When we imagine Mary making the journey to Bethlehem, we think of her as waiting for the Christ child. But she wasn’t waiting for Him. She was the only person who wasn’t waiting anymore. Yes, she was waiting for His birth, but she already knew Him. And not only did she know Him, but she knew Him in a way that only she could. With each of my daughters, I have enjoyed getting to know them before birth — getting to know their patterns of movement, what sounds they respond to, how often they sleep. Likewise, my daughters are getting to know me, nestled beneath my heart and listening to its beat.
And that was the relationship that Mary and Jesus had at this stage in her pregnancy. On the journey to Bethlehem, He was a full-term baby, ready to be born any day. His little ears worked perfectly, and she was the one that He, in His human nature, knew best. He knew the sound of her voice. He knew the cadence of her voice in conversation and the rhythm of it in song. He fell asleep to the sound of her heartbeat. He swallowed his amniotic fluid, in preparation for drinking her milk.
And she knew Him already, better than anyone else on earth. She knew the feel of his little kicks. She knew the pattern of his little hiccups. She felt him roll over in her belly and knew the feeling of each knobbly limb as it poked at her stretched out skin.
And joined together for nine months as they were, his DNA forever after coursing through her veins and hers through his – Mary experienced a union with him unlike any union between him and another human before or since.
Recently, I heard a priest refer to the line in Luke that says that, after the Annunciation, the angel departed from Mary. He referenced it to highlight how alone she was, and how much she had to just trust in God, without consolation.
But Mary wasn’t alone. For nine long months, she wasn’t alone for a second. Even the mother of an ordinary human baby is aware of that child’s presence, from the second the test turns positive. But for Mary – it was more than that. The God that she had loved and longed for her entire life was now resting in her. She was less alone than she had ever been.
She was full of longing. She had longed for God for her entire life. And how greatly she must have longed to hold this child, God made flesh, in her arms. Her heart had always burned with love for Him. When someone is in love, they find themselves willing and able to endure discomforts for the sake of the one they love. There is a lightness to it, a joy that makes even suffering light. And that is how it must have been for Mary. At the moment of her conception, God had lit her heart on fire with love of Him. To be carrying him, to be bringing him into the world – it was a source of joy for her, and that joy made even suffering worthwhile.
Being so perfectly full of grace, Mary loved God more than anyone else had before or since. So, not only was she eagerly anticipating gazing at his face herself – she was eagerly anticipating that loveable face being revealed to the world. Even before she beheld his little face, she already knew how loveable he was. She knew that there is nothing more loveable than a baby, and a baby who is God made man is the most loveable of all. And so, as she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, with each passing mile, she knew that God was closer to revealing His absolute “loveableness” to us.
If a week or so before my due date, my husband was to ask me to travel across the country in a car or plane, I would refuse. If he was to ask me to make that trip on a donkey, I would think he was crazy. At any rate, I would certainly complain on that trip, and make sure that he knew how heroic it was of me to make such a trip.
But Mary wasn’t focused on herself. She was well versed in the Scriptures. She knew the prophecies. “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah least among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times,” (Micah 5:1). She must have surely seen how beautifully God was orchestrating His plan. She would have marveled that he had chosen the husband that he had for her – one of the house of David, who would have to journey to Bethlehem. She would wonder at the perfect timing of the census – any earlier or later and her son would have been born in Nazareth. And she would ponder with increasing joy how God was using her, His little handmaiden, to accomplish these marvels. Just as she raced with joy to her cousin Elizabeth, she now rode with joyful anticipation to Bethlehem. There, her beloved God would be revealed to all nations. There “every nation on earth” would adore Him.
And so, as we draw near to the celebration of that birth in Bethlehem, Mary invites us to join her in her joy. She invites us to join her in her anticipation.
In the Advent and Christmas seasons, we are invited to partake in the joy of the union that Mary knew in pregnancy. Each time we go to Mass, we — like Mary — become living tabernacles. Christ dwells in our very bodies. The same is true at Christmas Mass. When we go out into the world — especially to spend time with loved ones who may not know how loved they are by Him — we bring Him with us. We are invited to reveal the love of Christ to a hurting world, simply by bringing Him into even the humblest of places and letting His love be born, just as Mary did.