Have I shared how much I love Christmas? I hate and despise winter with every bit of me but I love Christmas with equal intensity. It’s a magical time where I get to buy gifts for those I love (giving gifts is one of my love languages), spend time with family, follow traditions and rituals I love and turn my mind to Christ. Love is a big element of Christmastime.
This year as I’ve been preparing for Christmas, I have been impressed repeatedly by the story of the Nativity and what it has to teach us. I want to share a few of those with you.
Lesson from Mary
Mary shows us the ultimate humility of anyone except for perhaps Christ and more courage than anyone other than Eve when she says to Gabriel “Behold the handmaid of the Lord;…” Later, Mary travels with Joesph to Bethlehem. There, her baby is born in a stable, amongst animals, probably without the birth attendants of her choice (which likely her mother and sisters and the midwife who had cared for her in the beginning of her pregnancy). After childbirth, Mary received guests (the shepherds and probably others) to greet her newborn son. This was usually a time when women were somewhat isolated as they were “impure” (which is a really amazing study topic if you have some time and not associated with sinfulness like we may think), and here she was receiving guests! Now I’m not suggesting she was up on her feet, fixing meals or refreshments, but the grace Mary must have had to receive these strangers teaches me to be more generous with others in my life. Her humility to be the Mother of Christ, to bear the trials which came with that calling and welcome the worshipers who were sent at one of the most sensitive and vulnerable times of her life reminds me to be humble as my Heavenly Parents and Savior shape me into who They want me to be.
Mary also teaches me to be thoughtful, meditative and reflective. In possibly one of the most beautiful scriptures about spiritual experiences, we learn “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” By pondering, I create space for God to teach me more about experiences I’m given to help me grow.
Lessons from the midwives
I have to read between the lines a little here, but as a birth worker, I’m well familiar with the fact that Mary was probably attended to by midwives and gave birth in a stable or a home. Her sisters- and mother-in-law were probably there as well. It’s possible that they weren’t planning on attending to Mary who lived in Nazareth (about 70-80 miles away). It’s likely that Mary had been in Bethlehem a few weeks before her baby was born but the midwife there probably hadn’t had a lot of time getting to know Mary. This untold story teaches me to be willing to helping those in need, no matter what circumstance we find our lives cross paths or how much or little I was planning on being of aid. It also teaches me to be open to opportunities to serve whenever they come.
They also teach me that just as men witnessed the Christ child, so did women. That’s a powerful message of equality in a world which largely ignores or misunderstands the contributions of women to the work of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Lessons from the shepherds and the wise men
Christ was actually likely born in the spring. This was “lambing season” when mother ewes were giving birth. This was (is) a very intense time of the year for shepherds. However, at the angels’ direction, the shepherds “came with haste” to find Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. I don’t know if they left their sheep all at once, or if they took turns, but they all left their livelihoods and something that was very important to them at a very critical time.
Similarly, the wise men left their livelihoods and lives and traveled a far distance to meet Jesus. Their journey was not short and was likely expensive. These stories teach me that following Christ is something worth giving up everything that’s seemingly important. This is a lesson repeated throughout the nativity (with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and Anna) but also throughout the scriptures as Christ calls apostles and disciples to follow Him.
The shepherds were also ordinary people. They weren’t Jewish religious leaders or important rulers. They were humble men without much to garner them an invitation to the most important event in all of history. Similarly, the wise men were foreigners, possibly even gentiles from Babylon, who would’ve been looked down upon by the Jews no matter their status in their own kingdom (where they were probably admired and respected). This teaches me that Christ doesn’t just want to speak to the leaders of the church or those who are deemed appropriate or worthy by “the world” (and that includes the body of the Church). Christ reveals himself to the mighty and the small, the poor and the wealthy, those who lead a church and those who never do “more” than show up to worship. Anyone who will hear the call to come to Him are welcome.
Lessons from Christ
Christ came to earth in the humblest of circumstances. He became an infant, tiny and helpless, descending physically to the lowest a human can be, utterly dependent on another for care. He became as we are in order to do the Father’s will. Like the shepherds and the wise men He gave up everything to come serve us. As He grew, He learned grace by grace, not all at once, just as we do. He became like us so that we can become like Him. He was willing to submit to all things, including the complete loss of autonomy and self-sufficiency, to follow God’s plan. The message couldn’t be clearer to me: following Christ means being willing to recognize our infant state and our complete and utter dependence on someone else (Him) for our salvation.
The nativity holds so many other lessons for me, too many to tell here. It’s a beautiful story with so much complexity and depth, with untold stories and silent lessons waiting to be discovered.
At this time of darkness, we celebrate the greatest Light of the world. He is the way, the truth and the light, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer of Israel and the Savior of my soul. Christ came to earth a baby, as we all did, and became what we all hope one day to be. He shows the way and He enables our salvation as we come to Him and be perfected by his blood.
Merry Christmas. May the light of Christ shine on you at this season and always.
Image credit: the Mormon Channel and Simon Dewey.