Tag Archives: Mary

When Birthdays Don’t Feel so Happy

“Two Year Old Birthday Party” by Stuart Miles

A group of moms can sure go through the tissues when talking about birthday parties. We gathered on a sweltering Houston day talking about unexpected grief. Parent after parent shared the heartache of birthdays. Wondering if a child will still be here next year. Hoping for developmental milestones that still go unfulfilled as the calendar marches along. Then there are those expected party guests who never arrive.

That last one is really tough.  Birthdays are about who shows up to celebrate with us.

Two thousand years ago a couple traveled to a faraway city for a Roman census.  It was home to the relatives of the man, but no one welcomed them. How can that be when it is his ancestral land? Surely some close kin must have still lived there and would have had some way to squeeze in their relative and his pregnant fiancé, but sometimes even relatives don’t show up when we need them.  Perhaps the scandal of the pregnancy kept folks at bay? Perhaps the couple was so used to rejection they did not even ask? We don’t know why, but we do know they felt their only option was a room for rent, and none were available.

Tradition is clear about who is expected to celebrate the birth of a baby. Family and friends ought to be there. They weren’t present that day, but there were others, unexpected guests who celebrated the good news.

“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

So [the shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:15-19 NRS)

Then later there were other unexpected guests who traveled a long way.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” (Matthew 2:1-2 NRS)

And there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11 NRS)

There were plenty of things about that birthday that must have been disappointing to Mary. Giving birth to her child in the midst of the chaos of no housing certainly wasn’t in her plan, nor when she was so far away from home. The friends and family she pictured simply weren’t there for her that day.

But others were. Even in the midst of what must have been painful disappointments, there were blessings and support from unexpected places. These were the things that Mary treasured.

Loving God, Birthdays can be such a bittersweet mix. They are cause for celebration, and yet can be painful reminders of differences. Help us to celebrate with joy the blessings we have in our children. Open our eyes to the true gifts, those unexpected ones mixed in among wrapping paper, cake and balloons. We give thanks to you for the shepherds and angels you send to us each day who see beyond this world to be the people of your kingdom that you call us to be for each other. Help us follow Mary’s example, treasuring the best and letting go of the rest. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

“Two Year Old Birthday Party” by Stuart Miles COurtesy of FreeDigitalDownloads.net


Seeing the Face of Mary

Nativity scenes abound this time of year. I have them in my yard, my dining room and my living room. The Holy Family is so familiar, yet I would love to see the face of the real Mary in her hometown of Nazareth. You can see a lot in people’s faces, in their expressions, happiness, sadness, surprise.  What people feel is often “written all over their face.”  I wonder what was written all over the face of Mary? What can we learn from Mary that is relevant to us today?

We may feel like we know the face of Mary because she is well-represented in art. I marvel at the things that are surely wrong in much of it.

Fredrico Barocci_Annunciation [Public Domain] via WikiCommons

This painting by Italian painter Fredrico Barocci (1592-1596) depicts a serene and confident Mary. The angel Gabriel is looking up at her with great reverence.  This Mary is literate, reading a small prayer book. That is a bit problematic since bound books were not around when Mary carried Jesus. Literacy was not common in the time of Mary and literacy among woman even less so.  However, this Mary likes cats so I can’t help but like her for that.

Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This next painting by Rogier Van der  Weyden (1399-1401) includes a Mary that is rather well-to-do. She has some pretty fancy digs with the inlaid tile floor, lavish furnishings and a heavily draped canopy bed.  That is pretty surprising for the tiny, backwoods town of Nazareth where archeologists find that most folks of the day lived in caves carved into the soft stone of the hillside. No tiled mosaics there date to the time of Christ.  I can’t picture this uptown Mary handling the news from Joseph that the Grand Hyatt Bethlehem lost their reservation and they’d be sleeping in the stable.

To me, these Mary’s look too mature, too sophisticated, not to mention too Anglo.  So, what do we know about the face of Mary from the Bible?

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. (Luke 1: 26-27 NLT)

So we know that Mary is from Nazareth, a tiny Jewish town in Galilee.  Nazareth was not sophisticated place like the Gentile/Roman town that was nearby, Sepphoris. Folks passed Nazareth on way there.  Nazareth = Podunk, pop. 100.  Tiny and insignificant. Folks from there were considered hicks from the sticks. Thirty years later, Nathanael, a skeptic who was invited to hear Jesus speak, questioned, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  That’s where Mary lived.

We also know she was a virgin and she was engaged. The custom in her day was for arranged marriages. Father’s typically arranged marriages when daughters were very young, 13 or 14. Engagements usually lasted a year, but Mary would have been considered as good as married from the time her engagement was announced.   Had Joseph died before their marriage, she would have been considered a widow.

28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you! ”  29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. (Luke 1:28-29 NLT)

Here the Bible tells us about the face of Mary. Mary was “confused and disturbed,” which also translates as “deeply distressed.”

Gabriel continues:

30 “Don’t be frightened, Mary,” the angel told her, “for God has decided to bless you!  31 You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name him Jesus.  32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”  34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.” 

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s already in her sixth month.  37 For nothing is impossible with God.”  38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.” And then the angel left. (Luke 1:30-38)

Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_The_Annunciation [Public Domain]. via WikiCommons

Maybe this is the face of Mary, painted by Henry Tanner in 1898. This Mary is a young girl of simple means. No books. No rich robes. No leaded glass window. This Mary isn’t serene and confident.  She isn’t meek and demure. This Mary is deeply confused and worried and nervous.  She is listening intently to God’s plan for her. She has reason to be worried.  Hers would be a high-risk pregnancy. In Mary’s time she could have been called an adulteress. According to Deut 22:23-24 the punishment is to be stoned to death. Confused and disturbed indeed!

Mary received news that she had found favor with God, and this is what God’s favor looks like? When we look at face the face of Mary we learn that sometimes what God calls us to do is hard.  Sometimes what God calls us to do derails our lives from what we planned.

Sound familiar? Life is all mapped out until that unexpected turn, that diagnosis, leaving us too feeling confused and disturbed. Mary was called to parent an extraordinary child. So were we, just a different kind of extraordinary.

I see one more thing in Mary’s face.  I see bravery.  Being brave doesn’t mean being without fear, being brave means saying yes despite the fear. Mary couldn’t see what lay ahead for her, and yet she replied, “Yes.”

“I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.” (Luke 1:38 NLT)

What is God calling each of us to do that is hard? I’m pretty sure I know. Are we brave like Mary when God calls us to do something hard?  When we think we have everything planned out and our lives take an unexpected turn, does fear try to push its way in? When God looked past the fear on the face of Mary and into her heart, God saw a servant who is willing to say, “Yes.”

Often we hear about living after the example of Christ.  Perhaps we are also called to live after the example of Mary.

Holy God,

Find in each of us the heart of Mary.  We admit at times we are afraid. At times we are insecure and overwhelmed.  Mary was too.  There is no shame in fear, but those are the times when we need to feel your presence the closest.  Help us to trust you with willing hearts.  Amen.


Fredrico Barocci,  Annunciation [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Rogier van der Weyden, Annunciation  [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation [Public Domain]. via Wikimedia Commons