I was blessed to visit Florence, Italy this past summer. As an art lover, it was a dream – rich history and breathtaking art met you at every turn. There were many famous works to admire – The David, by Michelangelo was spectacular, the Fountain of Neptune – remarkable. However, it is the many renderings of The Virgin Mary that come to mind this Advent season. There were countless beautiful interpretations of Mary, works by masters such as Botticelli and Da Vinci, but the image I fell in love with was “Madonna and Child” (pictured above) by Filippo Lippi, an Italian painter circa 1450 for the Medici family.
This is a different Christmas, one of less to do’s (though there are still plenty) and more intention on simply being. This has prompted me to curate my Christmas playlist. No offense to Mariah Carey, but I’m not jamming to her usual, “All I want for Christmas is You” this year. Instead, I have a few favorites on repeat. Perhaps due to my Florence memories, they center heavily on Mary.
“Mary Did You Know?” and “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” focus on the human emotion, and vulnerability of a young mother chosen to play a key role in history. We all know the story of the Nativity; we have heard it so often it is easy to take for granted. But to think, to truly consider, a young mother carrying this King of Kings in her swollen belly and then in her arms – it is powerful. Listening to these songs, memories flood in of holding my own sweet babies, their breath and heartbeat in rhythm with mine. The miracle of it all still overwhelms me, that I was lucky enough to give birth to these wonderful souls and to hold them and care for them in their earliest days, it is my greatest gift. How Mary took this all in, while holding her infant son, the Messiah, fascinates me.
I imagine she was in awe, but likely overwhelmed by it all too – being a new mother is full of emotion, it is at once lonely and fulfilling. In “Breath of Heaven,” Amy Grant sings the words,
“I have traveled many moonless nights…
I am waiting in a silent prayer,
I am frightened by the load I bear,
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?”
These were not easy times Mary lived in and her sweet baby was coming as a Savior – a light in the deep darkness of the world. The knowing of this mission and the weight of it all would be unimaginable.
Mary’s story is one of deep faith and hope. The angel Gabriel told her that her child, conceived of the Holy Spirit, was to be the long-awaited King and she accepted this. However, it is one thing to hear something told to you, and quite another to truly grasp the magnitude of it all. How could she know the extreme joys and the heartbreaking lows she would come to experience as the Mother of Jesus? I take comfort in knowing that her “yes” to God was made in absolute faith.
Life is like this even today, one of the many reasons the Christmas Story still resonates with us two thousand years later. We trust God and His wisdom in our lives, yet His plan unfolds over time. There are seasons in life that are joyful, moments that bring you to your knees in anguish – if we saw the entire plan, all of the highs and lows, it would be too much. God graciously unveils the path as we go, it is our choice to trust Him and follow according to His guidance.
This Advent, as I pause more and truly listen to the words of these songs, I feel the strength of Mary. The magnitude of it all – yet the pure beauty in it as well – a mother with her newborn son. Love, faith and hope are Mary’s legacy to us all.