I want to get in touch with how Mary, Joseph and others experienced the first Christmas. The ones who walked around shocked at angels showing up here and there making outrageous proclamations. Zachariah doing his priestly office stunned in the Holy Place. Mary and Joseph just an ordinary couple, anticipating a Jewish married life under Herod and Caesar. Then, bam!, angels bursting in and changing everything. Shepherds running like maniacs to see the Messiah in a manger in obedience to an angel chorus. Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear?
You and I see the Christmas Story through lens not available to Mary. We experience Christmas backwards. We know the exalted Christ of Revelation 1, the Jesus of the four Gospels who grew up and walked the earth spinning out intriguing “kingdom of God” stories, healing the sick, delivering the possessed, feeding the hungry and irritating the daylights out of the religious machine controlling his people. We’re so familiar with his death, burial and resurrection. So, when we read the beginning, we know the ending. Mary didn’t.
Mary did not know. Ponder that.
There is a contemporary Christmas song titled “Mary, Did You Know?” (lyrics by Reba McEntire). The questions in the song get us closer to the unknowing Mary; to the Mary full of anticipation voiced in her Magnificat (Luke 1), but still uncertain of Jesus’ future. The story line for her was being written every day of Jesus’ life. At one point even Jesus asked, “Who do the people say I am?” People, do you know?
Does this idea of experiencing Christmas backwards dilute its intensity and wonder for us? I, for one, think so. We know too much. Just as the second Person of the Trinity “emptied himself” in becoming a human being (Philippians 2), so we must empty ourselves at this season and attempt to live the Christmas Story again for the first time. “John, did you know?” “Julie, did you know?”
Human history, vast and turbulent as it is, came to a tiny, sharp point: Immanuel-God is with us. The Center of all reality wiggles in straw in a cave near Bethlehem. “Mary, did you know…when you kissed your little boy, you kissed the face of God?”
Last Christmas our granddaughter, Lily, was one and a half. She got a doll house that was almost as tall as she was. Our daughter, Elisha, sent us a short video of sleepy, little Lily walking in and seeing the gift for the first time. Her expressions were to die for…so pure, so amazed…it was for her. That’s the Mary of the first Christmas. “O, how can it be?”
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