Nine or 10 years ago, Bill and I went to a movie and dinner with one of my friends who was newly divorced at the time, and very broken. The movie we saw was The Nativity Story, the fairly biblically accurately-told story of the birth of Jesus, and the events before and after. My friend is a cradle Catholic who had been a bit tepid about her faith for a while, but following her terribly ugly divorce, she was nothing short of put-a-fork-in-it-it’s-done when it came to religion. She was asking that age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
We sat down after the movie at a restaurant for dinner. As one would expect, we began talking about the movie. I remember clearly that my friend said something like “You guys really believe that story, don’t you? To me, it’s just a fairy tale.”
Well, while as far as I know, no legal documents exist stating that Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, was born on December 25, 0 A.D., there is literary evidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. Read the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew. And I guess you are either going to believe their writings or you’re going to assume they were big fat liars. Many historical scholars take their writings seriously. And I believe.
As all good story tellers, the writers tweaked the story a bit. I’m pretty sure the shepherds didn’t come that same night, nor did the three kings come a couple of weeks later. But I believe the Son of God was born to Mary in Bethlehem, and I’m sure he had humble beginnings, perhaps born in a stable. It is true that Mary and Joseph needed to go to Bethlehem to register, and it’s likely that there wouldn’t be a lot of places to stay, especially if you are a poor carpenter.
Anyway, I’m no biblical scholar, just a believing Christian. All that aside, every year around this time, I begin thinking about Mary, a poor Jewish girl not much older than my eldest granddaughter, going out to gather water or do some chore or another and suddenly being greeted by an angel with the astounding news that she was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God. She was going to bear a child even though she hadn’t been with a man.
Think about that. Think about small towns anywhere. The inevitable gossip would never end, no matter that Joseph agreed to marry her. Think about the fact that her child would never really belong to her. I don’t know if she knew about his inevitable end and I doubt she even came close to understanding what taking on this commitment would entail. Nevertheless, she had to be terrified.
And yet, she said yes. Neither Luke nor Matthew mention a word about Mary saying, “Give me just a minute, I need to think about this.” But I bet she did. Who wouldn’t? In the end, Mary made the ultimate sacrifice and basically gave up her life so that Jesus could fulfill the words of the prophets.
It’s interesting to think how things would be different had she said no.
This past week, I came across these two beautiful nativity prints on Facebook. Gari Melchers is the artist for the first painting. Unfortunately, I don’t know the artist of the second.
Every depiction I’ve ever seen about the nativity shows Mary and Joseph kneeling over the manger worshiping the Baby Jesus. Anyone who has given birth knows how absolutely exhausted Mary would have been, and how terrified Joseph would feel. Doesn’t this depiction of Mary and Joseph right after she gives birth look more accurate? Mary looks totally spent and Joseph looks absolutely stunned and terrified…..
And words can’t express how much I love this depiction of Mary and Jesus…..