The Gospel of Luke is my favorite gospel. It is rich with stories about Jesus and the people who gathered around him, for good or ill. Luke’s style of writing lends personality and familiar qualities to the characters of Scripture that we might also recognize in ourselves. I sometimes wonder what these people in our Scripture stories were really like. What made them tick? What troubled them? What brought them joy and fulfillment? What influences drove their decision-making and how did they deal with the intense flash of realizing God was present in their lives in unexpected ways?
Some people from scripture remain relatively unknown but others have had their stories embellished across the centuries with traditions, fables, and folktales that probably were not true. Returning to scripture is a good way to re-visit what was really known at the time.
Mary is one of those around whom many legends have grown but we really know very little for sure. There are only the few bits and pieces offering a tiny frame through which we can peek at her experience and wonder for ourselves what might have taken place.
Consider the few snippets that Luke shares with us in the Christmas narratives about Mary and the mysteries she encountered that shaped the perceptions she carried in her heart. [Verses are from the NRSV translation].
“And he [the angel Gabriel] came to her and said ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:28-29). This is part of a much larger Annunciation story, of course, but my curiosity is piqued by Mary’s bewilderment and that she “pondered” the type of greeting rather than being startled at an angel appearing before her.
“...and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:17-19). Mary’s reaction to the shepherd’s story of angels appearing to them by night announcing the Christ Child’s birth sounds like one of discreetly private and restrained reflection.
“Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” (Luke 2:34-35). Mary’s encounter with the surprising words of aged Simeon may have been the first time she is made aware of something every mother learns and carries in her heart: One’s own destiny is wrapped up in the fate and fortune of the little souls who come into our lives. Think about it. That kind of Love is a forever bond.
“When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety. He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:48-51). This is the only story that we have in current scripture that reflects Jesus in his growing up years. He was about twelve and after his parents discovered he was missing, they went back to find him in the Temple keeping the learned rabbis entertained with his precocious insights. He knew this was home for him and Mary seemed to understand, tucking away his response to add it to the clues, the curiosities, and the special memories she kept in the treasure box of her heart and mind.
The mysterious destiny that her child was moving towards had provided signs all along in his growing up years. And she had to grow up in her understanding of motherhood as well. Her life would continue to be wrapped up in a unique role that no one else in the world could play—that of loving him as only a mom can do and believing in him through thick and thin. She would do for him what no one else could do: Love him for whom he was and encourage the blessing that was born in his soul that he would bring to the world.
Bear in mind that as Mary’s story played out on the ground, she did not know how it would all turn out. She only had snatches of clues, coincidences and connections to ponder over the years of his growing into adulthood. At the point of this annual Christmas story, she is still quite young and taking it all in: Wondering what it meant; keeping her thoughts to herself until they were ready to find voice; trying to figure out the bigger picture into which she had been unexpectedly plopped.
So, she treasured what she didn’t know much about and gathered visible and invisible information for herself about which she pondered. It was a Divine Story making its way into her consciousness.
If we stop and think about it, it makes sense to pause and wonder what kind of Divine Story is unfolding in any human life—even our own lives. Divine stories unfold slowly sometimes. At other times, they unfold with reckless abandon and rapid response. Sometimes, when you find yourself in the middle of God’s Story, the best you can do is to hang on for the ride while contemplating the befuddling way in which the Divine shows up—messing with a blueprint you might have thought had been carefully charted.
Perhaps there is, or should be, a little Mary in all of us: A surrender to the mystery; a conviction that one day the bewilderment will make some kind of sense; a trust in the footprint and trace of a Divine Presence.
And therein lies the takeaway, at least for me. I might not always understand how God works in my life but sometimes just taking the time to merely sit with it and let it be is enough for the moment. God will take care of the rest.