Let’s try and imagine the thoughts of Mary, the Mother of Christ, on the night of His birth. She lay uncomfortable and in pain, in dirty and unfamiliar surroundings, remembering the events which brought her to such low conditions. Nine months previously she had been visited by an angel and was told she would miraculously conceive the Savior of the world. She had the faith and humility to accept her role in this glorious event and humbly keep the truth to herself. God blessed her with confidants in her cousin Elizabeth, and her kind husband Joseph, but otherwise she was alone in her knowledge of the awesome Truth. When she and Joseph made the trip to Bethlehem, did she wonder why they were asked to embark on this journey at such a time? She surely had faith that God would do all He could to protect the precious cargo she carried. After a long and uncomfortable journey, they had arrived in Bethlehem. Any woman who has carried a child pities Mary riding a donkey in her trimester. Did she turn her eyes upward and ask why God would allow this? When she gave birth in a stable filled with dirty animals did she question all her previous revelations? Is this really your plan Lord?
Mary was a remarkable woman. Perhaps she did not doubt, but I would have. I would have expected a God who protected Mary from the harsh elements; a God who did not allow others to gossip and criticize the virtue of the Mother of God. I would have expected a God that made the path clear and bright. But God’s love does not show itself in freedom from hardship. Suffering and difficulty do not show God’s disfavor; they show we live in a fallen world. Yet God was there, His love could be found on the burdensome path and in the dirty stable. But His kindness was not exhibited in the way I would have imagined – a nice warm bed with sanitary sheets.
As she held her beloved newborn baby, in circumstances which could not have been less friendly, there arrived a miracle: poor shepherds, coming to glory the newborn King.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.Luke 2
What feelings of relief and comfort the arrival of these poor shepherds must have brought to Mary! There could be no doubt that God was aware of her, her son truly was the newborn King! These strangers bore the first testimony of the Savior of the World. Mary and Joseph were no longer alone in their secret. Their faith and purpose were confirmed, their sacrifice had been accepted, and God’s son had truly arrived. The poverty of their circumstances surely fell to no importance as the love and glory of God filled that humble abode.
Verse 19 tells us about Mary’s reaction to these events:
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Mary cherished the sacred and miraculous appearance of the shepherds. She kept this miracle in her heart always, and she would need it there. She would need to rely on it in the days that followed, when her young son faced death at the hands of Herod and their family was forced to flee to Egypt. She would need it when Jesus was a child lost in Jerusalem, when He was hung on the cross. She would need “these things” to comfort her, and to remind her of God’s love and mercy.
Likewise, when we see God’s hand in our lives, when we feel his love, we need to notice and retain these miracles. God’s profound visitations or revelations to us can seem infrequent, but they are powerful, and if we “keep” them and examine them again and again we can feel the same love and comfort we felt when they were given.
As I think of mother of the Savior giving birth in these horrid circumstances, I take comfort in the knowledge that God did visit His chosen daughter. He was with her along her difficult path and at its culmination. But he also provided her a miracle. He sent angels to the shepherds and these strangers sought out their Messiah. The shepherds arrival was a glorious and reassuring gift for Mary in a strange and inglorious place.
“Love makes all safe.”George MacDonald
God has sent me shepherds in times of discouragement and suffering. These instances may seem insignificant to the outsider but when I examine them, I feel God’s love for me. I remember walking to college one cold winter day. I was feeling discouraged and alone, doubting God and unsure of my own path. A car pulled up beside me, it was a young woman I had never seen. She asked if I wanted a ride up to campus. Tears welled in my eyes as I got in the car. I think of this experience, and many others like it, often. God had inspired this girl with His love, that love healed my doubting soul. She was also certainly strengthened in love as she followed His gentle promptings to help a spiritual sister.
“The more you succeed in loving, the more you’ll be convinced of the existence of God and the immortality of your soul.”Fyodor Dostoyevsky
God’s love is the miracle. A miracle we can all share with each other. This Christmas season I want to hear Gods’ voice and follow it. I want to be his instrument in relieving the burdens of others, as Mary’s was by poor shepherds.
“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”C.S. Lewis
*The three wise men did not arrive at the time of Christ’s birth. They came when He was about two years old.