Monday, December 15, 2008

Real People

I stayed up late last night.

It wasn't on purpose.

I wasn't reading.

I wasn't on computer.

I didn't even have a light on.

I was laying in the dark, thinking.

What would it have been like to be Mary, the mother of Christ? Mary could have been exactly the age I am now - we don't know. Maybe she was younger than me. Or maybe she was my age. Maybe she liked to sew and garden. Maybe she loved to be outdoors.

...Then I imagined the houses of Mary's time. What kind of house did Mary live in? Was her kitchen like mine? Was the house made of stone? Clay bricks, like mine? I imagine it was cool inside, full of shady relief from the hot Palestinian sun. Or was there a lot of light flooding through the windows? Surely there were woven mats inside the house...clay jars....oil lamps....What was the furniture like? Was it easy to keep house? Was her family well-off, ordinary, or dirt poor?

Where was she when Gabriel came to her? At the village well, lowering a bucket into the cool depths of water? The other women of the village would have been there if it were late in the evening, or early in the morning. Was she in the kitchen, arms dusted with home-ground flour as she kneaded a loaf of bread? Was she kneeling in the damp earth of her back-yard herb garden, fingernails black with sweet-smelling dirt? Was she on the outskirts of the village, helping in her father's barley fields? Was her skirt tucked up, sunshine spilling on her head, face dusty, bare feet sunk into soft ground, when Gabriel found her?

Where was she?

And what did Gabriel look like? Does a mighty angel look like a man? Does he have skin, like us? And if he does, what color is it? Is it a brilliant paper-white, bleached from being constantly in the presence of God's glory? Does he have two legs and two arms like us? Does he have wings? Does he wear a weapon? Does he radiate a pulsing glow from inside? Does his face show human emotion? Was his voice like a might trumpet, or confidential, like two humans having a heart-to-heart talk?

And what did Mary think? What did she think?

I know her first emotion was fear; for Gabriel knew to set her fears at rest; "Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favor with God." This, combined with his first greeting, "Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women," must have been enough to astound her.

She loved Jehovah - I know she did. She wanted to please Him.

I want to please Him. If an angel were to appear unto me and tell me that I was highly favored by the Lord, what joy would leap up in my heart! Can you imagine being told that? It is almost as good as being told "well done, thou good and faithful servant;" the words we all long to hear at the end of our lives. Mary was told that she was pleasing her God!

But then Gabriel spoke words that must have landed like a boulder upon glass. "And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end."


What to think about first? Mary was a Jewish girl; she knew Gabriel was referring to the promise of a Messiah. But he wasn't just saying the Messiah would come - like the scribes in the synagogue were constantly saying - he was saying the Messiah was really and truly on His way! That was enough to excite any Jew.

But Gabriel was also saying some pretty potent stuff about Mary's own life. She was supposed to be involved in this somehow. She was going to conceive? Did this angel know what he was saying? She wasn't married - and she wasn't about to sacrifice her virginity just before being married to Joseph.

"How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Was it a gasp or a softly spoken question?

Then he told her; "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall over shadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

The scribes probably hadn't told her this; the Jews in general didn't think of the Messiah as the Son of God; just a mighty man.

The Son of God? Inside of her? The Holy Ghost creating a baby inside of her? Without a man? Was such a thing possible? Happening to her? Surely Mary's mind was running a thousand miles an hour.

But Gabriel went on; "and behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God, nothing shall be impossible."

Remember Abraham and Sarah? Oh, could it be?!?! Was God truly visiting His people once again, like He did in the old days? How many times had she wished that she had been able to see the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, and the mighty prophets of old, like Elijah and Elisha. She had longed to be in the days when God was moving in a mighty way among the Jews. She had always wanted to see a miracle. And now she had been chosen to be involved in one!

Suddenly belief welled up inside her - and excitement. God had chosen a lowly handmaiden to be a part of something big. He had chosen her! She could hardly believe it. A lowly young girl. Amazing.

But what about Joseph? At the thought of his name, something sank inside her heart. What would Joseph think if she became pregnant? Everyone would think she had been seeing another man. And what about the law? - she could be stoned! Her their hearts would break! Would they believe her if she told them about the angel? Or would they think she had concocted a ridiculous story to cover up her sin? She would be shunned by all the villagers.

What to choose - excitement or dread? Her heart seemed to be twisting inside her chest.

But what about the Messiah? It was the dream of every Jewish girl to be the mother of the Messiah. And this honor had come to her. Not only that - she now knew something even the scribes didn't know; the Messiah was the Son of God. And the Son of God was to be born from her body; shaped inside her womb. In a strange, wild, wonderful way, the Son of God was going to partake of human flesh - her flesh.

Jehovah made the world. How was He to fit inside His own creation? How was He to become an infant? Would He really have her blood flowing in His veins? Nurse from her body? Shivers ran down her spine.

The love of her Joseph - the good will of her parents - the opinion of the villagers - it was nothing compared to what she was being offered. Bowing her head, she whispered, "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." With those words, she surrendered her body. And her heart.

And the angel departed from her.

I once dreamed that I was Mary. It happened many months ago. I dreamed that I was pregnant with the Son of God.

Everyone in my life refused to believe that the baby was from the Holy Ghost. They thought I know. My parents were heart-broken. My siblings were angry and confused. And Joseph....didn't know how to respond.

I began to hate going out in public. I spent a lot of time in prayer, begging God to help me hold up my head. I knew I hadn't sinned, but no one else did. That was so hard.

Then, one day, as I was laying on my bed, wondering what would become of me, and what would happen to the baby when he was born, how I would care for him, and how I would protect him from those who believed he was an illegitimate child, Joseph walked into my room. He sat down beside me, tears flowing, and something in his face made me hope. There was an expression in his eyes that I hadn't seen in sooo long.

"I believe you, Mary."


"The angel came to see me last night."

As my mind slowly comprehended what he meant, my breath came out in a long, jerky sigh. Relief began to wash over me.

And then I woke up.

Yes, I know - my dreams are odd at times. I kept thinking of this dream as I laid awake last night. I wondered if Mary really felt like that. I wondered what her personality was like. I wondered what it was like to hold God in her arms.

There's a lot more to the Christmas story than "a babe was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and placed in a manger." God, JEHOVAH,Creator, wrapped Himself in human flesh, and humbled Himself enough to actually enter a human being.

And He had a human father. And human grandparents. And human visitors at that stable.

Those shepherds hadn't spent three weeks rehearsing a Christmas play. They hadn't seen the white-robed angel with the tinfoil wings appear 66 times already. Mary hadn't spent 20 minutes getting her shawl to lay just right, and then sat down on a stool next to the manger.

They were real people, with real lives that extended beyond the night of Christ's birth. The shepherds had to care for those sheep the next morning. Maybe they worried about getting in trouble with their employers for leaving the flock alone for several hours that night. They had probably grown up in the rugged life of a shepherd. They had spent years in the elements, eating basic foods, wrapping themselves in rough woolen garments against the cold, longing for shade when it was hot....doing the everyday things. They had also spent their LIVES waiting for the Messiah. He wasn't just a word on a page; He was the hope of Israel.

Mary, ...Joseph, ...shepherds, ...wise men, ...Herod, ...John the Baptist, ...Elizabeth, ...Zachariah, ...Mary's parents and siblings, ...the villagers, ...the inn keeper, ...the roman soldiers standing guard at the tax collector's booth, ...the scribe recording the lineage of each Jew come to be counted in the census, ...the annoyed old Jewish man sleeping in the top room of the inn, hearing a baby cry at 2:00 in the morning,...the man who sold or rented his house to Joseph and Mary later on, ...the boy who cared for the oxen in the stable the morning after Christ's birth...

...Real people.

It really happened. God came to earth as a human. They called Him Jesus.



Alethea Jordan said...

I am repeating that last line-WOW.

Amanda said...

That is an amazing way to put it!! I really enjoyed reading this imagination-story that really is not all imagination after all, because I, too, have wondered about the individual lives of the people in Christ's time, Mary especially. Thank you for the wonderful way that you put that out there - that was great!! It really is unbelievably amazing that God would come to Earth and live among men, as a man, working for men, to be rejected by men, to be killed by men... He's sooooo good, so infinitly loving!! I'm going to add my "wow" to the others. Ready? WOW!!!!

Amber said...

Thanks, Alethea Jordan and Amanda. I just got so awed over the thoughts I was having, that I had to see if I could get someone else to say "wow" too. I'm glad I was able to convey a little bit of the feeling through writing.

Leah said...

Thank you Amber for writing this. I too have had similar thoughts, especially about Mary. Recently I have been amazed at the fact that God humbled Himself to become a man. To take on human flesh, to become a tiny baby with all the needs an infant has. I'll say it with you...Wow.

*Anna* said...

Reading that left me...speechless. What must it have been like...OH I can't wait till I'll one day get to meet her--Mary, the MOTHER of JESUS!
Truly HE did humble Himself so much...but I sit here trying to comprehend it all...and it's just too much for my little finite mind.
Awesome. Amazing. Breath-taking.
I have a lot to think about as I go to bed tonight.