Have you seen that meme that says something like, “Time doesn’t actually exist between Christmas and New Years”? And it’s true for me. What do we do with this time when the sheer craziness of the holidays has sort of lost its shine but it’s not the new year just yet? Time purgatory! My husband wants the decorations down immediately and I want to deny the reality of doing any not-so-fun task and leave them up till Valentine’s Day. While I don’t want to un-deck the halls, I also don’t want to just sit around. After such GO GO GO through the holidays, it can feel weird to just be. It’s like the juxtaposition of a train running at 300 mph to sitting at the train station — to me, it feels disorienting.
What I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is Mary’s perspective in the Christmas story. The Messiah had come! It was a great culmination of all the hopes and dreams for all people through this baby, and yet afterward… it was, well, silent. The shepherds were far out in the fields and we aren’t sure how long it took them to get to Jesus. And the wise men came much later, probably two years after Jesus’s birth. We tell the nativity story as if it were one amazing event after the next and Mary could hardly catch her breath. But that’s not how the timeline went.
I think it’s safe to say that there was quite an awkward bit of space after Jesus was born before they had to start moving again to escape Herod. Mary knew this was the fulfillment of the prophets after such a long time of silence and waiting (400 years!). She was holding the Messiah in the flesh. And He was a helpless newborn, who required the same monotonous day in and out care that all babies do: feed the baby, change the baby, let the baby sleep, watch the baby sleep and make sure they’re breathing, and lastly second guess if you saw the baby’s chest rise and watch for it again. Over and over. I imagine Jesus cries in the night, and Mary, with tired eyes feels her way over to the manger to comfort him with her probably very sore breasts. If you’re a mother, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The blur and exhaustion of those days are incomparable.
What we do know about the Gospel of Luke is that he tells us the inner thoughts of Mary throughout her birth story. In Luke 2:19 we read some of this inner thought dialogue in two different versions:
“But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.” (CSB)
“But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart.” (ASV)
How would he know her inner thoughts and how would he know what she treasured in her heart? I think because he actually spoke with her and dictated her story. It is mentioned twice, this kind of treasuring in her heart. Another word for treasure in Greek is “ponder”, which means to “preserve” and even “to wrestle with.”
Mary was a deep thinker. She had a lot of time in between birthing and fleeing to wrestle with questions she had in her heart. Thinking of Mary wrestling with her great responsibility as the Messiah’s mother puts some skin and humanity on this Gospel. Mary’s wrestling with God also reminds us that pondering and asking God questions about the events of our lives is not a sin. It’s just human. These in-between moments are letting us catch our breath, they give us a little bit of space to process the difficult and joyful events that have just happened to us this past year and to even ponder what’s ahead. It’s valuable and documented right here in the Christmas story. Mary is processing.
The Christmas story reminds us God is called Immanuel: God with us. We are quick to relate this with-ness to the crescendo of Jesus’s birth: Look! He came to be with us! Or maybe we’re quick to point out where God was with people in the Bible in some dark, exhausting times. Those are both true. But I love that God is just as much with us in the hard times or good times as He is in the in-between times. The awkward space. He is with us in the, What am I supposed to do next? In the, Why did this happen to me? And the, I don’t know what my purpose is lately. He’s with us on the long road of monotonous service to others. The, When will I get to move forward?
So, for those who are in that awkward gray space, you don’t need to rush out of this: God is with you. For the deep thinkers wrestling through bewildering circumstances that don’t quite make sense: God is with you. For those who wonder about the future and are eager to see what God does through all this monotony: God is with you.
And for those who want to take down the Christmas tree the day after Christmas, you need to pray about that. (Yes, I’m teasing. Sort of!)
God is with us all. Hallelujah.