Since I had several December pregnancies, I found myself frequently thinking of Mary, the first Christmas Mother. As I thought of my troubles and fears with my pregnancy—nothing unusual, just what is common to woman: morning sickness, fatigue, aches, and concerns about the safety of the delivery of the child—I remembered that she was quite possibly, the bravest mother who ever lived. She faced obstacles on every hand but she faced them with courage. Her life was full and good, but it was not at all what she imagined her life and her motherhood would be.

She imagined that she would marry her sweetheart; that he would continue the business he had in their hometown, that they would, of course, have children and that they would serve the Lord God and live “happily ever after.”

 Mary was young, barely of marriageable age, possibly 13 or 14. She was engaged to a man of outstanding character named Joseph. The entire town knew that he was an honorable man. He was honest in his business dealings. He had never pressed her for sex before their wedding ceremony. And she dreamed of her marriage to him,

But her dreams were not going to come true. Her life changed in a moment when she unexpectedly encountered an angel while doing simple chores in her parents’ house. The angel Gabriel came to her with a message—perhaps the most amazing message ever given: she would have a child who would be the Son of the Most High. And this child would be conceived without normal human sexual activity.

Think about at what Mary had to face to become the Christmas Mother.

First, she faced fear. She unexpectedly met an angel face to face. Every encounter in the Bible between an angel and a human being results in fear for the human being. And Mary was the youngest person in the Bible to meet an angel. She wasn’t the first female, but she was the youngest, as best as I can tell. And she was afraid.

Yes, I know that angels are a big part of Christmas décor and Christmas songs. We love to decorate with angels, and sing about angels. And that’s all good. They were an important part of the first Christmas. But angels are not delightful beings; they are terrifying beings who come from the presence of holy God. And they inspire fear in those they speak to. The Bible does not give a description of Gabriel in this story of the Christmas Mother, but in other places the Bible describes angels as being large, at least 15-18 feet in height and with 3 sets of wings. They can take a more human form, but even then they are described as having a body of crystal with eyes like a lightening bolt, arms and legs of bronze and a thunderous voice (Daniel 10:6). Grown men trembled and fell down in a faint when they encountered an angel. The great prophet Daniel did (Daniel 10:4-9). And Mary was just an innocent young woman.

But Gabriel was quick to reassure her that she had nothing to fear from him. He told her she had found favor with God and that his message was a friendly one. She must have drawn a deep breath when she heard that!

She not only faced fear, but she also faced unbelief. The message the Angel Gabriel brought was incredible. She would bear a child who would be named Jesus. He would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High. But how could she, a virgin, bear a child? And how could she ever, ever convince anyone that she was still a virgin?

She also faced shame. Her assignment involved bearing a child out of wedlock. Today even that term seems antiquated. There is almost no shame in bearing a child while unmarried. A TV newscaster whom my husband and I had enjoyed, proudly announced on the evening news that she was getting married, and oh yes, she was pregnant; she was cheered and applauded.

That did not happen for Mary. She faced shame—societal shame for getting pregnant before marriage. It was a strong and pervasive shame that helped their culture to ensure that women and men were married before they had sex.

Mary’s shame had no guilt in it. It was real, but it was not caused by guilt. And she was not deterred by the shame she knew she would face.

When Gabriel told her she would bear the Messiah, she said, “I am the Lord’s maidservant. Let it be to me according to your word.” In simple terms, she said, “Yes.” She didn’t have to accept this assignment, this enormous change in plans, this societal shame.

But she did.

Mary faced fear, unbelief and shame with courage.

And that was all before she faced real danger. Danger to her life.

She set out on a journey of over 70 miles, on foot, and possibly alone, to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Being as young as she was, and knowing that the open highways of that day were unsafe due to bandits and even wild animals, surely her parents would have found her a group of travelers to journey with, but there is no mention of them in the Bible. Just the words, “she got ready and hurried to the hill country of Judea” where her cousin, Elizabeth, lived” (Luke 1:39-40).

A few months later, after she was married to Joseph and in the last weeks before the child was to be born, she traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a second journey of about 70 miles, and again one fraught with danger. What if she had gone into labor while on the road? Would she have to give birth in the open air? She was a long way from her midwife with her due date approaching!

After Jesus was born, and the wise men came bearing gifts to the Holy One, she had another opportunity to be brave when she faced more danger. An angel appeared to Joseph and told him that King Herod was plotting to take the baby’s life and that they should flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14). And they did. They got up in the middle of the night, packed their belongings and set off to Egypt, a foreign land where they had never before been. They didn’t know the way, they didn’t have a job waiting for them, and they didn’t have housing planned. They just got up and went on another long dangerous journey.

And finally, Mary faced sorrow. Jesus was only 40 days old when Simeon told her that a sword would pierce her soul. And 33 years later, she was at the cross when her son, the infant Jesus, now known as Jesus the Messiah, was crucified. What pain she endured—quite possibly more than anyone else there at the cross.

And yet, having bravely faced all these things—fear, unbelief, shame, danger and sorrow—Mary was filled with joy. In the midst of this shocking news from the angel and complete life change, she was filled with joy, hope, exuberance and an understanding of the future that was amazing. Her words are recorded in the Bible: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his Name” (Luke 1:46-49).

Mary took the long view and she realized that there is more to life than what appears today. She knew that the child she would bear and give birth to would have immense consequences for mankind and she took great joy in knowing that would happen, though it was many years away.  

What can we learn from the Christmas mother, Mary of Nazareth?

First of all, we can learn that it’s okay when life and mothering and having a baby doesn’t always turn out like we thought it would. All our dreams won’t come true. They didn’t for Mary. They won’t for us. And that’s okay. We can accept our assignment bravely. Being brave doesn’t mean never being afraid—it means having the courage to do what is right even if you are afraid.

I remember feeling afraid when I was pregnant with my fifth child. It was taking all my energy and time to keep up with four children—how would I keep up with another, and in a new location? We had moved while I was pregnant with our fifth; and our move was not just across town, we moved 1000 miles to accept a new job for my husband. I had to learn to face my fears and be brave enough to be the mom of five in Dallas, Texas instead of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Maybe your dream is being able to get pregnant again with another child and yet you are waiting month after month. Maybe it’s having the disappointment of an adoption fall through, again. Maybe it’s an “oops” pregnancy and you’re having to adjust to that idea. Maybe it’s finding your husband has more faults than you would like. Or you’ve realized you will not be able to buy a home in the near future. Or your husband’s job requires travel and you didn’t sign up for that. Or, maybe God got your baby order mixed up and he sent you an autistic son or a daughter with a handicap or Downs Syndrome instead of the son or daughter that you imagined.

We can learn from Mary that all the things that happen to us come through the good hand of our God. He has carefully filtered what comes our way, and we can trust him. We will be wise and godly women indeed if we can say with Mary, I am the Lord’s servant: I accept this handicapped child, I accept this less than perfect husband, I accept living in a rental home or apartment. I choose contentment. I choose to trust God.

We can also learn from Mary to face the future with joy and optimism. She had a thankful heart and a grateful spirit. She had joy. We can learn to say with Mary, “May it be to me according to your word.” Mothering is not easy; it is not for cowards. It is for courageous women who seek to do what is right with God’s help.

The Bible says that Mary kept all the things that happened with Jesus in her heart and she treasured them (Luke 2:51). She put them in her heart and she took them out and looked at them from time to time so she would remember. She savored them.

In this season, take time to savor Christmas for yourself. Slow down and savor. Meditate on the names of Jesus. While you are folding the laundry you can think of Jesus, Messiah, Savior, Lord, God, Lamb of God, Light of the World, Bread of Life, Redeemer and friend.

While you fold the next load of laundry, put on some Christmas carols. Find a copy of the words and memorize the carol while you are folding the laundry. Then sing it to the baby at bedtime.

Giving yourself a gift at Christmas has become popular. Why not give yourself a gift that will refresh you and delight you? Give yourself a quiet time of worship to reflect on the meaning of Christmas in your own life. Plan it during your kids’ nap. Play peaceful Christmas carols, prepare a cup of cocoa or chai tea, choose a Christmas book or two and slowly read a couple poems and then read Luke 2.

Memorize a Bible verse about Christmas. A couple years ago I memorized 1 Peter 1:8-9 for my Christmas verse: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

And think about filling your kids’ souls at Christmas, not just filling their stockings. Filling the stockings is so much fun—we love to shop for tiny treasures to tuck in the toes of those stockings, but let’s be intentional about filling their souls, too, at this Christmas time.

Do an advent calendar, but not with candy. My daughter, Sarah, has designed one where she can fill in the numbered pockets with a token. Each day the kids pull out the next token. I asked her what she might say in those Advent pockets and here are some of her answers: “Getting our tree is day 1. Day 2 is decorating the tree, with a special treat of putting the angel on top. The rest of the days vary, but include: eat candy canes while we listen to Christmas music and drive around and look at lights. (We do this almost once a week.) Surprise trip to In-N-Out trip for dinner. (We call the kids to the table and ask them where the food is.) Make fudge and/or peppermint bark. Then deliver some to the neighbors. Sing Christmas carols together. Read Christmas stories aloud. Have a fire in the fireplace. Watch a Christmas movie. Walk around the neighborhood and look at lights. Talk about our favorite ornaments. Have kids read the different Christmas narratives from the Bible. We really try to do experiences, rather than treats. Even the fudge/peppermint bark is largely given away.” 

These are filling activities, experiences that replenish, rather than empty, the kids’ souls.

Help the kids plan, shop and wrap gifts for siblings and cousins. I read a study that said that we feel closer to those we give gifts to—I guess because we are thinking about them and hoping they will like the present. Focusing on being a giver will help to fill your kids’ souls.

Have a simple birthday party for Jesus. We did this a few times when our kids were little. We invited a few neighborhood kids for the real Christmas story and cupcakes.

Read the Luke story every night in December. Or read it after dinner at the table on Saturday and Sunday nights during Advent. Your children will soon know it by heart.

Any Christmas mother can be like the first Christmas Mother in accepting the way her life turned out to be—not the way we dreamed, but even better. Yes, even better because it’s real. It’s a real life, and it can be filled with more joy and happiness than we dreamed. Let’s savor every moment. Tell your husband that you love him and are glad you married him. And fill your kids’ souls with nourishing activities and quiet times.

A very merry Christmas to you.