Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
Looking at the traditional Nativity scene, we usually see a pleasant pastoral idyll. There’s a good reason for the charm of such representations: they try to communicate something of the beauty of God’s graciousness.
Today’s Gospel reading is stark by contrast and definitely odd. There we find a young mother sheltered in a stable–hardly an ideal place to give birth–her privacy invaded, her much needed rest interrupted by strangers, unwashed shepherds. In fact Saint Luke’s Gospel presents us several scenes of Mary in succession in which her space is invaded or she is severely inconvenienced.
The annunciation of Jesus’ birth is startling enough for the Angel Gabriel to assure her, “Do not fear,” though it turns her world and reputation upside down. Then, pregnant, she hastens to the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. There’s the make-shift shelter for giving birth; and then we find her being told by Simeon that a sword will pierce her heart. We next see her anxiously searching for Jesus in Jerusalem when he’s twelve years old.
Of course she also knew joy, even in these episodes, but Luke does not portray her as an unruffled Madonna, leisurely thumbing through a prayer book, turning an adoring gaze on her roly-poly Infant. She is a real life young mother juggling the limits and delights life brings her. Her response in Luke’s Gospel is consistent with her receptive character: And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
That is what faith is: not solving, but delving into the mystery, turning it over, making it our own, slowly unpacking it, gradually being grasped by it. It is the only way we can actually become who we are called to be, to be loyal to that call and discover what God creates in us, without fleeing or subverting the course of our lives.
Luke presents Mary one final time in the Upper Room with the Apostles awaiting Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descends upon them as wind and tongues of fire. Her path, her growing to be at home with the mysteries and call of God, couldn’t that also be ours?