A cold night. Animals as neighbors. Sharing your child’s “crib” with food that animals eat from. Sleeping on Straw. Smells of a stable day and night…
This definitely is not what we image as the first Christmas. Usually, we picture the perfect looking Christmas card image- Mary and Joseph radiant with Jesus, Kings and shepherds all neat and pristine to see their newborn King, where Jesus looks He is sleeping comfortably as in a crib.
And yet, even with this all too common image of a beautiful Christmas, how often does it sometimes deter us from the reality that God became Man, not in the perfect ideal setting, but rather, in probably one of the most difficult and messy situations.
Mary, the mother of Christ, a 14 year old young woman, probably could have preferred that God choose another time to have this happen in her life. Along with Joseph and her newborn child, they would be pilgrims in an unknown land. Mary would give birth to her child without her whole family celebrating with her. There were many parts of this situation which seemed to go against the ideal. Yet, God became man in this. He chose out of all times, places, people, and situations in history, to come into this one.
This... This was the circumstance that God chose. Throughout thousands of years, God told His people that He would send a Messiah, He encouraged them to eagerly await His coming. His people, generation upon generation, waited for this moment in history when God would redeem his people, and this was the time He chose.
And during this time, when asking ourselves on how to spend the next 2 weeks of Advent, we can look to Mary. Yes, she was a woman conceived without sin, but she is so very human, and she is our mother. She can teach us in this time what Advent is about, and most especially how to receive the love of God into our lives by looking to how she did it in hers.
In the situation of Christ’s birth, this the greatest gift that God could ever shower upon anyone. God Himself, chose to be within Mary for nine months of pregnancy, to live life with her, and to come to earth to redeem man. And Mary teaches us in this.
It was not the perfect situation…No, God did not want that. He wanted to come to us in our brokenness and our messiness, and so she wanted that as well. Mary trusted that God can bring some of his greatest gifts amidst the chaos of humanity, that He brings good and glory out of every evil.
What made Mary like this? The Church prays it in her Liturgy of the Hours...In her prayer that she exclaimed at the Visitation, Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
Mary is a model for us on how to receive God’s love and gifts in our lives. She is a model to us of humility. In this prayer of her heart, she expressed a profound truth which gives us the grace to allow God to penetrate our lives and hearts. She realized that her gifts, her talents, and all she had, were a gift from God. She was the handmaid of the Lord, and trusted in His power and love.
We are all called to do the same, and can model after this. Advent is a time to bring our hearts as they are to the Lord. Ask Him to help you see your heart, to allow Him into it as Mary did.
Ask Him, "Am I willing to see myself as I really am in the fullness of truth? Am I alright with seeing both my sin and weakness, and also my gifts and talents that You have given me? In the areas of my weakness, in those areas which feel like the stable of Bethlehem, where there is filth and shame, do I allow You to come into them?”
Mary teaches us in this what true humility is…It is what opens our hearts to allow God in, and to receive Him into our lives with gratitude, no matter what the circumstances of our hearts. It is knowing who we really are, even those “ugly” areas of our hearts we afraid of, and yet allowing God to go there and make them holy.
During this Advent, let us prepare our hearts to be a new Bethlehem, a new place for God to enter. Let us prepare ourselves in humility to be open to receiving the gifts of love that God is showering upon us. And we ask Mary, our Mother, to guide us to this true humility. May she inspire us to receive the Love of God in our lives, especially in those areas where we can shy away from, where God can enter in and love us.
Citation for image: Dietrich, Christian Wilhelm Ernst. The Adoration of the Shepherds. 1760s, Oil on Canvas, The Met, Purchase 1871, 71.162, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436200, public domain.