Incarnation: Thoughts on what Mary understood, and what she pondered… A Christmas Eve meditation

Luke 1: 26-38; 2: 1; 3-20

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

I was listening to an Audible book this week about Christmas music.

Jingle Bell Pop, by John Seabrook.

Seabrook refers to certain Christmas hymns and songs as the Christmas Music “Canon”.

It includes those songs that we hear every year at Christmas time, and probably always will.

Some are focused on the birth of Christ, others more toward the “holiday” season.

Seabrook starts with “Silent Night” written in 1818 by Franz Xavier Gruber and Joseph Mohr.

He closes the canon with “All I Want for Christmas is You” written in 1994 by Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff.

Unfortunately, Seabrook does not give us a full list of the songs he calls “Canon” and I suspect we would have a long and lively discussion of those songs and hymns that should be included and those that should not.

One song I would include is the 1991 song, “Mary Did You Know?” written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene.

The song asks a series of questions of Mary.

Mary did you know that your baby boy:

would one day walk on water?
would save our sons and daughters?
give sight to a blind man?
calm a storm with his hand?
walked where angels trod?
is Lord of all creation?
would one day rule the nations?
is heaven’s perfect lamb?

Well, did she?

Did she know all that on the day Jesus was born?

To answer that, I included the two principal scriptural events that describe what Mary was told about her child to be.

Mary knew the boy was special, but there was still a fair amount of uncertainty about the baby’s future.

So, this evening, I want to take a fresh look at these stories and Mary herself.

Think of it as a two act play with several scenes.

Act I

When the story opens, we are given background by the narrator.

Mary is a teenaged girl of marriage age who lives in Nazareth.

Nothing good comes from Nazareth, right?

Her father has arranged for her to be married to a carpenter named Joseph.

The marriage will be consummated when she gets to move in with Joseph.

That’s still a ways off.

Now the action begins.

Mary is occupied in her normal life, puttering around her parent’s small home.

Then enter Gabriel!

(Angels are always terrifying, by the way.)

Mary’s reaction to this unexpected guest evolves over the course of the encounter.

At first Mary is afraid.

I have an image that she is cowering behind whatever she can find to cower behind with wide eyes and gaping mouth.

She is gasping … panting.

Maybe she wants to scream but can’t.

Gabriel shushes her and tries to calm her down.

He delivers the message.

Mary is now more mystified.

With a puzzled expression Mary askes a few questions.

“Why do you (Gabriel is it?) call me favored?”

“That the Lord is with me?”

“What the heck does that mean?”

“Why do I get a visit from you (Gabriel, right?)?”

“Does God even know I exist?”

“I’m a girl from Nazareth.”


“Nothing good comes from here, right?”

She drops her chin to her chest, shaking her head – “No, no, no …”

“I think you have the wrong person, Gabriel.”

Then the big reveal!

She’s going to have a son.

She is no longer cowering.

She bolts upright!

“Wait … what!?”

“A baby?”


“How is that going to happen?”

“Wait … what?”

“This is going to be God’s doing?”

“Wait … what?”

“This baby will be what?”

“You’re saying I will be the mother of the Messiah!”

Gabriel is nodding his head.

“How can this be?”

“How can any of this be?”

Then, after all this, the fear, the confusion, the incredulity, and no doubt intense teenage angst, Mary sits down hard on a chair.

She shrugs her shoulders and says:


The curtain closes.

Act II

Scene 1

We jump ahead a few months.

We look in on Mary.

She is now living with Joseph.

Mary is not happy.

She is pregnant – and packing.

She and Joseph have to go to Bethlehem for a census.

All that talk about who the child was going to be and do is lost in the midst of Mary’s physical and emotional pregnancy challenges.

She is mumbling under her breath.

It’s a long way.

A long trip for a pregnant girl.

Curtain closes.

Scene 2

She and Joseph are now in Bethlehem.

They are staying with Joseph’s family.

And Mary knows none of them.

A big crowd in a small house.

Everyone is a bit cramped.

Everyone looks at Mary with raised eyebrows as they walk through the house.

She is looking like she could go into labor at any moment.

Mary has many questions for Joseph.

“Where am I going to have this baby?”

“I need a bit of privacy, right?”

“Who will be with me?”

“All my closest friends are in Nazareth!”

“I know no one here.”

“Is it just going to be just you and me, Joseph?”

“And a midwife”, Joseph responds.

“We’ll go into the stable area.”

“It’s private there.”

“Plenty of clean straw.”



“It’s going to be fine.”

Mary scowls … and her water breaks.

Those of you who have given birth and those of us who watched know that the two-line description of Jesus actual birth leaves a lot out.

We are not told how long it took nor what Mary went through.

When Jesus was born, the midwife washes him, wraps him in bands of cloth and lays him on Mary’s chest.

Jesus is crying, which is good, because they want him to clear his lungs.

Only when Mary falls asleep is Jesus put in the manger.

You get the picture here.

This was not a silent night.

Curtain closes.

Scene 3

The scene shifts.

We are up in the hills near Bethlehem.

Several shepherds are guarding their sheep.

These guys are filthy.

They are smelly.

They are out taking care of the sheep because they are at the bottom of the social ladder.

Then … an explosion of activity.

An angel.

Heavenly Hosts.

The Glory of the Lord.

A celestial birth announcement.

Can you imagine being on that hill?

I would probably be digging a hole to hide in.

There is no place to run.

I would be shaking and maybe feeling a bit nauseous.

Angelic visitor. Heavenly host.

Glory of God.

Then it all ends.

I look at my fellow shepherds.

Maybe rocking back and forth from foot to foot.

Wringing hands.

Not making eye contact.

Then someone says, “Did that really just happen?”

“Um, yeah.”

“What do you think we should do?”

“Um … maybe we better go into town and find the baby.”

“I mean that’s what that … um … guy said we should do, right?”

“Yeah … right. That’s what we should do.”

Exit stage left.

Scene 4

Back to the stable.

Jesus is sleeping in the manger.

Mary and Joseph chatting quietly because they don’t want to wake the baby.

It’s been a big night, and now they can relax.

They begin to doze.

In troops a bunch of stinky, smelly shepherds.

“Hey, here he is!”

Just like that … um … guy said!

Mary grabs Jesus and holds him tight.

These unexpected visitors tell Mary about the otherworldly birth announcement, what the angel told them about the baby and that they were to go and check it all out.

While they tell their tale, what does Mary do?

She sits silently.

She has a demure smile, but a furrowed brow as she looks at her child.

The narrator tells us she treasures the words but ponders what they mean.

The curtain falls.

The end.

So, when you put the story together, what did Mary really know?

Her baby would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High.

That the Lord God would give to him the throne of his ancestor David.

That he would reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there would be no end.

That he would be holy and would be called Son of God.

And that his birth would be news of great joy for all the people: A Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

How did Mary respond to all this?

She treasured it all.

And what mother wouldn’t when such words were spoken about her child?

But she also “pondered them in her heart”.

Again, the uncertainty of what the future would hold for this child.

But for this moment, he is her child.

All this other stuff?

Mary is not going to think about it right now.

Right now, Mary is just enjoying that moment.

The birth of her son.

Her first born.

We, of course, know the rest of the story.

Even though we have been told much, we, like Mary, still don’t really understand.

What we know and what we don’t know.

But it is Christmas Eve and all that can wait.

Tonight, let’s just sit with Mary and the baby, Emanuel, God with us.

Let’s just enjoy that moment.

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