I heard a song today and then I read something that both have me thinking about the Blessed Mother of our Savior, Mary, sweet Mary. The link for the song is at the end of this entry.
The thing I read is from a book about the visions of Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich, a 19th century nun who saw the Blessed Mother in moments of her life that no one could have known. The particular scene described in my reading involved Mary and Joseph trying to find a place for her to labor and deliver the child Jesus. It’s moving and is such a realistic description of what occurred. Well, I was moved by it.
One of the small details that struck me was the detail of Mary waiting for “so long” while Joseph went down the busy streets trying to find lodging for his bride who was “great with child.” I’ve been there. Not exactly, not in Bethlehem 9 months pregnant, walking next to a donkey while my husband desperately tried to find a warm, dry, and possibly clean place for the baby to be delivered. But I’ve been “great with child.”
Anne Emmerich says that, at first, Mary stood upright, leaning against a tree, while she waited. But then, because it took so long, she sat down. She was in a white woolen dress that “hung around her in folds.” She had a white veil over her head. Finally, she was so fatigued that Mary sat down on a rug Joseph had thoughtfully provided her. With head bowed, sitting on the hard ground (I can’t imagine), she waited.
I imagine the contractions coming closer together, growing stronger and longer in duration. I’ve been there. It is kind of terrifying. Why should something that brings a sweet, innocent baby into the world be so very painful? It doesn’t compute, certainly not while you’re going through it and the end result, the beautiful child to hold and nurse, is not there yet, for consolation. (It really is true that you forget the labor pains once you hold the baby.)
But what I remember at nine months is that standing for too long caused my ankles and feet to swell. It was incredibly uncomfortable. And looking at my lower extremities that were so unfamiliar was disturbing, as well. Whose legs and feet are those? Certainly not mine. Of course, I couldn’t really see my feet at that point because of the protrusion of my pregnant belly. When I sat down I could see them, if I placed my feet off to one side. Putting my feet up would sometimes bring the swelling down. But I didn’t often get the chance to do that. And Mary certainly didn’t have that opportunity.
Oh the misery, oh the fatigue, oh the anxiety of where to go for this momentous event in any human life. The good nun says that, so distraught was Joseph when he could not find a suitable spot for Mary that he came back to his wife in tears. She was depending on him, and he failed her. My heart breaks, my eyes well up with tears. Poor, sweet Mary and Joseph. And we can wonder where was God at this time? His Son is about to be born and He can’t even provide a clean bed and some warmth? Not just the warmth of a fire and some clean blankets, but the warmth of human kindness.
As with so much of the life of Jesus, it starts as humble and is as lacking in the dignity owed Him (and His parents) just as human beings, never mind as the King of the Universe, as His end here will be. Once again we see that Jesus can understand our humiliations, our disappointments, our pain. And so can His mother. That’s why, after Jesus is born and tenderly placed in the manger, an angel of the Lord appears to shepherds so they can be The First to know of the glorious birth of the Savior of the world.
Shepherds were next to nothing in their society at that time. It’s the “great reversal” that Luke, the Gospel writer, likes to come back to again and again. Jesus comes to the sinners, the poor, the lepers. God comes to the outcasts because He wants us to know we are all loved, we are all remembered, we are all worthy of His loving gaze; all are in need of the mercy and grace He provides. At the time when Jesus was born, the general belief was that only the wealthy and the healthy were acceptable to God.
Jesus came to show the world that it’s exactly the opposite! Oh, sure, the wealthy and the healthy are lovable, as well. But the poor and the lame, the sinner and the leper, the unloveable in society are more than acceptable to God. He believes you’re priceless. God made us, and it’s complicated, but women and men have been the ones who displaced too many members of the human race to the ‘lowest place’ when they never deserved to be there. It is not where God wants any of us to be.
So, for those of us who are healthy and maybe not wealthy, but certainly not worrying where our next meal is coming from or where we’ll lay our heads tonight, we have a responsibility to love like Jesus does. We have a duty to ensure those who are ostracized in every culture know that they are loved. And we need to ensure they have the hope that is Jesus Christ.
Mary endured much to bring Him into the world. It was a long, hard road and not a moment of it was easy, physically, for the Mother of God. And yet, she rejoiced at her role in our salvation. Why wouldn’t she? God never promised her it would be easy; Jesus never promised us it would be easy. Look at His birth and death and you can understand why. Jesus would never hypocritically tell us one thing and do another personally. Politicians will disappoint us, public personalities certainly will, as well.
But Jesus, true God and true man, never will disappoint. Hope, the certain hope that is Jesus, is what we cling to. Let’s remember to thank His mother for her crucial, critical role in our salvation history. God would not do it without her “yes.” Think about that for a while. Then be amazed and grateful. Sweet Mary, thank you for the gift of your Son.