Mary: The Woman at the Heart of the Christmas Story

Illustration of Mary and Jesus

At the message of the angel, she does not hide her surprise. It is the astonishment of realizing that God, to become man, had chosen her, a simple maid of Nazareth. Not someone who lived in a palace amid power and riches, or one who had done extraordinary things, but simply someone who was open to God and put her trust in him, even without understanding everything: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). That was her answer.

God constantly surprises us, he bursts our categories, he wreaks havoc with our plans. And he tells us: Trust me, do not be afraid, let yourself be surprised, leave yourself behind and follow me! Today let us all ask ourselves whether we are afraid of what God might ask, or of what he does ask. Do I let myself be surprised by God, as Mary was, or do I remain caught up in my own safety zone: in forms of material, intellectual, or ideological security, taking refuge in my own projects and plans? Do I truly let God into my life? How do I answer him?

Take Mary. After the Annunciation, her first act is one of charity towards her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth. Her first words are: “My soul magnifies the Lord,” in other words, a song of praise and thanksgiving to God not only for what he did for her, but for what he had done throughout the history of salvation. Everything is his gift. If we can realize that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be! Everything is his gift. He is our strength! Pope Francis

A Christmas Reality

If there’s ever a time for to-do lists, December is that time! We have so many things that we need to keep straight. Shopping and parties, children’s school plays and recitals, decorating, cooking, baking, and more shopping. We have work projects that need to be finished before everyone takes off for a Christmas break. We receive endless reminders for end-of-the-tax-year donation opportunities. In churches, too, all of this activity is mirrored in retreats and religious education activities and the many liturgies and prayer services of the season.

In the midst of all this rushing around and checking off items, we can forget why we’re doing what we’re doing. And we can miss God calling us to do something else—not one more item on the to-do list, but something radically different. It might be as simple (and complicated!) as taking an entire Saturday to play with the children instead of rushing to four different activities. 

It might be reevaluating what we’ve planned to spend on gifts and making a donation to charity instead. It might be looking at our work and hearing God suggesting that something else might be closer to what he wants us to do.

We are reminded that God is fond of surprising his people in big and small ways. And he shows us Mary as an example of someone so open to those surprises that she became the very Mother of God. Mary is at the heart of the Christmas celebration, a model of both action and contemplation. When God became flesh, became one of us, he took on that flesh through this young woman with a spirit open to surprise and wonder and possibility.

Your Christmas Gift Today

Take a look at your to-do list for today. Select one item that you can cross off in order to spend an hour with God. Be as creative as you like in how you spend that time. But make sure the focus is on being present to God and open to the ways he might want to surprise you.

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