What Child is this who laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh
Come peasant, king to own Him
The King of Kings salvation brings
Let loving hearts enthrone Him
More often than not, during the first couple years of my youngest son’s life, I found myself singing this song as I held him in my arms. I was captivated. By my son in all his sweetness for sure, but something greater was going on. Every time I looked at my sweet boy, the Holy Spirit at once seemed to take me back in time to God as a baby resting in Mary’s arms. In the months and years that followed, my spirit has continually been stirred by the wonder of the Incarnation, and being a mother turned into something so much more than caring for and enjoying my amazing children, it became an act of worship and love for my God and King.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of my favorite people in the Bible, which might sound weird to some of you. Because the Protestant Church, in seeking to move away from some of the practices of the Catholic Church, has really distanced itself from Mary over the last 500 years. But to overlook Mary is to neglect some of the most magnificent wonders of the life of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Mary wasn’t just a side note in the Bible or a small supporting actress in Scene One of the Gospels – she was God’s mother. Actually, she is still God’s mother and will always be God’s mother. God’s mother. Did you get that? Does that even make sense? Because if it does, then you have some sort of neuron firing around in your head that just doesn’t seem to work in mine. When I try to wrap my mind around Mary’s reality, what God did through this young woman’s life and what He gave to her of Himself, things just start backfiring and tilting until all that’s left is awe… awe of something so great that my mind cannot fully comprehend it. There’s really no need to add pomp and circumstance to the truths found in the life of Christ. Our God is mysterious, wonderful, and glorious in all His ways, and all of that mystery and wonder is profoundly magnified and unveiled in the light of the Word Made Flesh.
Mary knew something of Jesus and had a relationship with Jesus that no one else in all of history can lay claim to. Only Joseph, and perhaps James, Jude, or the rest of Jesus’ siblings, can come close. But Mary carried God in her womb. She nursed God at her breast and made meals for Him. When Jesus wrapped His tiny infant fingers around Mary’s, do you think she ever thought about that time when the Hand of God appeared and wrote on the walls in front of Belshazzar and his nobles (Daniel 5:1-6)? Do you think she ever wept in wonder at the realization that these were the very same Fingers that set the stars in their place? Mary watched the God who created bones, muscles, and skin grow into His own bones, muscles, and skin, and learn to use them for things like walking, running, and jumping. Can you imagine witnessing God in the flesh taking His first steps on the earth that He created, held down by the gravity He set in place, and using the amazing little feet that the Holy Three designed perfectly for balance?
Mary spent all of the silent years of Jesus’ life on earth with Him – just Mary, her family, and the God-man. Where the Bible is silent, which is most of the thirty years of His life on the earth, she has memories and stories. She had to wrestle with realities that we cannot even fathom. In that stable 2000 years ago, Mary held a seemingly helpless baby in her arms, and He was a baby that looked like any other baby. If not for the shepherds, the angels, the star, and later the Magi and a jealous king hunting Him down, His birth might have seemed like any other birth. It would be thirty years before any declaration was made to confirm Who exactly was living under Mary and Joseph’s roof. Personally, I believe they knew (how could they not know with all the details around His conception and birth, not to mention the fact that Jesus was completely sinless – a completely sinless child would be mind-blowingly obvious), but it is unlikely that others in Nazareth knew anything except rumors of a pregnancy scandal surrounding the couple’s first child. And when at last Jesus began to reveal who He really was to the masses, He was killed like a common criminal upon a crossbeam as His mother watched in horror. Mary would at this moment, and probably in thousands of moments before, taste the bitter sting of what Simeon spoke just after Jesus was born, “A sword will pierce your own soul too, Mary” (Luke 2:25-35).
What I’m really getting at here is that we don’t see the privilege and wonder in Mary’s life because we don’t see Jesus for who He really is. And seeing Jesus rightly is everything, because He is everything (Colossians 1:16-18). The truth is that He makes it so easy. He’s not trying to hide Himself from us. God came near, and He draws near even today, so that we might know Him and love Him with all our hearts. Even though we weren’t alive in the generation of His first Advent, Jesus left witnesses and written accounts of His life and His message. Then, to seal our hearts and leave us not as orphans, He sent His Spirit to dwell with us and in us, reminding us of all He said and did, teaching us, and leading us into the truth about the glory of our God (John 14:16-27).
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
I love what John says above in the opening of his first epistle, something both Peter and Luke reiterate in theirs (2 Peter 1:16, Luke 1:1-3). I can hear the heartbeat behind these profound statements every time I open the Gospels or any part of the New Testament:
“We saw God! He was a real person with real skin and bones named Jesus Christ! We touched His nail-pierced hands, we heard His great sermon spoken from the mount, we were there when the water was turned to wine, we saw the lame walk and the blind see, we heard the demons speak His name as though they had known Him for all eternity, we ate with Him (even after He was raised from the dead!), we saw Him make bread and fish (and somehow cook them too) out of thin air for thousands, we saw Him sleep and sweat and bleed and die and rise again, we heard Him talk to His Father (and we even heard His Father talk back!)… We were eyewitnesses of God in the flesh and now we are going to tell you everything we saw, heard, and felt. We are His witnesses, so that you will see and believe and experience His beauty and become witnesses with us to all the earth.”
Because of them and with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can see and know Jesus too. He’s not so far off, with attributes so great that we cannot understand His ways or know His heart and intentions. God came near. He is unsearchable, yes, but in the Incarnation, we discover that God has given us a key so that we might also come near to Him and search out the unsearchable glory of God. The One who dwells in unapproachable holiness and light clothed Himself with skin made from the dust of the earth, that we would finally have ears to hear and eyes that see. It’s a stunning truth, absurd really if you think about it, but it is the very heart of the Gospel.
Have you seen Him today? What is it that occupies your soul, your thoughts, and guides your emotions? What, or Whom, are you treasuring and pondering in your heart (Luke 2:19) today? For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:31, Luke 12:34).
This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud
The Babe, the Son of Mary
Oh, raise, raise a song on high
His mother sings her lullaby
Joy, oh joy for Christ is born
The Babe, the Son of Mary