Mary’s Christmas

December 05 2020 | by

IN 2006, when friends and colleagues learned that Protestant theologian Dr. Scot McKnight was writing a book about Jesus’ mother, he was often asked, “Why?” His answer was simple and straightforward, “Because Mary was the mother of Jesus, and the mother of Jesus ought to matter to each of us.”

McKnight’s perspective is shared by Gospel writer Luke, who places Mary on center stage, and presents her as a shining star in the nativity story describing the birth of Jesus. Clearly, Luke views Mary as a highly important woman whose life can inform and inspire people. Here are seven lessons we can learn from the life of Our Lady.


Move from fear to faith


Be like Our Lady and move from fear to faith. When the angel Gabriel informed Mary that she was “highly favored” by God and would give birth to a son, Luke reports that “Mary was greatly troubled at his words.” (Luke 1:29). However, she transitioned quickly from fear to faith telling Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me according to your Word.” (Luke 1:38). Moving from fear to faith is a spiritual transition which can be surprisingly simple to do. Consider this personal incident from Therese J. Borchard, author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety And Making The Most Of Bad Genes. In her book, she tells of suffering a massive nervous breakdown. “The suffering was unbearable. My husband rushed me to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Fear consumed me. Until I saw Jesus.” In the hospital of the Baltimore, Maryland hospital was a ten and a half foot marble statue of Jesus. “His arms extended toward those in desperate need of healing,” she noticed. On the pedestal was this inscription: Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) Weeping before the image of Jesus, Borchard spoke quietly, “I believe, Jesus. I believe.” Her fear disappeared.


Believe in miracles


Today we live in an age of increasing cynicism. People like to question everything from the Christmas Story to whether Jesus actually lived. Folks have such an utter lack of imagination that they can’t believe anything that they can’t see with their own eyes.

Mary believed in miracles. When the archangel Gabriel told her that she would get pregnant, even though she was a virgin, she believed him. She believed in the impossible because if God had ordained it, it must be so.

Let go of the world’s cynicism. Be like Mary. Believe in the miracles that are put before you. Remember that a miracle is not only a prodigious event, an extraordinary phenomenon which breaks the laws of nature. A miracle is our everyday faith which sustains us in our daily problems and troubles. A miracle is the strength to go on even when we are tempted to give up. A miracle is when Mary conveys this strength to us because she knows that Our Heavenly Father’s love has no limits!


Adapt to changes


Be like the Virgin Mary and adapt to changing circumstances. She exhibits an amazing flexibility flowing with unexpected changes which came into her life. Upon being informed she will have a baby even though she was still a virgin, Mary grew into her new role. When she was told there was no room at the inn, she had her baby in an animal stable. Read and recite biblical verses such as these to motivate yourself when adjustment to change must take place:

  • Jeremiah 29-11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
  • Joshua 1-9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
  • Deuteronomy 31-8: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
  • Malachi 3-6: “I the Lord do not change. So you… are not destroyed.”


Be grateful


Be like Mary and find reasons for gratitude. Too often when disturbing and troubling events come into our lives, we become focused on the negative aspects of life. Let Mary be a guide when this happens. In spite of initial confusion and concern over the direction of her life, Mary expresses gratitude, saying, “My spirit rejoices” and continues to offer praise and thankfulness (see Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55).

Here’s a contemporary example of finding reasons for gratitude. During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, a woman made it a point to get out of her small condo and take a walk to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. On one of those days, she returned to her condo and saw a large bag from a local restaurant in front of her neighbor’s door. Because the man was in his 80s and living alone, the woman kindly sent him a text saying that “your food delivery has arrived and is by your front door.” When he returned the text later in the day, the man said he was surprised because he had not ordered the meal. Clearly someone had gifted him. There was no note or card with the delivery. The man told his neighbor that he was grateful, but perplexed as to who had been so kind. In fact, he spent most that day reviewing his circle of friends and acquaintances wondering who has purchased and sent him the meal. Insightfully, the woman told the man that he had received two very important gifts that day. Her neighbor replied, “I get the first gift of the meal, but what was the second gift?” She responded, “The gift of the meal was wonderful, but spending the day thinking about all the people who love you was priceless!”


Ask better questions


Be like Mary and ask better questions. After being informed she would conceive a child through the Holy Spirit while still a Virgin, she didn’t respond “why me?” but asked this better question: “How will this be?” (Luke 1:34) Psychologists often recommend asking better questions when life changes and challenges emerge. Instead of why, they recommend asking questions which begin with how, what and who. Why questions are severely self-limiting because they tend to be negative, defensive and delay the ability to explore positive alternatives. Asking the right questions is what leads to clarity and courage for dealing with complex situations. For this to happen, “we need to shift our focus from the whys to the hows and whats,” says psychologist Dr. Jeffery S. Nevid. Here are sample questions anyone can use when shifting from ‘why’:

  • What is really going on here?
  • How can I rise to the challenge?
  • What is my next step?
  • Who can offer me guidance?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What resources are available to me?
  • How do I see this progressing?
  • How can I make the best of this?
  • What would a successful outcome look like?


Cultivate optimism


Be like Our Lady and cultivate optimism. She resonated strongly with the Gabriel’s reassurance that “nothing is impossible with God.” Hearing those words, Mary responded with this affirmation “Let it be to me according to your Word.” (Luke 1:38). Optimism is a form of faith, the belief that somehow, someway, things will work out for the best. This is expressed in the writings of St Paul, who said, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). Additionally, St. Paul stressed the importance of maintaining a positive attitude toward life: “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Similarly, poet Kahlil Gibran observed, “Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”


Remain open to angels


Be like Mary and remain open to ‘angels’. “Angels are only servants – spirits sent to care for people” is a teaching from the book of Hebrews (1:14). That is a reminder that angels may come in many forms, and appear when we are most in need. One who had such an experience was Jesuit priest Pedro Arrupe, who worked as a missionary in Japan. Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the American declaration of war against Japan, Servant of God Arrupe was arrested by military police and placed into jail. “I passed the days and nights in the cold of December entirely alone and without a bed or table or anything else, but a mat on which to sleep. I was tormented by my uncertainty on why I had been imprisoned,” he relates. The weeks of solitary confinement along with an intense 36 hour period of interrogation began to impact him emotionally and spiritually. Just at that moment of great discouragement and despair, Arrupe experienced ‘angelic voices’ who brought him great comfort. It was Christmas. That day he could hear outside of the prison some very quiet voices of people singing. Arrupe described the singing as “a soft, sweet, consoling Christmas carol, one of the songs which I had myself taught to my Christians. I was unable to contain myself. I burst into tears. They were my Christians who, heedless of the danger of being themselves imprisoned, had come to console me, to console their priest who was away.” In that particular moment they were acting as though they were angels sent from Heaven.

Mary is a wonderful role model for all of us. She is an example of grace under pressure and faith in difficult circumstances. She is truly the heroine of the Christmas story.

Updated on December 05 2020