2 – Mary at Bethlehem – Mary Mother of the newborn King
Today’s blog post brings us to the Nativity, where Mary relies upon the grace of God and shares her Son with the world. She cannot control the outcome of love and hate that will come upon him as she extends him into the creche, but trusts that God’s will be done. As we ponder and walk with Mary, we can see how those first moments of Jesus life were the very first steps to the cross she had to take. I share with you a story of my own life and the releasing of control for God’s will to be done.
The birth of my son had a very dramatic entrance into life. He was three weeks past my due date and doctors were worried. So was I. It was Memorial Day when I finally went into labor and at 19 years old, I had no idea what to expect. When we went to the hospital, I was told I was already at four centimeters – whatever that meant – so they registered me and off we went to labor and delivery. It was about nine o’clock in the morning. Little did I know that in just a few short hours, the happy excitement would turn to one of confusion, sadness and fear. For those early hours, everything moved forward as planning to be a normal delivery. Nurses would come and go checking on me throughout the morning. About one o’clock things started to change. My baby’s heart rate was elevated, and I was not progressing in dilation. A special belt was placed around my abdomen to monitor things. No one spoke much to me except to say keep calm and breath deep. Everything was going to be fine.
Could we say that Jesus, too, had a very dramatic entrance into life? Mary rode sideways on a donkey for miles and miles, in the dusk and chill of the night. She must have been hungry, had a hurting back, legs and just wanted to lay down. But Joseph could find no rooms. Poor Joseph! What was he thinking to take Mary across the country while she was pregnant and so close to delivery? Already the world was turning their back on Jesus, rejecting him through Joseph before he was even born. Joseph could not find one open and friendly door to allow Mary to rest. What confusing thoughts must have gone through Mary’s head about how he discerned this was a good idea – census or not. Her heart though must have hung as heavy as his. Mary in her goodness would wait; silently pondering in her obedience towards her husband who she knew would provide through the grace of God. Her trust and faith in the Holy Spirit would keep her calm, ready and waiting for the moment in which the miracle would happen. I can imagine this holy Mother of God thinking everything will be fine because God had a plan and she knew she just had to trust.
I needed to trust. But things got worse. About three o’clock, my child’s heart rate apparently met an all-time high and all sorts of alarming codes sounded in my room. A new Doctor came in and examined me. He told me my birth canal was too small and tilted and the baby would not make it down alive. I was told I would now have a caesarean section. I was in shock. How was it they did not know this before? Would he make it? What was going on inside me? It took several more hours of painful contractions and watching a frantic staff arrange and prep me in an operating room for this new delivery. My husband could not be there. I was alone. I cried out to God for help, to save my child. I was given drugs. Things got very dark. More people and noisy machines came into the room. I could no longer feel anything except the growing stress of everyone present.
How was Mary was not frantic when they could not find a decent place to bring their child into the world? The smelly, cool, dark cave Joseph was directed to must have been something very hard to accept as the birthplace for Jesus. Lowly, damp, dirty for sure. Mary had no time left – she was in labor and this was going to be the place. Yet God did provide. A stable – no one would disturb them; it was out of the wind and away from people. A manger – a feeding trough to lay the new baby in. This baby to be laid in a feeding trough that would one day become food for us – yet Mary cannot even think beyond this present moment of caring for a baby who relied totally on her. Jesus had no control over anything and relied on her for everything. Yet he was the Son of the most-high God! You would think he could but as he took on our humanity, he gave up his control. The time had come to bring him out from the safety of Mary’s body where she alone adored and comforted him – controlling his world – into a world where she could no longer protect him as she had been.
This was Mary’s first step to the cross – with him – encountering a world where there was no room for such a King. No room would have been good enough, so the lowest place was chosen. He would only go up from here. They were alone with Jesus only for a short time before the Shepherds came. Mary must have hesitated to move him to that manger – she had held him for nine months and they were one with each other. To lay him in that manger meant separation – and she knew that one day that separation would be even stronger than sharing him as she now was about to. Did it stress our heavenly mother? As she lay looking at him, she would remember her scriptures and what the angel told her… Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favor with God…. You will name him Jesus … He will be great …. And his kingdom will reign forever. (Paraphrased). Looking at him her heart must have been so filled with love – of fullness and of anticipation. Could there have been any desire to hold him back? I don’t think so. Mary wanted to fully participate in God’s plan for her son; His son; and died to her own deep feelings as mother.
My son was born but I did not get to hold him. He was given over to the nurses and doctors as he could not breath. His earlier distress was because he began to take breaths while still within me and his lungs were filled with fluids. It was six-thirty at night, and they informed me he would be flown to another hospital – a high risk neo-natal hospital far across the city. I was left alone in the maternity wing to recover and would see him when I was discharged two days later. My heart was broken – I was alone and had no idea who would care for my newborn child. Where was God? Why did this happen? Instead of trusting in God, I grew angry. Another way to punish me I thought for my sinful ways. But I still prayed to be healed, to recover so I could go and help my son. My faith was very shallow but there was still a spark – my guess it held by the prayers of others. It was so hard to not have control of what I was responsible for. I had to let go of what I could not change. It was not my first cross to pick up, but it was truly one of the hardest.
As Mary began to share Jesus first with the Shepherds and then with the three Kings, she had to each time let go of her own control. Naturally she would be leery of anyone – especially strangers – to come too close to her newborn son. But this wasn’t just her son. She knew he was bound for greatness – and that anyone – and yes everyone who encounters him – would be affected by this newborn King. And we are. I have learned over my many years that control is just another form of pride. That what I want to happen does not always need or get to happen because I think it should. That God really is in control – and he alone. He has all the days planned out; our purpose defined – to know, love and serve him and others. He knows what crosses we will need to pick up and carry. He knows our attitudes, joys and sorrows. He knows it all because he dwells within us just as he did in Mary. We are his tabernacles at every communion. He knows our souls. He loves and desires us to be in union with him. But oh how we fight to keep our independence.
I eventually reunited with my son at his hospital and after two weeks and we both came home. His lungs were clear, and he sings very well today, using them to the best of his abilities. I forgave God enough to have him baptized Catholic, yet I carry another cross that he does not know God as I do. I pray in his lifetime Jesus will capture his heart and we will beat as one again in the great love of the newborn King.
In this present moment, we can ask Mary to help us remember God’s plan and ways are better than our own even when it incurs a cross to pick up. That’s not always the way we think it should be but by releasing our control and pride and accepting His grace and deep desire for us to draw near, we can rejoice in the struggle, hard as that seems. I think that’s what God’s plan is about – giving us the grace to endure the normal trials of ups and downs in life, nor to be satisfied with joys, but to rejoice greatly in the ones that call us aside and challenge us to draw closer to God – to really let go of our control – as Mary did in the first laying down of her son in the manger. Dying to self puts control to shame; it raises our hearts to Mary’s in an act of great humility and meekness, docility and obedience to God’s will. I can’t think of anyone who won’t or hasn’t carried this cross. But we are never alone to carry it. Isiah 41:10 clearly states “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
Photo credits: Giorgione – National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., online collection
My daughter’s birth was very similar (born the Monday of a May holiday weekend too). She was taken away from me immediately and we were separated for only 2 hours which seemed eternal. God bless you ~ being separated from your son for 2 days, what a trial and being so young too.
These words both convicted and comforted me. I will be turning to them many more times I’m sure. Thank you 🙏🏻
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