There was an old man of a priestly lineage in the family. While a son was what any father would be proud to have, to hold, to raise in their heritage, teach the history of their people, confide in as a friend as the child aged, and eventually pass on the family business, of course. This man only had one child, a daughter.
At first, any man of their people would have seen it as a curse, but as any good father is prone to do, eventually even this old man grew to dote on his beautiful daughter. After all, it was his only child.
When she was very young, he would tuck her into bed at night, telling her tales of their forefathers. Of the great men, and sometimes women, of their history. He would watch her eyes sparkle and light up on certain tales, and grow sad with his as he spoke of others. He told her of their lives, their deaths, their heritage. And sometimes, too, of their failures…These great men and women of their faith.
As she grew older, however, even her mother began to notice how knowledgeable their daughter was for "just a girl" and so the father began to sneak home the pieces of their stories for the daughter to read. Telling her it was their little secret. Even some of the men of their tribe had began to notice and shake their heads as he walked by, speaking among themselves about how he was raising his daughter "too smart for just a girl!" After all, what man could ever appreciate her when she became of age if she knew more then they?
As a girl, she could not attend school. As girl she was only told of a couple select prayers to prayer, by rote or memory, passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. As a girl, she learned all that she would need to learn to eventually make a good wife and mother, from her mother, from hands-on experience. What else could a girl possible want?
But she was his daughter, and having no one else to pass on the joys that a man often might share with a son in their tribe, this old man passed on everything he could to his often-fascinated young daughter.
And as she grew, so did her memory. And her intellect She strove to memorize those pieces of their history that her father sneaked home for her to read. And in the evenings, once he got home, they could often be found huddled in a corner of their living-room, knees to knees and forehead to forehead as they puzzled over something she had read earlier.
Boys were taught to argue out their views, not to win over another's viewpoints to their own, but simple to argue until they felt it had been exhausted. And that was how they learned. Sometimes one came to agree with another, and sometimes they did not. They agreed to disagree. But learning was just as much about puzzling and seeing the different angles to a story as it was just reading and memorizing that same story.
As the daughter grew into her teen years, if a person were to pass by their house in the late evenings and this father and daughter were not as careful as they often tried to be, you could hear their voices raise above the whisper as they, too, argued out a puzzlement in one story or another. Or a prophecy. Or which sin was worst then another. Or any other number of things about their life, their history, or their government and laws.
Despite all the things, though, that this young woman—for that is what she was quickly becoming—could learn, there was one story she especially loved. While there were so many men—great royalty, even—in their history, there were very few women in it. But one woman, especially, stood out to this daughter.
The story of a woman, a wife, who could not have a child. The other wife had already given the husband a couple children, and especially the most sought after of children: sons. Yet still this woman remained barren. And even with the preferred love of the husband, this certain woman in history was still saddened that she could not even give her husband one child. So she sought out their god in earnest prayer. And their god answered and gave her a son. A son she gave back to god to serve as a priest. A son who became a great man of their god in their history, who played a part in many of their history's stories. A prophet, even.
But it was the story of this wife and mother that the daughter loved the most, even though this mother was only mentioned in a couple chapters in a book. The daughter memorized each word of those chapters, and held them all in her heart as she grew. Often begging her father to tell her that story again and again, or to sneak it home to be read over and over in the privacy of their garden.
Then as the daughter grew and became of age, with the secret of her occasionally fierce attitude and smart mind safely tucked away between the two of them, the father was able to find and arrange a smart marriage for his precious daughter. He could not have been more proud of the choice! This man had proved to be smart and sure, and had a steady job, and a good livelihood. One night, even, when they had this man over for dinner, and the man had dared to ask the daughter's opinion on a subject in their history, the man had not been upset to find the daughter not only willing to answer, but smart enough to answer well! The man could not have been more proud to find such a voice in a young woman, and the father could not have been more proud to know he found such a match for his precious daughter; a rarity: a man who did not mind a smart woman who could handle her mind as well as a household, and a man that would truly treat his daughter as the princess the father felt in his heart that she was!
One day, during their year-long engagement, the daughter's life was forever changed…
The daughter was sitting out back in the privacy of their small garden, a small piece of history held tightly in her hand as she read a paragraph from it. She was preparing herself for another 'argument' with her father later that evening. So happy and joyful at the thoughts coursing through her mind that she was giving them voice as she hummed. When suddenly she felt as though a shadow fell across her lap, and fear filled her. Had she been discovered? She tucked the book quickly under her skirt and looked up with a smile, hoping her ability to read—let alone understand—had not been discovered.
But the man standing over her was not like any person she had ever met. And as she felt a new reason to fear rise in her throat, she lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the bright light as the being before her continued to speak: "Fear not, Mary…"
I was asked the other day what was my favorite Christmas song. My answer has always been "anything related to Mary." Mary Did You Know? is probably top of that list.
For some reason I have always been fascinated by the story of Mary the mother of Jesus.
While in college I was asked by a teacher if I would take my Holiday and do a research paper on Mary that the teacher then wanted to utilize somehow as a class project later that year. Of course, even though it was not part of the class requirements, I said "yes". Why wouldn't I? I had already been trying to find an excuse to do the research on one of the people in the Bible that has always fascinated me!
While not a lot is mentioned about her in the Bible, there are several books in any given library that mention her…Perhaps one of those genealogies of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament is of Mary and her lineage? Perhaps she was of a priestly line? Did Mary's song during her pregnancy with Jesus come from her knowledge of the Scriptures? Was she quoting Hannah's song in several lines of it, because she knew Hannah's story well? And so on…The various books and their author's perspectives of Mary vary, but the image I like the most is the one I painted above.
Of an only daughter, well versed in Scripture because her father doted on her despite the fact she was just a girl.
What most men would have seen as a curse—not having a son—he saw as a blessing: he still had a daughter. Someone to pass on his knowledge, his heart, his passion, his prayers, his dreams, and his god.
And the awesome part about that story is that by this father's preparation, by his upbringing, he turned that curse into a blessing…for the world.
I like to think that God did not just want any woman—any typical/usual-for-that-time woman—to raise his Son, but He chose Mary…because she knew the Scriptures. She knew the promises of God, the words of the prophets. She knew the stories of old. The plans He had for their nation. And by knowing so much, by knowing His words, personally, I would like to think Mary knew God, too!
I know we think of Christmas as being about Christ. About Jesus. But I'm always reminded of the people and the stories that brought about Jesus' birth. The prefect time, the prefect place, the perfect setting…When was the last time you thought about Mary and what she went through to stand on faith alone in the word of an angel of God in a culture where she should be stoned to death for her pregnancy outside of marriage? And what about all the others in history who brought Christ into our world—like, perhaps, Mary's father—not by giving birth to Him literally, but by—unknowingly—arranging all those "perfects" to fall into place? The men and woman of the Old Testament who's lives, in one way or another, were instrumental in His history? And the many people who carried the Gospel to the nations after Christ's death and resurrection?
This Christmas, are you truly being a "mass" (i.e. a large group of people thinking/acting as one) for Christ? Are you carrying Him, in one way or another? In your smile? To your neighbors? To the cashier at Wal-mart? To the soup kitchen? To the ends of the earth?
In my opinion, Christmas not only shouldn't be stressful, it doesn't have to be either. It's a choice. And if it is stressful, obviously, our focus is on the wrong thing. Look at the blessings and not the curses, choose to see even that which could be perceived as a curse as a blessing, and do not forget to pass on that blessing…to the world.
If "Christian" is the word for "little Christ" then "Christmas" is the word for all of us, coming together as one, for the same cause. No longer individuals, standing alone, but a mass…a Christ-mass.
Will you join me this Christmas?
In re-prioritizing our focus? It's not about getting. It's not about finances or sharing stress like that never-ending sinus-cold we can not seem to get ride of during the winter. It's about giving…as little-Christs…en masse.