I tend to think about Mary a lot during this time of year, especially since becoming a mother myself.
I was pregnant once during the Advent season, and preparing for the arrival of my own baby at the same time made it feel more real. Decorating the Christmas tree, sorting out all the baby clothes, setting up the Nativity scene, preparing the basinet, attending Mass, and reading up on labour and delivery all seemed to link together nicely. After all, that’s what Advent is all about: getting ready for the birth of Jesus.
Of course, Mary’s circumstances were very different to mine! I can’t imagine being a young (very young, by all accounts) Palestinian woman in 4th Century BCE facing the prospect of giving birth. I‘ve been blessed with 3 relatively straightforward, hassle-free pregnancies; however I still faced my share of discomfort, and that was without having to travel for miles on a donkey at the end of the third trimester.
Certainly, Mary didn’t have access to any of the modern luxuries that I did (although a quick Google search confirms she likely did have a midwife present at the actual birth). But the regular monitoring throughout those nine months to make sure everything was ok, and the reassurance of medical intervention in case things didn’t go as planned weren’t an option. If things went wrong, the chances of death were high. Giving birth can be a scary enough thought for women today; it must have been even more terrifying back then.
So what did Mary think about her imminent delivery? Did she have any idea what to expect? Did her mother support her in any way? There is no mention of Mary’s parents in the Bible, but surely she would have discussed the intricacies of pregnancy and childbirth with her mother, or other female relatives.
Then of course there was the manner of Jesus’ conception. What must she have been feeling about being the Mother of God’s Son? Our faith tells us she was a devout woman, and we know from scripture she accepted her role without hesitation, despite being ‘greatly troubled’ at the angel Gabriel’s greeting (Luke 1:26-38).
I admire this the most about her, that she was willing to take on this important role while still being a child herself. I was twice Mary’s age when I gave birth to my first child, and still felt woefully unprepared for looking after a baby. So how did she cope with the added pressure of knowing the infant she was tasked with raising was the Son of God?
The song Mary, Did You Know? comes to mind when I reflect on this. I often find myself looking at my children, thinking “what will you be like when you grow up? What does the future hold for you? What achievements will you accomplish, what challenges will you overcome, what events will you celebrate?” I imagine Mary looking down at the face of her own son. Did she wonder the same things? How much did she actually know about what would happen to Jesus?
As the season of Advent draws to a close, as we prepare to welcome baby Jesus just as Mary did all those centuries ago, let us hold her words in our hearts so that we too can say ‘yes’ to God:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”