“..is the great I AM?”

baby-feet8I typed a link to a you-tube video above because it is my favorite Christmas song, ever.  And I think Kathy Mattea, the singer, did it the best I’ve heard.  Not sure why her version touches me the most, but it does!  The song?  “Mary, did you know?”  The song speaks to the wonder most of us feel, gazing upon our babies.  Only in this case it is particularly poignant, because Mary is the Theotokos, or Mother of God.  Her Son is God, the Christ Child come to save us all.  I’ve spoken before about our period of preparation prior to Christmas, and that it is almost as important as Christmas, itself.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.” Luke 1; 26-38 (RSV)  It is agreed in Christian theology that this occurred.  So why would a song writer pen the lyrics to this song, asking if Mary knew all these things about her Son?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you’ve kissed your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God?

Oh Mary did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM?

All the questions the writer poses to Mary are all the same questions we should pose to ourselves, as we prepare to receive Him at Christmas; this little baby prepared to save each and every one of us.  Did you know?  Perhaps Mary did not know the details that would surround Her Son during His lifetime.  But she knew, oh yes, she knew He was the Son of God and also “the great I AM!”  In Old Testament terms, the “great I AM” is how people would refer to God, because no one felt that saying His name was appropriate. Yahweh is another term used for “God.”  When we really think about the fact that God manifested Himself as an infant, coming to walk among us as a man, devoid of the pomp and circumstance common to rulers in that age, it is pretty incredible – meaning almost “not-credible.”  Why would God do that? I mean, some of the most amazing things of the Old Testament are when God would do something out-of-the-ordinary, signifying His Presence.  I love the imagery of Moses’ face as played by Charleton Heston, after seeing God in the Burning Bush.  He was astonished; his face was sunburned and his hair bleached completely white.  Or Elijah ascending on his fiery chariot up into the sky?  Moses parted the Red Sea!  But this Baby comes in a cave (in most versions of the story) among the cattle, on a cold night under a cloudless sky.  The Christmas Star appears (only in the Gospel of Matthew) and the Shepherds come to adore the Child (Luke 2:8-18).  It is all so quiet, so serene, so peaceful.  No crowds, no parades, no splendor; a simple birth (“…and she brought forth her firstborn Son…” Luke 2:7).

So did Mary realize the immensity of this event? I think both she and Joseph were fully aware of their participation in the salvation history of God.  We don’t really hear much about Joseph in the gospels from here on out.  Christ was a carpenter, as was Joseph, during His life before His preaching began.  So we know that Joseph influenced Him as a child and young man.  The early years of Christ are shrouded in mystery. Perhaps it was because they were mundane and normal until His ministry began.  So Mary, at His birth, was perhaps not aware of the fullness of His yet-to-be-lived life of ministry and His Ultimate Sacrifice on the Cross.  But she was very aware of HIM!

We celebrated the birthday of our youngest son last night. I cannot fully express what an incredible evening it was.  So much was against it happening, at all, and yet it was a great night.  The weather wreaked havoc on our plans with icy rain, slick roads, closed schools, highways, and transportation.  But it happened, and it happened through the efforts of my husband daring to get our Costco pizzas and our older son and his wife’s determination that his brother’s birthday would be a great one.  They blazed a trail through the ice and snow, bringing friends over and an amazing cake!  They played a pretty amazing prank on me, too!  I loved that!  (Shhhh….they think I freaked out but it was so fun!!).  My son and his friends had a ball together, and I was able to stand back, and watch my children interact and just smile; my heart aglow with it all.

Baby handThe pregnancy I had with my older son was so frightening.  I was in and out of the hospital so many times, that when I showed up at the labor room, everyone knew me by name.  I was there so often, I had my favorite labor-monitoring chair!  He was born 5-weeks prematurely and we rejoiced that he was here, and healthy, and alive.  I was so afraid of NICU’s and the whole preemie process, that when he was born, God lightened our fears!  He was 8 lbs and 20.5 inches long.  All the NICU equipment they had on standby was too small for him.  The oxygen mask, the isolette, all the little t-shirts, booties, blankets and hats – too small.  He was the biggest baby born that day, and the only boy in the newborn section!  Our youngest son had a pretty rough time of it, too.  He was just 18-inches long and only 6 pounds.  I wasn’t used to such little babies! (My middle son’s pregnancy and birth were so normal, I felt neglected by my OB/GYN! He was 8 lbs. 9 oz!).  And as I sat on the couch last night, watching my oldest and youngest sons interacting over a new air-soft gun (given by the eldest to the youngest) my heart just swelled with love.  I was holding my grand daughter, seated next to my daughter-in-law, and chatting with both her and my husband, while our almost-2-year-old grandson ran around the room.  It was pretty much perfect. (Just missing our middle son and his family – whose birthday it also was!!).

handsDid I imagine or envision this event at the births of my sons? When I was holding my oldest boy in my arms, did I imagine him as a husband and father?  Did I see him as a big brother? A soldier?  When my middle son was born with those gorgeous strawberry blonde curls, did I imagine him holding his strawberry blonde baby girl? His marriage? His college graduation?  When my youngest son was placed in my arms, did I see him as that adorable toddler he grew to be? As a teenager? A pilot?  No to any of that.  All I saw, when I held my children, were these precious babies, themselves – little baby boys, alive, wiggly, and beautiful in my arms.

Mary participated in the salvific history of mankind in a special and unique way.  But she also participated in the act of creation, with the Creator Himself, God.  Each of us who bears a child participates in that same creative process with Our Creator.  What a gift, this gift of life is.  And each year, at Christmas, I feel myself participate, once again, with the Theotokos, as she holds her Baby Boy.

Mary, did you know?

King Size Bed

“..the child grew and became strong.”

290px-Saint_Joseph_with_the_Infant_Jesus_by_Guido_Reni,_c_1635I am preparing for the birthdays of two of my sons tomorrow.  One will be 24 and is married with a baby daughter; the other is turning 15.  I am fresh out of babies!!  It seems only yesterday that my 15-year-old was born.  It was a surprise because we had no idea we were having a baby!  We had gone Christmas tree shopping the weekend before.  As my two older boys (13 and 9 at the time) were decorating the tree, the younger one (the story is still in dispute between these two!! Ha-Ha) stepped on a broken glass ornament behind the tree.  As the older one lifted him over a small dividing wall, blood was dripping down.  We realized right then that it was going to be a doctor’s visit and stitches pretty quickly.  So our day and evening was a chaotic one! Our younger son came home on crutches and would be missing out on the local soccer tournament the following day. His dad was coaching his team and both my husband and older son were signed to referee the tournament.  We got home around dinner time and dealt with a 9-year-old who had stitches in his foot and a 13-year-old denying any complicity!  Later that evening, we had a phone call from the cousin of a good friend.  She recalled a conversation we had at a family bar-be-que FIVE years prior, and she asked us if we still wanted a baby to adopt.  I never hesitated.  I immediately said, “Yes.”  And then I said, “Hang on; let me be sure my husband is okay with this!!”  He was very okay with it and the next morning, our son was born.  I took my 9-year-old on crutches with me to WalMart (my older son and husband went on to the soccer tournament).  I grabbed a baby blanket and a car seat and headed to the hospital.  When the nurses greeted us, they were awesome.  They had me back up my car to the entrance and loaded us up with all sorts of baby things – bottles, diapers, blankets, t-shirts, socks.  It was so unexpected but wonderful.  We loaded him up and off we went, to introduce him to his father and older brother at a soccer tournament!  What a tournament that turned out to be! He was the hit of the day!  Newly born, wrapped in blankets against a chilly December day, and sleeping sweetly in his car seat.  From the moment I first held my son at just a couple of hours old, I loved him.  It is amazing to me how much God allows us to love.  We are the ones with the hang-ups; God wants us to love all people.  And I could not love this young man any  more, had he been brought forth from my own loins.  He is my son. Period.

It is interesting to me that people feel free to comment and criticize adoptive parents, families, and the process, especially if there are differences in race in the adoption process.  It is like complete strangers stroking the belly of pregnant mothers.  People seem to think it’s okay to comment on the make-up of our diverse family. My response to people initially was, “Where were you; where was your community, when no one wanted this child?”  My husband and I never hesitated in welcoming this child into our home, hearts, and family.  My other sons love him like they love each other; there is no difference.  There are differences due to age, but the two older ones have that, too!  He has blessed us more than he will ever realize.  I know God needed me to love this young man and to have him hold a part of my heart forever.

St JosephAt this time of year, I am drawn to the story of St. Joseph.  An angel appears to Mary and she accepts that God’s will be done and that she will bear the Son of God.  Now, imagine:  Mary is already betrothed to Joseph and she finds out she is pregnant, but not by Joseph, as she is still a virgin.  First of all, I don’t think we in the West truly have a grasp on what betrothal means.  In the East, the betrothal is declared after the couple have met with their priest, their parents (if it is appropriate) have agreed with the impending marriage, and the couple agrees to the wedding (usually about a year away).  The couple has a formal ceremony, wherein they make their vows and exchange rings.  They continue to meet regularly with their priest and plan their wedding with their families.  At the end of the betrothal period, the couple finalizes their agreement and is married by the priest. In the East, the priest marries the couple.  It is not like the West where the priest is just a witness.  The sacrament is conferred by the priest.  And the wedding closes a year or more of preparation.  It is a process and the church community, the priest, and the families are all a part of it.

So let’s place St. Joseph in this.  He hears rumors; Mary has up and left to visit her cousin. He has no idea what’s happening.  The little community is abuzz with gossip.  The Romans are talking “census” and the political climate is stressful, to say the least.  Mary makes her way back to town from visiting Elizabeth, where she felt her Child communicate with His cousin, John the Baptist.  Their relationship would grow over their lifetimes into something amazing.  As Mary is traveling back to Joseph, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him everything is okay; Mary is to bear the Son of God, and he needs to take her as his wife.  Mary comes home, Joseph accepts her and they marry.  I can only imagine all the gossiping about that!  (People gossiped badly back then; just as badly as they do today.  And what is sort of sad is that it probably wouldn’t cause too much chatter in our current moral climate!)  Right when they are wed, the Romans tell everyone about the census requirements and Joseph has to take his very pregnant wife with him, so he can be counted at the town of his birth (can you imagine the world having to be part of a census like that now?  Where would you have to show up??). And Joseph never hesitates. He does what is right in regards to the law – the law of the land and the Laws of God.  He takes Mary, fully confident she is bearing the Son of God, and off they go on the back of a donkey.

752px-Gerard_van_Honthorst_001Joseph took Mary on faith, fully believing Her Son would save us all.  He loved Christ as his son, knowing all along that He was the Son of God.  Joseph should be the patron of adoption!  He accepted Mary on faith, loved her with all his heart, and took Jesus as his son. He interceded for Jesus when His life was in danger, rescuing both Mary and Christ when an angel again appeared to him and warned him in a dream to get away.  What was coming was the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  It is the feast we celebrate on December 29th, which is our wedding anniversary.  It is another feast day that points me to adoption, and it is an ancient story about the sanctity of human life, as Herod had all male children from birth through two years of age killed, just in case one of them grew up to challenge his throne!

flight into egypt xx~001I love this painting.  The sole source of Light is the Christ Child, asleep in His Mother’s arms, atop the Sphinx.  St. Joseph is pictured asleep, next to their tethered beast, with a small fire next to him.  Quiet, peaceful, and safe.  Joseph raised Jesus as a carpenter, teaching him his trade.  He was already an old man when Christ was born, but he raised Him as best he could, giving of himself for his family.

I love that my husband and I could open our home to another son.  I thank God for this gift of life that has blessed us so immensely.  God knows how easy it is for us to love; to love each and every one of our fellow men.  He gave a wonderful example in St. Joseph and his love for Christ and the Theotokos, Mother of God.  And each year I am reminded of the blessing of life in our home.  The years are passing so much more quickly than they ever have.  I mourn the days of little feet running all over the house and fingerprints on windows and tripping over toys.  But God has gifted me with grandchildren and so the cycle of life continues!!  I give thanks for my sons, their wives, and my grandchildren.  And this last son still at home lifts my heart with his humor and his silliness.  His not-so-tidy bedroom is something I will miss in many ways, when it is his time to journey on in life.  And tomorrow it’s birthday cake, friends, and pizza! And I am sure lots of laughing and joking and high school teenagers being just that.  Time is racing past and I am trying to enjoy these fleeting moments.  St. Joseph reminds me to be faithful, unquestioning, and to just love.

250px-La_TourLuke 2:39-40
“When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.