The Blessed Virgin Mary, a picture of serenity in stained glass window or pious painted scene. In your blue cloak, and in quiet contemplation, you wait devoutly for the Angel to bring you his news.
But I wonder… I wonder if it was like that. Centuries of art, religious tradition and the occasional nativity play, may have got between you and us. Even your name, Mary – you sound so British! Or possibly Irish. ‘Mary’. If we think of you as a Miriam, we get a little closer to the Jewish peasant girl. You were just a teenager, really, betrothed to Joseph – older than yourself, probably – when the news came. An unplanned teenage pregnancy! You were not the first to find yourself in that difficult position; and not the last either! Fortunately, your Joseph is a decent chap and a quick word from an Angel of the Lord puts him in the picture too.
In the children’s nativity play, Baby Jesus arrives in the arms of an angel with tinsel wings, and is plonked unceremoniously into the makeshift crib. I wonder if his birth was as easy as that. I have a feeling that it wasn’t… No NHS hospital bed for you. No birthing pool. No ‘gas and air’. Not even the comfort and familiarity of your own home. Just you and that old man of yours and now you’re a family: the baby, wrapped in bands of cloth and placed in a manger. “Because there was no room at the inn”. Don’t think for a moment that’s what you’d imagined for your firstborn. In the nativity play, you sit on a piano stool and cheerfully welcome your strange visitors – shepherds in dressing gowns and tea-towel headdresses, and wise men with their turbans, cloaks and strange ideas about what makes a suitable gift for a baby. Their words, we are told, you treasured and pondered. Well, you’ll need something to sustain you: old Simeon will tell you, when he meets your little one that being his mother will break your heart: a sword will pierce your soul.
Oh, Miriam! Who could have known what lay in store when you said those words to the Angel,
‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’