advent, day 24: two from galilee
My mom let me read her 1970s copy of this book in high school and I fell in love. She gave me my own copy over ten years ago, inscribed "And the tradition continues...love, Marmee" - and we've read it each Christmas for almost 15 years now. The love story of Mary and Joseph, fictional but poignant and historically "accurate" (at least mostly...in terms of culture, if not language). It's dramatic. It's compelling. The language is flowery and descriptive. Phrases like "sturdy red fists" and "acrid tang" have long stuck with me. I have the first few sentences of the book memorized and I read through it each year, savoring the rhythm and flow of the story, enjoying it as if it were an old friend. As a teenage girl, Marjorie Holmes' rendition of the nativity made the gravity and trauma of the virgin birth real to me. As an adult, I weep over the imagery describing Holy God invading the body of a young girl, to collaborate with His people to bring forth Messiah.
One of the most compelling parts of this account for me is when Mary is desperately, pleadingly explaining to her parents what has befallen her. Her mother believes Mary has fallen ill and her father, Joachim, is hesitant but more receptive. He listens as she speaks and then asks,
"How do you know?" he said sternly, almost impatiently. "Forgive me, but I'm your father and your mother is right - I've got to deal with this sanely and wisely. I must not let myself be carried away by my own tendency to dream, or my long obsession with the hope of Israel."
"God's own angel came to tell me that this way to be," Mary whispered, eyes low, "And the Holy One invaded my being -- how, just how I cannot say. Only that I was uplifted, I felt myself one with the infinite, one in a bliss indescribable..." Her voice broke, and through her closed lids the tears glinted, "Maybe somewhere, sometimes, there will be an experience like that for all of us. Maybe the grave is not the end, Father, maybe we are not doomed to wander through Sheol forever. Maybe one day every human being will know what it is like to be one with God."
I wept through this passage this year, because it's true: the grave is not the end. And because the baby in the manger was and is Emmanuel, God with us, we have hope. We have hope that His life and death and resurrection mean we "are not doomed to wander" and His indwelling life, His spirit in us means we are joined to His life. The complete and whole fulfillment of that reality is the painful and glorious "already and not yet". But in that we can know life. We know life in Christ because in God's extravagant generosity and love, He sent His one and only Son. Born of a virgin. Raised by a carpenter. Those two from Galilee were God's gift to His Son, to care for and nurture Him in His humanity. I'm thankful for that girl Mary, who could tremblingly say, "Be it unto me according to Your Word, oh Lord" and for that young man who believed God's Word enough to not cast her away. I'm thankful for the gift of Jesus, whom we celebrate and rejoice this Christmas.
"God so loved the world that he would give up his own son. And that son, that poor doomed son...he too would love the people in it so much that he would be willing to give up his life.
To suffer that others may live, as Mary had suffered in birth. To deny oneself for those who are dearer to us than life. That is the true union of those who love. And that - that in the end was what would bring man back to be united with his God."