Today’s Advent Reading:
USCCB — December 8th
I watched in awe as her head first emerged. Then came tiny shoulders, arms, and legs. Her fragile cries soon filled the delivery room as the nurse carried her to the examination table. A few minutes and one Apgar score later, she was bundled up in a blanket and in the arms of her father, her tiny face peeking out from beneath a pink hat. Her name was Harlem, and she was perfect.
Harlem’s birth was the first delivery I had ever witnessed. It was the summer before my junior year of high school, and I was shadowing Dr. C, a family friend who worked as an OB/GYN at our local hospital. Over the course of a week, I observed the deliveries of three babies. Each one was miraculous, and if there’s anything I gained personally, it was a huge sense of respect for the mothers-to-be. They often spent hours – if not days – in immense pain (it’s not called labor for nothing). Even though women now have access to medical advances like pain-reducing medicines, clean hospital rooms, and well-trained doctors, delivery is still an agonizing ordeal.
This is why I can’t begin to imagine what Mary went through in order to give birth– and in a stable, of all places!
Whenever I read today’s passage, Luke 1:26-38, I wonder about Mary, who was just a teenager when she delivered Christ. When Gabriel appeared to her, he came as a surprise. Verse 29 indicates that she was at first troubled by Gabriel’s greeting. But, how did she feel when he gave her the real humdinger, that she would be the mother of the promised Messiah? She shows confusion about how this would happen (verse 34), but scripture leaves us guessing as to how Mary really felt in the moment. Indeed, her last words to Gabriel are, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Given the surprise of Gabriel’s visit and the weight of his message, Mary’s attitude in Luke 1:26-38 seems unrealistically serene. How could she be so chill? Wasn’t she even a little bit scared of the prospect of pregnancy and labor? Mary was a Jew, and was about to be married. The fact that God had chosen her to bear her people’s long-awaited Messiah was world-changing news on so many levels, and yet, she seems completely unfazed.
It is stories like these, where characters’ faiths are impossibly strong, that make it difficult for many believers to relate deeply to scriptural narratives. The stories of the Bible are inspiring and revealing about God’s character, but they often lack the emotional realism expected by modern readers, who are used to consuming movies and novels filled with palpable drama. The Bible may mention how a character feels (i.e., “Then Moses grieved before the Lord” in Exodus 32:11), but it is easy to read such short statements without appreciating the full extent of their meanings. As a result, we may begin to believe that the characters of the Bible were holier than we are today, especially when they respond to surprising news or suffering with perfect faithfulness. We are tempted to think, “There is no way that I, a flawed twenty-first century believer, could respond in the same way. How am I the same?”
This mindset, though seemingly inconsequential, can do a lot to undermine our faith. It causes us to believe that all of the amazing things God did for biblical characters could never happen now, leading to doubt. Stories, especially those in the Old Testament, may begin to seem like legends from another world. Ultimately, viewing biblical characters as different from ourselves impedes our ability to recognize the purpose of the Bible. It is God’s love letter to us, written to communicate the astounding plan He has for all of us.
Scripture itself will never change, so the only way to overcome this mindset is to change our own attitudes as we read the Bible. We must “suspend our unbelief” in God’s power to work the miracles of scripture in our current circumstances. We have to believe that characters like Mary felt and thought as we do, even if the Bible does not give us a detailed account of their emotions. Most of all, we need to put our primary focus on what these stories teach us about God’s glorious character, and how they fit into the Bible’s meta-narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.
This Advent, let us do our best to read the story of the nativity with such a mindset, believing that God really does work in and through ordinary individuals. He chose Mary because she was willing to trust in and submit to God’s plan. Likewise, God has chosen us, and He desires to work in our hearts that we might have similar faith. In the end, this is why He sent Christ to earth. Because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we are saved and receive God’s Holy Spirit, who will sanctify us and give us such trust. Let us give God glory for this truth, for the miracle He has accomplished in our salvation, and for the great things He will do in and through our lives.
Though it may not seem like it, Mary most definitely had fears and doubts. Yet, she trusted in God’s love and in the power of the Holy Spirit to equip her for the task at hand, and He did so. Without the help of modern medicine, in a dirty Bethlehem stable, she gave birth to the Savior of the world. His name was Jesus, and he was, quite literally, perfect.
Ana Yee ’21 is a freshman in Hollis Hall.