I like to read something devotional about Christmas during December, with the Scripture passages regarding Advent themselves and/or a devotional book. I’ve enjoyed Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, compiled by Nancy Guthrie, a number of times and thought about picking it up again this year, but I kind of wanted something new and different. Then my friend Kim mentioned she was enjoying Liz Curtis Higgs’ book The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna. I have read several of Liz’s novels, but never one of her non-fiction books, so on Kim’s recommendation I decided to give this one a try.
It was just what I wanted this year. The book takes us thoughtfully through the Christmas passages of Scripture, focusing mainly, as the title indicates, on three women: Elizabeth is older, beyond the usual childbearing years, but finds herself miraculously expecting the forerunner of Christ. Mary is a young teenager, a virgin, yet she is told she will bear the Son of God. Anna is elderly yet still serves God with all her heart and life. Though Zacharias, Joseph, and Simeon are discussed as well, the main focus of the book is on how God worked in the lives of these women.
It’s obvious that Liz has put a wealth of study behind this book, but it’s not what I would call a technical book. She touches on some of the controversies and questions of the Christmas story but wisely doesn’t spend a lot of time speculating on that for which we have no answers. She brings and out meditates on the truth we can find from what God has told us in His Word and provides an opportunity to get a fresh viewpoint from passages so familiar that we can sometimes zip through them without stopping to think about the real implications for the real people in these real stories.
For instance, I never thought to wonder before why Mary went to see Elizabeth right after learning that she was going to bear Jesus. We can’t tell from the text how well they knew each other or whether they were close, though they are cousins. Elizabeth was quite a distance away from Mary. Yet when the angel, in his announcement to Mary, told her that her barren older cousin was pregnant, that must have been an encouragement to her that the God who did this impossible thing for Elizabeth could and would do the impossible thing the angel foretold for her as well. But it also provided her with someone who would understand something of what she was going through. There is no record that Mary told anyone about the angel’s announcement. We assume she told Joseph, though we don’t really know. But Elizabeth was the one person who would believe her about an angelic visit and a miraculous pregnancy.
A few quotes that stood out to me:
“Now consider this: the first person to hold the newborn Christ was Mary of Nazareth, and the first person to touch the newly risen Christ, however briefly, was Mary of Magdala. God placed himself in a woman’s care when he came to earth, then entrusted a woman to announce his resurrection when he came back to life.
“When I hear women rail that the Bible is misogynistic, I wonder if we’re reading the same book. God loves women, redeems women, empowers women – then and now. On the day we call Christmas, he could simply have arrived on earth, yet he chose to enter through a virgin’s womb. On the day we call Easter, he could have appeared first to his beloved disciple John, yet he chose as his first witness a woman set free from seven demons” (p. 122)
(On Mary’s bearing a child in a stable), “Given the circumstances, it’s surprising what we don’t find in the passage. She whined. She complained. She demanded better accommodations. Not our Mary. Even after giving birth to the Savior of the world, she didn’t insist on special treatment, didn’t fuss about there being ‘no space for them in the living-quarters'” (p. 124).
“On that day in Bethlehem, absolute abasement was bathed in breathtaking glory. Born the lowest of the low, the infant Jesus was the highest of the high” (p. 125).
(On the announcement by the angels to the shepherds), “We’ve seen countless Christmas cards and tabletop Natvity scenes with Jesus as a ‘newborn baby’ (CEB) dressed in ‘swaddling-clothes’ (KNOX) and ‘lying in a feeding trough’ (ERV). But we’ve had a lifetime to embrace that reality. Think of these men hearing it for the first time” (p. 130).
(After the shepherds told everyone about the baby on their way back to their sheep), “What about Mary? Did she run around Bethlehem, telling everyone about God’s Son? She did not. ‘But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ Luke 2:19. Mary focused on caring for her baby while she stored all she’d seen and done ‘like a secret treasure in her heart’ (NIrV). Some women like to talk their way through experiences; others prefer the Mary approach: ‘weighing and pondering’ (AMP), ‘mulling them over’ (CJB), and ‘trying to understand them’ (ERV)” (p. 136).
Note in the last quote that she didn’t say this was a better approach: just that it contrasted with the reaction of the shepherds and then later Anna. That was a blessing to me in this year of having read and heard a lot about introverts and extroverts: neither is better, God made both, and He works in and through both in different ways for His glory.
I’m so glad I read this book this year. It provided me with many quiet, meditative moments during the mornings of this Christmas season. I’m sure I’ll be using it again in years to come.