This article was published in the winter 2016 issue of Daughters of Promise magazine. Daughters of Promise shares the art, photography, and writing of a talented group of volunteers from a wide variety of Mennonite backgrounds. The magazine isn't cheap, but with over 100 gorgeous full-color pages and inspiring articles (and no ads) I anticipate each issue. Find more information at the DOP website.
In Search of a Mary Christmas
I love Christmas. I love the music, the whispered secrets, the yummy food, and the glittering lights.
I say I'm celebrating the birth of Jesus, but sometimes when I'm scouring Pinterest for craft ideas, printing off another Christmas cookie recipe, and sighing over the pictures of beautiful table decorations in the pages of Southern Living, I wonder what Jesus would think of my celebration.
Is my Christmas any different than society's holiday? If you evaluated my calendar, credit card statement, and to-do list what would you discern about my priorities? Would you know that the goal of my Christmas (and my life) is to lift up the name of Christ? I might not max out my credit cards or wake up with a headache from the spiked eggnog, but too often my Christmas is centered on me.
There must be more to Christmas than uncounted calories, the pressure to find the perfect gift, and a dozen opportunities to catch the latest version of the flu. Unhappy with my me-centered holiday I began to look for ways to have less worry and more worship in December. I studied three women in the Bible named Mary who knew Jesus while He was here on earth. These women's lives were changed by Jesus. Maybe my Christmas could be changed by their stories.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus
With the angel's words, “thou art highly favoured, . . . thou shalt bring forth a son,” (Luke 1:28) Mary's plans shattered. To mother the Messiah, the Promised One? This honor meant the end of a normal life for a Galilean girl, but Mary shows no hesitancy. Her answer was immediate. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”
Mary did not base her decision on what was popular or what would promote her in the Nazareth society. Carrying this baby made her the next possible victim for a public stoning. Mary gave up her dreams of a perfect wedding and the expectations of her firstborn's birth. Because of an oppressive tax law, her baby was born far from home in crude surroundings without even the comfort of a mom or sister to assist with the birth. That first Christmas wasn't twinkling lights and warm, fuzzy emotions. While Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt and back again, I wonder if she was tempted to compare her crazy life with her friends' “perfect” lives.
Last year I waddled into Christmas with a due date in early January. My calendar was full with weekly prenatal visits. I had zero energy, limped with every step, and looked like I should stay home with an ice pack and a Tylenol. But I enjoyed a more peaceful, less frantic, more meaningful Christmas than usual.
The difference? Expectations.
Our culture places a lot of expectations on us women. I coddle daydreams of the picture-perfect Christmas: crackling fires, ten kinds of Christmas cookies, and a fun schedule with holiday concerts, cookie swaps, shopping, family reunions, and church events. When I can't keep up, I start comparing myself with all the talented ladies who appear to get it all done.
The disappointment of dashed expectations curdles the enjoyment of December and is often the enemy of my peace. But last year I felt no pressure to attend every event possible. I made plans with the caveat “if we can make it.” I didn't expect to do everything, so what I did accomplish was a treat, a gift. And for once I wasn't comparing myself with others.
Alexander Pope said, "Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed." He might be right, though I prefer David's take on expectations. "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him." (Psalm 62:5)
There is One, only One, who never disappoints. If I, like Mary, “ponder these things in my heart,” maybe I can build expectations on the One who won't leave me feeling frustrated. I want to give up my idealistic expectations every year, not just when I'm nine months pregnant.