Christmas is a time to reflect on and celebrate the birth of Christ. I love to think about Mary and her incredible role in this pinnacle moment in history. She was truly a woman of God. I admire her so much, and her life has taught me many lessons.
[artist: J. Kirk Richards]
1. Mary was foreordained and placed in circumstances to fulfill her important mission.
Hundreds of years before Mary was born, prophets testified of her sacred role. Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” King Benjamin prophesied, “And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.” And the prophet Alma declared, “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.”
Because Jesus’ mortal lineage would come through Mary, in order for all prophecy to be fulfilled, she had to be born herself into the royal line of David and be raised with faith in the God of Israel and the Holy Prophets. And while my own personal mission may not be as magnificent, her story bears witness to me that our Father in Heaven places us on earth when and where he needs us and creates the circumstances in which we can reach our potential and achieve our royal destiny.
“As there is only one Christ, so there is only one Mary. And as the Father chose the most noble and righteous of all his spirit sons to come into mortality as his Only Begotten in the flesh, so we may confidently conclude that he selected the most worthy and spiritually talented of all his spirit daughters to be the mortal mother of his Eternal Son.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Bookcraft, Inc., 1965, vol. 1, p. 85.)
2. Mary was “beautiful and fair.”
I don’t think the scriptures mean that Mary was a bombshell or excessively beautiful by worldly standards. She was “virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy,” and had the kind of beauty that radiates from obedience and spiritual light. The Hebrew word for “fair” can mean “goodly” and implies righteousness and covenant-keeping. Parley P. Pratt taught that the Holy Spirit “develops beauty of person, form and features.” We all know women who are absolutely beautiful because of their goodness and the spirit of attractiveness; Mary was such a woman.
3. Mary found strength in friendship with righteous women.
I love the story of Mary and Elizabeth. When Mary was processing the almost incredible news of her pending motherhood, she ran to Elizabeth, who by virtue of her own miraculous circumstances, was able to rejoice with her and offer support and encouragement. Even the children in their wombs lept for joy when the women embraced. I love the influence that good friends can have in my life. When we associate with covenant women, their faith and testimony increase ours; they make us better.
4. Mary knew and experienced loneliness.
Certainly Mary, more than any of us, had a right to feel like no one understood what she was going through. Her situation could have very well threatened her upcoming nuptials, and her secret was so sacred that, other than Joseph and Elizabeth, she probably cold not make it known. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:
I’ve thought of Mary, too, this most favored mortal woman in the history of the world, who as a mere child received an angel who uttered to her those words that would change the course not only of her own life but also that of all human history: “Hail, thou virgin, who art highly favoured of the Lord. The Lord is with thee; for thou art chosen and blessed among women.” (JST, Luke 1:28.) The nature of her spirit and the depth of her preparation were revealed in a response that shows both innocence and maturity: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38.)
It is here I stumble, here that I grasp for the feelings a mother has when she knows she has conceived a living soul, feels life quicken and grow within her womb, and carries a child to delivery. At such times fathers stand aside and watch, but mothers feel and never forget. Again, I’ve thought of Luke’s careful phrasing about that holy night in Bethlehem:
The days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and [she] wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and [she] laid him in a manger.” (Luke 2:6–7; italics added.) Those brief pronouns trumpet in our ears that, second only to the child himself, Mary is the chiefest figure, the regal queen, mother of mothers—holding center stage in this grandest of all dramatic moments. And those same pronouns also trumpet that, save for her beloved husband, she was very much alone.
I have wondered if this young woman, something of a child herself, here bearing her first baby, might have wished her mother, or an aunt, or her sister, or a friend, to be near her through the labor. Surely the birth of such a son as this should command the aid and attention of every midwife in Judea! We all might wish that someone could have held her hand, cooled her brow, and when the ordeal was over, given her rest in crisp, cool linen.
But it was not to be so. With only Joseph’s inexperienced assistance, she herself brought forth her firstborn son, wrapped him in the little clothes she had knowingly brought on her journey, and perhaps laid him on a pillow of hay.
Then on both sides of the veil a heavenly host broke into song. “Glory to God in the highest,” they sang, “and on earth, peace among men of good will.” (Luke 2:14, Phillips Translation.) But except for heavenly witnesses, these three were alone: Joseph, Mary, the baby to be named Jesus.
At this focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen.
How true it is that many of the greatest moments of motherhood are quiet and sacred. Since most of ours are not accompanied by stars and angels, they are often unnoticed by the rest of the world, but not by God. It makes sense that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
5. Mary loved the temple.
It stands to reason that Mary would have been raised in the deeply religious Jewish culture, and the temple was the center of that faith. Given her devotion, it is possible that she could have been one of the many young virgins that were known to do work in and for the temple “includ[ing] sewing and creating vestments, washing the vestments of the priests which would be stained regularly by animal blood, preparing liturgical linen, weaving the veil of the Temple, and most importantly, liturgical prayer.” (Dr. Taylor Marshall) We do know that shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary took him to the temple to present him to God. There they were met by Simeon and Anna, who both bore testimony that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah and the Son of God. Not only did this confirm His mission, but it reaffirmed hers. This is what the temple does for me now. When I attend the temple, I learn about the Savior and I learn about me. Having that testimony of her divine role reinforced in the temple must have been a powerful boon for Mary.
We also know that “[Jesus'] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.” (Luke 2:41.) And after twelve years, that testimony was reaffirmed, once again in the temple, when Mary found Jesus there teaching the elders and he testified, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” The temple seems to have been a sacred, defining place for the Holy Family.
6. Mary knew the scriptures.
Raised as a devoted Jew, Mary would have known and understood the prophecies of the coming Messiah. Both during and after the annunciation visit from Gabriel, Mary showed an understanding of who Jesus Christ was to be. Her questions centered on her own part, but she believed in and rejoiced about the arrival of the long-prophesied Savior. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47)
When Jesus first announced his divinity, he did so by standing in the synagogue and reading and expounding upon the scriptures. He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (Luke 4:21) Robert J. Matthews taught about the circumstances of Jesus’ childhood, which would explain his knowledge of the scriptures:
The atmosphere of the home was one of obedience to the Lord as commanded in the divine law. It was at home that Jesus probably received his first lessons about the history of Israel and of past deliverances of his people by the hand of the Lord; here he also undoubtedly learned of the hopes and expectations for the future, as written in the scriptures.
My heart tells me that Mary played an important role in teaching and testifying about the scriptures and helping young Jesus recognize and understand his own mission.
7. Mary faced fear and grief with faith.
When the angel first told Mary that she would be the mother of God’s son, she was bewildered. “How can this be?” she asked, perhaps equivalent to the modern “Are you kidding me?” She must have felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy and uncertainty. Her whole future must have seemed suddenly unexpected and even dangerous, but she responded with faithful surrender, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord…” When Herod’s decree threatened her newborn’s life, she and Joseph again responded to heavenly guidance and were protected. There were probably many times that Mary faced fear during Jesus’ childhood and ministry. From the time he was lost for many days and finally found in the temple to the day when an angry crowd shouted, “Crucify him!,” Mary had to trust that her son was in his Father’s hands. In her moment of greatest grief, Jesus himself showed her tremendous respect and love. Elder Bradley D. Foster taught,
In the final, most pivotal moment of His mortal life—after the anguish of Gethsemane, the mock trial, the crown of thorns, the heavy cross to which He was brutally nailed—Jesus looked down from the cross and saw His mother, Mary, who had come to be with her Son. His final act of love before He died was to ensure that His mother would be cared for, saying to His disciple, “Behold thy mother!” And from that point on the disciple took her unto his home. As the scriptures say, then Jesus knew that “all things were now accomplished,” and He bowed His head and died.
8. Mary was obedient to the will of God.
Oh, how I love Mary’s example of obedience, even in times of uncertainty. She seemed to inherently trust God and know that He would do what was best, even when the details didn’t make sense to her. She must have felt an incredible responsibility, and I have no doubt that her initial submission to the Father, “Be it unto me according to thy word,” set the example for all that Christ did throughout his life. Perhaps even in his darkest hours in Gethsemane, when he was of necessity left alone to suffer and face his own fear and uncertainty, her example gave him the strength to say, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
I love Mary because I love Jesus Christ. I know she was a “precious and chosen vessel” and her life teaches me how to be more truly Christian. The Savior of the world came as a baby and was given the gift of a righteous mother. Her example is one of the many gifts to celebrate at Christmastime.