explained that this was going to be a special case, she swallowed her fears and replied, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." May it be to me as you have said! Afterward, she had walked alone with her secret. She could not say, "The child I'm bearing will be great and called the Son of the Most High." The villagers would call it blasphemy...stone her probably.
The first three months hadn't been so bad. She'd been able to hide her condition, her morning sickness and swelling, by visiting her cousin Elizabeth in the hills. Elizabeth understood if no one else did. That was a thing to be wondered at--that the moment she burst into Elizabeth's home, unannounced, Elizabeth had cried out in a loud voice, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"
Those words tripped a flood of joy in Mary. Scriptures she had memorized as a girl tumbled out of her mouth, forming a new poem:
"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the mighty one has done great things for me--holy is his name..."
But the day came when she must show herself again in Nazareth. He was waiting--Joseph was. She saw the shame in his eyes as they flicked across her belly and noted the bulge that her loosest robe could no longer hide. Did he think she had gotten herself pregnant by some passing soldier up at Elizabeth's? Perhaps she tried to explain, but who could blame him if he doubted her story? She could see in his eyes that he meant to annul her betrothal to him. No doubt he would do it quietly. She knew him as a godly, tender-hearted man; that was part of what attracted her to him. Well, she would trust the Lord to make things come out right.
The Lord did. Joseph announced that he was moving up the date of their marriage. The baby was to be named Jesus, he said. An angel had revealed it to him.
Then came that awful census. Caesar Augustus was marking his twenty-fifth anniversary as Emperor and it was also the 750th year since the founding of Rome. Celebrations were planned. To honor Caesar, the entire populace of the empire was to rise as one and name him Pater Patriae--"Father of the Nation." To organize a huge, "spontaneous" demonstration like that takes real planning. Every man had to be enrolled with his family in his native town. Since Joseph was a descendant of David, that meant a trek to Bethlehem. For Mary, as far pregnant as she was, the trip spelled misery, but there was no getting around it. She would simply have to do without hot baths and warm meals and endure the torture of a week-long donkey ride. Augustus hadn't made pregnancy as an exclusion.
Bethlehem was jammed. Even in the cattle enclosure, the kataluma, where poorer people camped, there was no room. Mary went into labor but there was no where for her to give birth. Did she wonder why God had not made better arrangements? Finally Joseph found a place, a filthy animal shelter, where she might be delivered in semi-privacy. There was nothing to dress the babe in except strips of cloth.
Exhausted, she laid Jesus in a manger. But she wasn't to rest yet. Shepherds poured out of the hills with a story of angels, and exclamations of joy. Their words were reassurance to Mary's heart that the words Gabriel, spoken so many months ago, were authentic. If Joseph had any lingering doubts, this would set them to rest!
There were other words of confirmation. When they cicumcised Jesus and offered the sacrifice prescribed by Moses, old Simeon, a temple prophet cuddled the baby in his arms and fussed over him as the old will. But Simeon's exclamations went beyond the ordinary: "Sovereign Lord," he exclaimed, "as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
Handing the baby back to Mary, his tone turned dark. "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too."
He had hardly done speaking when a well-known prophetess, Anna, approached. She exclaimed to anyone who would listen that this child would someday redeem Jerusalem.
Bethlehem emptied. Joseph was finally able to hire a room. He found day work and Mary nursed and cleaned Jesus, and took over household responsibilities. The days lengthened into weeks, the weeks into months. Against the hum drum of daily routine, the curiosities of the recent past faded. But mysteries were not over. One night, men speaking a strange language arrived, saying a star had guided them to this child. Mary watched amazed as they pulled forth treasures from their bags: gold, incense, and ointment, gifts that would go a long way toward easing the little family's poverty and establishing them in a permanent residence. Matters seemed to be settling themselves. The magi left. Mary tucked Jesus in and blew out the lard candle. Snuggled beside Joseph, she fell asleep.
Suddenly Joseph shook her. "Get up quickly!" An angel had warned him that Herod was dispatching soldiers to kill Jesus. Immediately Mary knew in her heart that what Joseph said was true. In retrospect, the coming of the magi so obviously added up to danger. If only those strangers had known enough not to visit the palace! Under cloak of darkness, the trio stole away from Bethlehem. If the magi had brought danger with them, at least they had left behind travel-ready gifts, too. Even fugitives have travel expenses; and once they reached Egypt, there would be rent to pay.
Herod died soon after. Joseph brought Mary back to Israel. They settled in Nazareth because Herod's son Archaealus reigned over Bethlehem. He was a chip off the old block and they preferred to keep out of harm's way. Jesus seemed to attract trouble like corpses attract buzzards.
There was that time they went down for the feast of the Passover and found him missing after they'd traveled a whole day's journey toward home. They checked for him among their relatives, but he wasn't to be found. Had bandits waylaid him? With fearful hearts they retraced their steps to Jerusalem, asking questions, casting eyes left and right for any sign of foul play, peering into ditches and ravines. Days later, they found him--in the temple, stumping the teachers of the law. "Why have you done this to us?" exclaimed Mary.
He seemed genuinely puzzled. "Didn't you realize I'd be in my father's house?" Simeon's sword pricked her then. Jesus was as thoughtless of parental feelings as any boy his age, and becoming independent, too.
Years later, however, it was she who gave him the final push into his work. It happened at Cana in Galilee. Jesus had been working as a tekton --a builder--supporting her with his wages after Joseph died. As he neared thirty, the age of final maturity, she had known that would change. And it had. Like many other Galileans, he'd gone down to the Jordan to be baptized by John, and now was back. He'd gathered a few followers and it was evident he was planning to become a rabbi. He spoke of a mission he had to fulfill, yet seemed to be holding back, as if uncertain when and where to begin. Hesitation was not characteristic of him, for he was a clear-headed man, quick to make the right decision. In the village and at work, people turned to him for leadership.
So did Mary. If anyone could figure out a solution for an embarrassing little problem that had cropped up, Mary was sure it was her son. She crossed the room and told him the wine had run out. His answer was odd. "Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come." What did he mean by My time has not yet come? What time? Mary wasn't to be brushed off. She simply dumped the problem square in his lap. "Do whatever he tells you," she told the servants and walked away. Next thing she knew, everyone was commenting on the excellent wine. Rumors circulated that it had been produced miraculously.
After that, Jesus left. For three years she'd hardly caught a glimpse of him. Miracle followed miracle. He moved about healing people, forgiving sins, and making statements that sounded as if he thought he was God. Surely that could not be! He'd kicked like any other baby in the womb and dirtied his diapers and had to be burped. Perhaps he was touched from over-exertion. By all accounts, he was working night and day, not getting the rest and food he needed. She worried. Bringing his brothers, she came to speak with him, to take him home. But she couldn't even get near him because the crowd was so dense. She sent a message through the crowd and heard a roar of approval as her son made some kind of reply. "What did he say?" she asked.
Someone repeated his words for her and she felt another stab from the sword Simeon had predicted. "Who are my mother and brothers?" he had asked. "Whoever does my father's will--they are my mother and brothers." It pained her, not only because the crowds seemed to mean more to him than she did, but because she knew there was a barbed shaft in that message for his brothers. They were upright boys, but jealous of Jesus.
That was the last time she interfered in any way with his ministry. Standing at the foot of the cross she wondered if she'd been right to butt out. Maybe, maybe she could have kept him from this... How it tormented her heart to see him nailed up there, accused of crimes he would never have dreamed of committing, he who did only good! Even now, from the cross, he was reaching out to her with his eyes, arranging a place for her to stay, away from the snide remarks of her sons who felt Jesus was only getting what he deserved for overstepping himself. Blood had dried on his face. His limbs were contorted as he writhed on the spikes, gasping for a sip of air.
"It is finished," he cried, somehow gathering enough breath to make his last cry. He sounded triumphant. And then he died. For several moments she struggled to keep her footing as the earth shook. Rocks shattered like stones exploding in a fireplace. And then she was clinging to the other women, sobbing. Sad how this ex-harlot, this former demoniac understood her sorrow better...was more of a family to her today than her own James and Jude. At least her boy's death hadn't dragged on as long as some--those other two were still groaning up there--poor fellows...
A few days later, everything changed. All the commonplaces stood on their heads. Resurrected! Although still his mother, Mary became Christ's disciple. His brothers, too, came around. Curiously, the private details that she had so long been unable to share with anyone, the whole world now knew as marvellous fact.
The church began to reverence Mary. Nations revered her. Next to Christ's suffering, her humility became the prime example of obedient submission to the divine will. In time, the church would quarrel over who and what she had been. Did she remain a perpetual Virgin? Was she the result of an immaculate conception? Some would call her the mother of God. Others would deny it. Doctrines formed around her. Legend gathered.
Kings and emperors have mothers, and so did the son of God. In the final analysis, it was as the mother of a needy, crying baby that Mary was most important to the world.
IN HER OWN WORDS
My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he has had regard for the humble state of his bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One had done great things for me; And holy is his name.
And his mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear him.
He has done mighty deeds with his arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel his servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As he spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his offspring forever.
--Mary's Magnificat, New American Standard Bible
SOME ROLES ATTRIBUTED TO MARY
Mother of God
Queen of Heaven