There’s no doubt that Mary, the mother of Jesus, inspires us. I’m astounded by the trust she showed when God interrupted her life with the news that she would bear the Messiah. In spite of this, sometimes the Christmas story is so familiar that we don’t remember Mary and Joseph were actual people, not just characters in the nativity scene. We forget they didn’t know how their story would unfold—they had to trust God to reveal things in His timing.
Nine months after the angel Gabriel told Mary she would bear God’s son, she and Joseph traveled eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for a census. The Bible remains factual in its description of the events, leaving us to guess what emotions they must have been feeling.
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. “ (Luke 2:4-7, NIV)
I remember being nervous when I went into labor, especially the first time. My nesting instinct was powerful as I prepared our home for the arrival of our son. Yet unlike me, Mary didn’t have the luxury of putting life in order to calm her fears. She was too busy looking for a warm, dry place to lie down and deliver her firstborn. Despite her faith and trust in God, I think she must have had doubts and fears to overcome, just like the rest of us.
What might she have been feeling about the conditions surrounding Jesus’ birth? Was she afraid? Probably. Was she confused about being in such a desperate situation? Possibly. Was she thinking about the symbolism of the Savior being born in humble circumstances to show that God was accessible to all people? Doubtful.
We don’t know what Mary and Joseph did after Jesus’ birth, but I imagine her huddled near the manger as her newborn slept. She must have been exhausted and in pain from the journey to Bethlehem and the grueling labor and delivery (without the benefit of pain medication or modern medicine). The smell of the animals probably hung in the air as she tried to nestle into the rough straw to rest. Was this how she pictured giving birth to the King of Kings when Gabriel announced her pregnancy nine months earlier?
The story shifts at this point to a different scene outside of Bethlehem. Shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks when a brilliant light suddenly penetrated the darkness. Their hearts pounded as an angel appeared proclaiming the birth of the long-awaited Savior.
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:13-18, NIV)
I wonder if the shepherds’ visit showed God’s tenderness toward a young mother at a fragile moment. In that dark, cold place, their arrival brought the reassurance Mary needed most. It affirmed God was still sovereign and that even these unusual circumstances were part of His perfect plan. When the shepherds left, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19, NIV)
No doubt, they’d told Mary and Joseph about the angels that appeared to them. Did hearing this remind Mary of her own visit with an angel a few months earlier? Did she remember Gabriel’s assurances that God favored her and that she had no reason to fear? Would those words and the reminder of the shepherds’ visit sustain her through difficulties she would face in the months and years ahead? I think so.
I believe God is still in the business of providing tangible encouragement today. He regularly reassures me when my faith and confidence waver, often using a combination of circumstances, people, songs and Scriptures.
How has God reassured you in the midst of disheartening moments? Do you need his comfort today? Seek Him and He’ll supply exactly what you need in the midst of difficulties in your life.
Click on the link to hear “Who Comes this Night” sung by James Taylor and written by Dave Grusin and Sally Stevens. It made me weepy as I imagined the scene from Mary’s perspective. What hope and encouragement it must have brought her!