Sometimes it takes the holidays to learn something you already know. Maybe it’s your dislike of Brussels sprouts that annually reveals itself at Thanksgiving dinner, the only time you eat them. Or it might be your aversion to all things spooky, a fact you only notice around Halloween. Perhaps your proclivity for procrastinating is especially highlighted around Christmas, an introspective epiphany you receive as you’re frantically running through the mall on Christmas Eve in order to finish off your holiday shopping.
And then there are those realizations offered to you by others from their various perspectives. For instance, when relatives who don’t live in town see your children, the talk invariably turns to how much they have grown. Unscientific, back-to-back measurements are taken to compare uncles and nephews, cousins and other cousins, grandmothers and granddaughters. Baby faced toddlers are replaced with lanky teenagers and tricycle-riders are replaced with driver’s license holders in what feels like just a handful of Christmases. Time seems to speed up when it is only seen in sequential Christmas card photos.
As parents, we don’t always see these incremental alterations in our children. They change but it’s hard for us to see the difference, that is, until they put on a pair of pants that are suddenly two inches too short. A-ha! You’ve grown!
Imagine Mary’s continual surprises as the mother of Jesus. Her wonder at her son’s milestone moments must have given her whiplash. If mothers had made baby scrapbooks back in those days, Mary would have wanted to include the following high points: Her pregnancy was revealed by a visiting angel. His birth was announced by an angel chorus and attended by a pack of awestruck shepherds. She was given a baby shower by a group of exotic world-travelers who brought her the items every new mother needs—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Forty days after Jesus’ birth, once Mary was considered clean enough to enter the temple area, Jesus’ parents were given another surprise to add to the ever growing list. There they met Simeon and Anna, holy and righteous prophets who had been anxiously waiting for news of the Messiah. When I read their story in Luke 2, I want to hug Anna and throttle Simeon. Anna “began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.” She sounds like a proud grandma or aunt. No doubt Mary would have wanted a photograph of Anna tenderly cradling Jesus for the baby book.
Simeon, on the other hand, tells Mary that Jesus “is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Vague news of soul-piercing swords is not exactly what a mother of a 1-month old wants to hear.
There was so much to come for the earthly parents of the Son of God. Maybe it was a blessing that Simeon hinted at a little of the heartache. It’s frustrating that apart from His preteen temple meeting with the priests and the catchall verse about Jesus growing up healthy, strong, and wise in Nazareth, we know so little of Jesus’ childhood. So in place of actual information I’ll assume that He outgrew tunics, coats, and sandals at an alarming rate. I’ll guess that Mary covertly watched him from doorways as he played with friends and siblings, trying to convince herself that He was ever a tiny baby.
Or maybe she had a moment with her growing son like I did recently with my youngest. My son stood, feet flat on the floor, and reached his hands up to my face, one hand on each cheek. He said, “Look, Mama. I can do this now. Me big.” No more tippy toes. Just another page for the baby book.