We’ve all probably been wished a ‘merry’ Christmas countless times over the years, but I suspect this will be the first time anyone has wished you a “Mary” Christmas. Amidst all of the cultural battles over the commercialised nature of Christmas that diminishes its original meaning, the holiday of Christ’s Nativity also highlights the tensions surrounding the place of His mother in the Christian tradition.
A few years ago I was horrified to see the Christmas display in a department store’s shopfront window on the main street of Brisbane. It was a depiction of Mary enthroned as Queen of Heaven, with a comparatively pathetic looking baby standing on her lap. In the 500th year of the Reformation, I suspect most Protestants are all too wary of the Catholic Church’s excessive devotion towards Mary – which shows through in a display like this. Yet our reaction is typically to downplay Mary’s role and significance so as to make it clear that we don’t hold her in the same kind of (often idolatrous) veneration.
This is a shame, because while Mary should by no means be the central focus of this festive season – the real, historical woman who gave birth to our Saviour is an excellent model for the posture we should take in relation to this momentous event.
Twice in Luke’s Gospel account of the events surrounding the birth and childhood of Christ, we find Mary’s celebration of Christmas recorded.
15 And it happened that when the angels had departed from them into heaven, the shepherds began to say to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has revealed to us!” 16 And they went hurrying and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the statement that had been told to them about this child. 18 And all who heard it were astonished concerning what had been said to them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:15-19, LEB)
And his mother treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:51b, LEB)
As God revealed the significance of Jesus to the world, Mary cherished everything she saw and heard concerning her son. And according to Luke 2:19, she “pondered” them deeply going over them again and again in her heart.
Think about it for a moment. Physically and humanly speaking, Mary had the closest connection to Jesus of anyone. His human nature was derived from her (Joseph, of course, lacked such a biological relationship to him). She carried Him inside her body for nine months and brought Him into the world. And yet when she is presented with the awesome reality of who the child she bore really is and His place in God’s plan of redemption – she marvels at it, esteems these truths as precious and thinks of them often in the years to come.
An interesting discovery I’ve made in my research is that earlier generations of Christians came up with a special nickname for Jesus’ ancestor King David: Contemplator Maximus – The Greatest of Meditators. This was because the Psalms show us how David constantly reflected deeply upon the revelation of God’s nature in His Word, His Creation and His acts of redemption. The messianic psalms that allude to the coming of Jesus as King show that David also pondered the mysteries God revealed to him concerning the promised Saviour.
If David was the greatest contemplator of divine truths in the Old Testament, I think his descendant and the mother of his true heir is perhaps the great example of meditating on divine truth in the New Testament. Mary’s proximity to Jesus increased her appetite to reflect on His wondrous glory, rather than diminishing it.
In this way, I believe Mary models for us what our celebration of Christmas should be like. No amount of familiarity with Jesus and the story of His birth should prevent us from treasuring who He is and spending time in deep reflection of the glorious truths that began to be manifested at that first Christmas.
Mary is not another mediator who contributes to our salvation – as Catholics erroneously believe – but she is a great meditator who shows us the way forward in making much of the one who was born to redeem us all.
Have a Mary Christmas pondering the glory of Jesus Christ.
 Waiting For The Word “Madonna – Mary & Jesus 15″ (CC BY 2.0)
 Lawrence OP “Verbum Abbreviatum” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)