Mary's Suffering is For Us

I have either been pregnant, nursing, or grieving a lost baby for the past seven Christmases. Whenever December rolls around I find myself reflective about the incarnation and what it meant for Mary. I find myself encouraged by what it means for the effects of this broken world, especially the pain I’ve experienced in childbearing.

Mary doesn’t get a lot of attention in our circles, besides the occasional mention in a Christmas song. We don’t want to sound too Catholic, giving her attention that only Christ deserves. I get that. She is not the point of the Christmas story. God becoming man is. But she is a helpful guide to us. Yes, she is human, but she is a faithful one that we would be served by paying attention to.

We don’t know to what extent she knew or understood what her son came to do. It’s easy, on this side of history, to project knowledge onto her that the text never says was there. But she certainly knew she wasn’t called to a life of ease. She was impregnated by the Holy Spirit before she was married. She bore the marks of a child before marriage for the rest of her life. Carrying the Christ meant lifelong personal suffering for her and for Joseph.On top of that, she was forever connected to this baby. She nursed him. She felt him kick. She mothered him his entire life. She went through everything with him. He was part of her. So when Simeon tells her that a sword will pierce her own soul as well, it’s no wonder she ponders everything in her heart (Luke 2:35). Jesus was born to a woman. “To be a mother is to have your heart beating outside of your body”, as one person has said. The same was true of Mary.

I’ve always been comforted in my difficult pregnancies knowing that God chose such a heart wrenching means to bring the Savior into the world. As if he’s saying “take heart, weary momma. I’m redeeming this too.” He could have come any other way, but he didn’t. He came through a birth canal. He was nourished by a placenta, by a nursing mom, and by a woman who loved him. He came through a means that has plagued women since Genesis 3. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “see, this too is being redeemed.” By knitting himself to Mary, a Savior is born who saves us from our sins and will one day make all things new—even the suffering of motherhood. Mary’s suffering of bearing the Christ is for us all.

This is why her song of praise in Luke 1:46-55 is so compelling to me. While she didn’t know all that was required of her unborn son, she surely knew that her life would forever be marked by this scandalous pregnancy. Yet, she worships. She sees beyond her personal circumstances and magnifies God. She even sees the larger picture to her story. She’s connected to the whole. She instructs us, like so many women before her (think Hannah, Ruth, and others) how to worship God even when he calls you to incredibly hard things.

Pregnancy for Mary was a call to suffer, regardless of what she knew about her son’s ultimate end. It was a call to lifelong pain, shame, and misunderstanding. For many, pregnancy and motherhood is a call to suffer as well. Sometimes in the immediate because of the intense physical toll it takes on a body, but often over a lifetime as you watch the child you bore, nursed, sheltered, and loved with fierceness live his or her life in broken world.

Mary instructs us in her response:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” she says. “He who is mighty has done great things for me”—even if it causes her great pain.

Mary is a reminder that even in the brokenness of this world, nothing is impossible with God. God is always working. She looks beyond the impossible nature of her situation and worships the God who invades empty, barren (or virgin) wombs and brings life. This is why we must worship him.  With God, barren, post-menopausal women get pregnant. With God, virgins conceive. With God, mothers receive back their dead. And with God, all things will one day be made new.

This is why Mary’s song is so encouraging to us. It reminds us to worship even when suffering is hovering over us, and it reminds us that his arm is never to short to save, never too short to deliver, and never to short to heal. Even when he doesn’t, he is still worthy of all of our worship because look at how powerful he is, she tells us. Even when his ways aren’t our ways, she says, he is good.

Mary’s suffering is a help to us in our suffering. May our souls magnify the Lord along with her, even as heart-piercing pain is on the horizon.