The Christmas season is filled with beautiful pictures of love, grace, peace and hope.

I especially love seeing all the nativities on display. What could be more beautiful than a mother holding her newborn?

As I reflect on the Christmas Scriptures, I’m reminded that things aren’t always as they seem.

I’m moved this year by the ironic sufferings of Mary. We see Mary as the chosen one, the woman most blessed by God.

However, with this blessing came a tremendous amount of suffering that probably even felt like a curse.

My college-age daughter likes the TV series, “Jane the Virgin.” It’s about a young girl who goes to the doctor for a routine Pap smear and ends up being mistakenly inseminated. Just like that, she is pregnant, engaged and a virgin all at the same time. Jane has a doctor who admits the mistake.

Mary didn’t have that. There wasn’t anyone to vouch for her except for the supernatural appearances by the angel Gabriel, only experienced by a few, but what an important few that was: both her fiancé and her relative Zechariah.

Jesus’ birth was full of suffering: a long trip at the end of her pregnancy, nowhere appropriate to stay, no medical staff to help with the birth.

Shortly after came the words of Simeon the priest, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).

As a mother, I have had similar feelings of a “sword piercing my soul,” and I imagine that most mothers have had similar experiences as well.

When my adopted child has been so ravaged by sin and shame and does not want to live anymore, I feel a sword has pierced my soul.

When I watch my adopted children deal with another broken promise, and when they endure more and more suffering of uncertainty of whether or not their parent will do for them what parents should do, a sword pierces my soul as I watch them suffer.

Poor Mary watched her son bear the weight of the sins of this world while dying on the cross. She experienced unbearable excruciating pain, and yet we celebrate God’s choosing of Mary.

And God is choosing us. Could it be that with a calling to follow Jesus we should expect a road of suffering instead of being surprised by it?

  • Being pregnant as a virgin? Not good! Who’s going to believe her?
  • Having a baby in a stable? Yuck!
  • Fearing Herod will kill her child and hearing stories of all the other young boys who were murdered. How did she endure?
  • Watching her son be brutally murdered even though he was innocent?

God chooses us to endure what is ahead and gives us his promise to walk with us through whatever it is that awaits us tomorrow.

God’s choice for Mary was a tough road of suffering. I can only imagine what a joy Jesus was to raise and have in her household. As a mom, I cherish these joyful times as well.

The nativity is so beautiful and magical that I tend to forget the orders from Herod to kill every male child age 2 and younger. So, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape the massacre.

Yes, I can imagine that someone is out to get my child. I lived with these feelings years ago when I was told to be careful with one of my foster kids that someone may be after them to retaliate. I was on high alert, and it was so stressful.

I don’t know the feeling of a mother who has lost her child because someone killed them. Thankfully, Herod died and they were able to go home. God took care of this, and Jesus lived. God has also taken care of me and will take care of you too.

Some of us tend to fall into depression because we cannot see beyond our suffering circumstances, whether that means we have recently lost a loved one, are experiencing a serious health condition or are mourning the loss of a relationship.

Whatever the case, Christmas can bring on a whole host of emotions. I know this well as a foster and adoptive mother. It’s hard to celebrate when a whole host of emotions can feel like they are overpowering you from your past suffering.

Christmas can be a reminder of what we lack, but along with that is the true, pure hope that we belong to God and he has given us the greatest gift ever.

I too am his child, and he will see me through and give me what I need to be who he has called me to be.

So, when the feelings of suffering come, let’s remember Mary. She knew suffering well. To follow God is to suffer. To follow God is the greatest joy.

Follow him this season and walk in irony. It’s OK. He is our king.

Jeni Martin Johnson is associate pastor of missions at First Baptist Church of Asheboro, North Carolina.

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