by Jennifer Redmond, M.Ed.

In the protestant tradition, the focus of Advent is most often on the arrival of Jesus—Emanuel, God with us.

But one season, that focus dramatically shifted for me. Five years ago, I was 8 months pregnant at Christmas; in a few short weeks I would become a mother. Many days I found myself filled with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, all of the unknowns running through my mind—How would our baby be born? Would there be any complications? How would it all feel? Plus, another worry nagged in the recesses of my mind: I myself had arrived a month prematurely and spent my first week in the NICU, an unexpected and stressful experience for my own mom.

So, that Christmas Eve in 2013, there I stood, my hands resting on a very full stomach while my baby danced inside. My feet ached, and my mind spun as we sang:

“What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.” (emphasis added)

In that instant, the person of Mary snapped into high definition for me; the questions I had, she must have had, tenfold. The fears I had, multiplied for her, a displaced, young newlywed—a homeless one at that.

And yet, she had continued on. And not only that, she appears to be at peace despite massive upheaval in every area of her life. Consider that peace is defined as “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.” It is a state of being routed in deep faith, like Mary’s. When Gabriel visited her with the most shocking of announcements, Luke tells us that Mary was “troubled,” and she even asked, “How can this be?” (fair question!). But after their brief conversation, she replied: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:29, 38). Mary responded in faith—not because she had all of the answers (she had few) or because she was denying her pain or confusion (scripture tells us she felt that as well).

As her pregnancy progressed, she continued to walk in faith, declaring, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-7). She proclaimed truth despite whatever gamut of emotions she was experiencing. In doing so, she received the promise that Isaiah shares with us that “He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in him, whose thoughts turn often to the Lord!” (26:3) This means that true peace is not the result of ignoring our very real troubles and despairs, it is choosing to believe that God is faithful through that pain—He is greater than whatever we face.

To only intensify the troubles Mary faced in the immediate delivery, where she “brought him forth, wrapped him, and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7), remember that she knew from the beginning that her baby was the promised Messiah, one born to die. In fact, when they met Simeon at the temple, he told Mary, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel…yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:34, 35).

Can you imagine such a faith? One that acknowledges the pain and anguish of the human condition, yet still follows Jesus? Mary had that. Her faith undergirded every painful experience she faced, eventually culminating in the literal death of her beloved firstborn as she stood by His cross (John 19:25).

If you can trust the Savior against everything pointing to the contrary—then you will find the peace that Mary had, one that passes understanding. Jesus told the disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). When we operate not from a place of fear but instead orient our hearts on the truth of God’s faithfulness, peace will result. Then we can say with Mary, “He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:49).

My own baby is almost 5 years old now; she loves Christmas because “that’s when Jesus came to earth.” Indeed, it is when he came, Mary’s “firstborn Son,” the Savior, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:7, 11). Each Christmas, I still think of Mary and the nature of this story, so human and so divine.

Further Reflection

The image above is entitled “The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child.” It captures the nuances of Advent so well, as Juan Dugan writes, “We know what tragedy awaits Mary. She will watch her son be beaten, ridiculed, and eventually killed. Yet in this scene of love, she sees him for what he is and what he will be: Her son that will one day save the world.” This piece helps illustrate the meaning of our text about peace this Sunday as we continue with the next sermon in our Advent series. You can read more about Sandro Botticelli’s portrait here.

“Light of the World” is a contemporary song that echoes the classic hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Lyrics such as this combine Mary’s experience with the powerful hope and peace that Christ’s salvation offers:

“The drought breaks with the tears of a mother
A baby’s cry is the sound of love
Come down, come down, Emmanuel
He is the song for the suffering
He is Messiah, the Prince of Peace has come
He has come, Emmanuel.”

You can hear the song in its entirety here: Light of the World.

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