For months Mary has known that she is carrying within her an indescribable beauty, somehow like the beauty of a meadow flower she once came upon unexpectedly; like the starry night she often glimpsed out her window, so much like the beauty of Joseph’s tender smile; it is all of this and much, much more. She has felt this beauty stirring within her and welcomed the sudden, unasked-for joy. And now as she gazes at the Child nestled in a feeding trough, she gazes upon the beauty of God, tiny, vulnerable and dependent on her attention, her warm milk, her touch.
What is of course most amazing is how this beauty has been realized: through the fractures and brokenness of lives like ours that have been interrupted by God. There are so many, too many questions and incongruities. But Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” The word in Greek is sumballousa; it means literally to throw things together. Mary puts all the seemingly mismatched pieces together and lets them be, pondering all the while. She holds them all and wonders and reflects. She does not demand explanation.
Mary is lovingly open to the seemingly lopsided ways of God. She notices poor, smelly shepherds with messages from angels. She is well aware that she, a poor, young virgin from an undistinguished family has received an angel’s message and become pregnant with God; aware that her plans for a life with Joseph are shattered. And she may be wondering (After all we are more than 2000 years later.) why, if God has so favored her, would he allow this fulfillment of his plan to take place in a cattle stall, where she must place the Son of the Most High to sleep in an animal’s feeding trough? It makes no sense. But in her heart she holds together all these incongruities and has the courage and insight to notice the beauty and let it be.
Photograph by Brother Brian.