the ministry of mary

December means Advent, and at the Wilkin house that means reading nightly from our traditional Advent book. Each page contains a door that opens onto a scene from the Christmas story - twenty five doors, twenty five days to Christmas. Behind the first three doors of this beautiful book lies the retelling of the Annunciation, and immediately I am drawn into the story. A teen-aged Hebrew girl learns from an angel that she will miraculously give birth to God in the flesh. Mary's response? “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Nothing about this story is typical.

The record of what unfolds next for Mary is mind-boggling in its own right – we open the doors of our Advent book to see Elizabeth’s confirmation of the angel’s words, Joseph’s response, the actual birth of the child – but ever since the birth of my own children the quieter details of Mary’s maternal role have stirred my curiosity. The gospels do not tell us much about Jesus’ earliest years, those years during which any mother is consumed with the care of her child. Surely Mary encountered all of the typical weariness, worry, work and wonderment of raising a little one. The doors to these everyday scenes are closed to us.

Was raising the Christ-child a typical experience of motherhood? It's hard to imagine that it was. Even the ordinary would have touched the extraordinary. Think about this: Mary was charged with caring for the very body that would one day be broken for her. Her hands bathed and clothed him, her breasts satisfied his hunger, her lips kissed his skinned elbows, her arms embraced him, her voice soothed him to sleep. In the simple everyday tasks of motherhood, Mary ministered to the very body of the long-expected Savior. Even her most basic acts of mothering were sacred.

That's not a normal experience of motherhood. Or is it?
In Matthew 25:31-45 Jesus speaks of the day in which the righteous will be separated from the unrighteous according to their deeds. The righteous act selflessly to minister to those in need: shelter for the shelterless, food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing for the naked, help for the sick, compassion for the friendless. Jesus indicates that when we meet the most basic needs of those around us we show forth the reality of our changed hearts. But He says we do more than that. He tells us that when we do these things for others, it is as though we have done them directly for him. This is a pivotal realization for us: when a love for our Savior motivates us to serve others, our most basic acts become sacred acts - as if we had done them for Christ himself.
I am in the process of raising four children. Weariness, worry, work, wonderment. If you opened a door on our lives, you'd find typical scenes: disorder barely confined to the closets and second floor, daily trips to the grocery store (bananas, bread, milk), dirty clothes draping every surface of the laundry room. It feels like someone is always hungry, sick, cranky, or out of clean socks. It is my job as the mom to address these conditions, and I may not always show up to work with a smile on my face.

But if what Jesus says is true, these basic mothering acts are some of the most sacred of all - shelter for the shelterless, food for the hungry, clothing for the naked. As if I have done them for Christ himself.
I don’t share much in common with Mary.  I have great kids, but I can say with some confidence that none of them is a sinless Son of God.  But by meeting their everyday needs out of a love for that Son, I share in some indirect way in the profound mystery Mary knew of ministering to the physical body of her Savior. Even my most basic acts of mothering become sacred.

 Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.” Such an insightful response to the calling of motherhood. A teen-aged girl could see it. Oh, that I might see it as well - that I might recognize the object of my service as Christ himself, that I might reckon the tasks of mothering not as work but as worship, not as an aggravation but as an altar, not as drudgery but as my dearest delight in service to my Savior. Oh, that sacred service might dwell continually and joyfully behind the door of my home.
Matthew 25:37-40 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’