The nativity sitting on your mantelpiece at home probably looks perfect. The figurines have thoughtful smiles depicted in smooth brushstrokes, and the pieces are frozen in positions of adoration. But what about the real people who lived that nativity scene? Perhaps that first Christmas morning was less idyllic than we like to imagine.
What Mary Might Have Felt
Mary must have drooped with exhaustion. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem covered around one hundred miles and involved thousands of feet of elevation change. Already swollen from pregnancy, her feet must certainly have ached. Once the contractions came, her already drained body worked to bring the babe into the world.
But more than her weary body, the thoughts of what the next weeks, months, and years would bring must have been overwhelming. Could she safely return to Bethlehem? How would her community react? How could she raise the Son of God in an environment that did not understand His true identity? Perhaps Mary became consumed with concerns of what the future held for her and the babe who slept so quietly, cradled in her arms.
What Mary Might Have Pondered
In that moment, it might have been easier to sink into anxiety and fear about the unknown. She could have become stressed, frazzled, or upset. Instead of allowing herself to be swept up by those emotions, Mary seems to have chosen a different reaction: “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; see also v. 51).
Although Luke’s account is unclear what Mary pondered, we know that she took the time to be still. Amidst chaos and uncertainty, Mary slowed down, backed away from the world, and engaged in a quiet connection with her Father in Heaven. In other words, Mary chose to focus on the things of eternity and not of the cares of the world around her.
In her moments of pondering, Mary was probably able to remember the witness of the Angel Gabriel who first told her of the babe inside her womb. She could recall the angel’s testimony of the Christ child, the Son of God. And while she still felt many emotions—pain during the recovery from childbirth, fear about how to move forward, loneliness from being so far from home, anxiety about fitting back into Judean life, and concern for her Son’s future—Mary probably received the gift promised by the angel to the shepherds: peace. Perhaps not peace on earth, but peace in her own heart.
What We Can Find
Too often the holidays are accompanied by chaos. We feel bogged down by depression, financial difficulties, fears about the future, or social anxiety. We find ourselves far from those we love, either in terms of distance or in terms of belief.
Just like Mary, we ache for serenity, for a reassurance of peace amidst so many cares and fears that crowd our minds. However, just like Mary, we can choose what we will focus on. President Howard W. Hunter reminded us,
During the hurry of the festive occasion of this Christmas season, find time to turn your heart to God. Perhaps in the quiet hours, and in a quiet place, and on your knees—alone or with loved ones—give thanks for the good things that have come to you, and ask that his spirit might dwell in you as you earnestly strive to serve him and keep his commandments. [“The Real Christmas,” 5 December 1972]
President Hunter assures us that as we choose to focus on God, “we will find the true spirit of Christmas and partake of the sweetness of it.”
Thankfully, we don’t have to become overwhelmed with fears, anxieties, and uncertainties that fill our lives. If we take time to remove ourselves from the world and be still, we, like Mary, can find the peace the angel promised.