Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." Luke 2:34
Even as a child, I always loved the beauty of Christmas Eve service - the hushed tone, the reverence of the night and the anticipation of the miracle that was about to take place. With the lights dimmed low and the spotlight on Mary and her baby, I felt snugly wrapped in the wonder of it all.
It wasn't until years later, now a mother myself, when I realized that part of the miracle of Christmas was Mary's own quiet strength. I sat in the pew, with my new baby in my arms, and wondered how Mary ever had the courage and faith to share her baby with the rest of the world - knowing His future held great and dangerous things.
What was it like for Mary when she held her baby for the first time? A mother's love is like no other, fierce and universal. The words roll around on our tongue - "miraculous," "incredible," "amazing," "my very heart." Yet, even while we say these words, we know they can never, ever convey our true feelings. The words are too small for what now exists as part of our very being. Our person is fully changed, forever.
I could certainly identify with the profound love and joy Mary must have felt with baby Jesus. Every new mother knows the excitement of meeting your baby, the certainty that a miracle has truly occurred, the desire to hold them close and never let go. A mother wraps her baby in kisses and then hope that life will be kind. Upon seeing that tiny face for the first time, a mother's dreams are no longer her own.
We women fill many roles in life - wife, daughter, sister, friend, and co-worker. We may have unique gifts such as a talent for art, writing or healing others. We may be students, teachers, bosses or in political office. We may have high-powered jobs or choose to be farmers of our own land. What defines us though, what truly defines us, is our role as mothers.
"Now I understand," I thought to myself on that first Christmas Eve with my baby in my arms. With tears in my eyes, I thanked God for the clarity to see that this is the oldest love story…a mother's love for her baby. I marveled at the strength of Mary whose "yes" made her part of the greatest miracle of all time, yet I know she must have been grateful for the gift of that one, quiet winter night all her own. As the other nights came, she would have to share Jesus and her life would be difficult.
But a mother is thankful for the gift of motherhood; our joys will always outweigh our hardships. And Mary was, above all else, simply a mother.
As I pondered Mary's strength and the task that lay before her so many years ago, I prayed for the gift of her strength, the ability to know when to hold close and when to let go. I prayed for the power to say the right words and be a spiritual guide for my two children on their life's journey. And I prayed for the faith to hold me up when the journey was hard. I imagined Mary prayed for these same things, perhaps even more fervently.
Several years later, I would come to rely on her example in a way I never anticipated.
When our daughter, Quinn was four years old, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In that moment, our beautiful, bubbly little girl was one of the 3,000 children diagnosed each year. And we were among those parents thrust into a world we wish we didn't need to know.
The night before Quinn's surgery, I prayed to God for Mary's strength to keep my faith, to be the best mother I could be to Quinn, whatever the outcome. I vowed we would use this experience to help other children on this brave journey. Mary's faith allowed her to trust God's plan for Jesus, even following Him to the Cross. I had to trust that God had a plan for my baby, too.
Thankfully, Quinn's surgery was successful, her tumor benign, and God's answer to our prayers was clear: we started a foundation to support research of pediatric brain tumors.
A mother's life is filled with challenges, some small and some, like Quinn's diagnosis, almost insurmountable. The days are filled with laughter and crying - sometimes at the same time. It is our challenge, and our gift, to let our callings as mothers touch our souls.
This Christmas Eve, in the silence of the night, I'll again thank God for my abundant blessings: the health of my children, the love of my husband, family and many friends. And when the light is shining on the manger, I'll thank Mary for showing me, through her own Christmas love story, the depth and strength of a mother's love.
Originally posted in December 2008.
Jeannine Norris is the author of Tonight You Are My Baby: Mary's Christmas Gift (HarperCollins Children's Publishers). A portion of the book proceeds are donated to At Least Kids (www.atleastkids.org ), a foundation to support pediatric brain tumor research. Jeannine's website is www.jeanninenorris.com.