Faith Alive — A Meditation on the Heart of Mary at the Nativity
When you have good news to share, who do you want to tell first? Your closest friend or most respected mentor probably gets the honor of getting your first phone call before sharing your joy with a wider audience on social media.
In the infancy story of the Gospel of Luke, the Lord chooses to privilege humble shepherds with privileged access to his greatest news – Christ is born!
The news of great joy and hope from the angels is offered first to those who needed to hear it most: the poor, the vulnerable and the excluded. These men needed to learn that they were as worthy of the Lord’s grace as anyone else. No one has earned the salvation Jesus initiated at birth. He came to redefine love for all.
The shepherds, in response, did not stay in their fields with their flocks. Instead, they went straight to Bethlehem to see the holy child. Imagine the spirit of the shepherds when they approached the scene – they must have burst with excitement and awe to witness the sign proclaimed by the angels!
Surely, visitors to the outlying pastures would have been an unexpected sight. But again, having had their own experiences with angelic messengers, perhaps Mary and Joseph weren’t surprised after all.
I imagine Joseph having a protective instinct. While everyone gazed adoringly at the newborn king, Joseph might have watched over the visitors, making sure his beloved was safe and comfortable.
Rather than posing a threat, these nocturnal visitors had come to see and marvel at the mercy of the Lord. And in the midst of the action, “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).
Marie was resting quietly and recovering from childbirth, with her swaddled newborn lying in a manger.
During their first midnight feedings, Mary surely practiced contemplative prayer, studying the curve of his earlobe and the growth patterns of his hair as he fell peacefully asleep. As she watched his eyelids flutter and counted his sleepy breaths, her heart was that of a new mother, swelling with irresistible love for her baby.
Outside were people who desperately needed to see his son – to know for themselves that their suffering would be “justified by his grace” (Ti 3:7). Mary was aware that the child she would give birth to would bring salvation to all. But in those first moments of motherhood, all that mattered to her was that her baby was warm and dry.
From the beginning, the immaculate heart of Mary has always been fertile ground for making God’s love grow. Later, her aching heart would be pierced again and again, seeing her child’s suffering for the sake of the sinful world. Now Mary’s heart begins to collect reflections of everything she sees and hears whenever someone new meets her son.
By making shepherds among the first to know the birth of Jesus, God signifies his preferential option for the poor. As a faithful student of the Hebrew Scriptures, Mary could have heard the words of Isaiah ringing in her ears: “They shall be called ‘holy people,’ the redeemed of the Lord” (Is 62:12).
Like so many who later encountered Jesus, the shepherds immediately began telling their story to anyone who would listen. Thus, the shepherds were the first evangelists of their personal experience of the kerygma.
The mother of the church would continue to hold all these things, pondering them in her heart, praying for her people throughout the crucifixion and beyond Pentecost into eternity.
Cassandra Palmer lives with her husband and children in Baltimore, where she is director of religious education at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church. She holds a Masters in Ecclesiastical Ministries from the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary and a Bachelor of Divinity from Mount Saint Mary’s University.