Photo courtesy Mountain Catholic 

The run-up to the birth of Jesus was punctuated with pauses.

Mary’s pause

After the Angel visited her, Mary could not say what she would have liked to have said. Stories that went against established norms and trends were unacceptable. Those around would misunderstand and grow suspicious, even hostile. What she had heard and knew compelled her to pause to ponder these things.

When he is drawn in on the story that could not be told as yet, Joseph becomes part of the pause. Because he knew the woman who knew more than she could say, he too had to pause and ponder these things.

The two become a group when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth to tell her secretly what she knew was happening. She had to tell another woman, who would have to tell her husband. Elizabeth too had a story of her own. Soon, what one knew and another knew was known by a group and they were all inducted into the pause; the pause of the informed.

The birth pause

The follow up of the birth of Christ was also punctuated with pauses. After the excitement of the event there came a stillness. The shepherds went back to their flocks, they had to earn a living. The wise-persons returned home, they had waiting families. The Angel voices faded away and the star disappeared. The nights became longer and the darkness darker. Only the animals remained; pausing to glance at the newborn as they quietly chewed at their food.

One sound broke the pause; the cry of the baby. Babies then and now, seem to cry the same way. This universal baby language is punctuated with seemingly thoughtful little pauses; as if the baby stops to think whether its crying would get someone into trouble.

But baby language is safe. It gets no one into trouble because only mothers understand. And mothers know how to keep secrets. Mary herself knew what it was to know and not be able to tell. She would keep the little baby secrets whether they warned of bad things or promised good things, to come. She would not tell. She had been through it. She had learnt to hold back what needed to be said.

The withdrawal pause

And then came the voice, the whisper. The family was to get away. Herod, the king, was afraid and angry. The baby, he had been advised, would grow up to become a compassionate and just visionary. The type that would expose his violent ways and greed for power. But Herod was Herod. Even a baby, absolutely free from sin and guilt, would be silenced, if necessary.

The family just made it to Egypt when a chilling pause descended on the land. As newborn innocents were massacred, no one raised a voice. The good-shepherds looked away; only their flock mattered. The wise persons looked up; they were researching the stars. The Angels looked down; they had lost the music to their song of peace and goodwill. All that was heard was the wailing of mothers grieving for their lost infants.

Mary’s song

But there was another tradition that goes back to Mary. This was the song she sang, the story she did tell. It had somehow been censored. Whether by friends or adversaries, we will never know.

Hidden for a while, the song eventually came to light. Those inspired by it had preserved it in their memory. From this impregnable vault, the story was recalled and passed on with amazing accuracy, until it was one day recorded. This was the oral tradition at work.

This then is how Mary’s song came to earn a place in the Book that tells the whole Christmas story and more. It is such a stirring song that it soon earned a place in the Liturgy. Today Mary’s song is sung the world over to a variety of tunes and chants, when Christians gather to worship.  One of the most haunting of these is a rendering punctuated with pauses.

Mary’s song has outlived the scheming ruthlessness of Herod. It is today entrenched in the lives of Christians because it highlights how an excluded woman typically sustained hope through the pause. Full of gratitude for her selection as the Christ-bearer, the song connects her calling with the dawn of a new age.

In this anticipated age, the poor and lowly will receive what they have been denied and the rich, the ruling class, will correspondingly lose their unjust gains.  The proud and those who strive to remain at the top will be brought down and those at the bottom will be raised up. In short, injustice will be rectified, the mighty will be moved away from the seats they have tainted and those on the fringes will regain their rightful place at the centre of life.

The creative pause

This unravelling story redefines the Christmas pause. Far from escape or withdrawal, it is a time of regeneration. In watchful waiting; new insights are gained, new energy renewed, new friendships built and new visions sighted. Then, when the time is right, new songs burst forth like springs of living water.

In the profound paradox of the Christmas pause, the way to truth and life never dies; it is born again and again.

With peace and blessings to all.