Confession: On Sunday afternoons, when I finally have a chance to look through the Sunday New York Times, the first place I go is the “Style” section. It’s not that I’m into style, or fashion. I go there for the “Social Q’s” column, an advice column where people ask about socially awkward situations. Not only is it something of a guilty pleasure (on a day that’s a busy workday for me), but it’s also a nice bit of writing. The questions are interesting, and the responses are witty, thoughtful and occasionally snarky (my favorite combination).
This past Sunday, on my way to the “Social Q’s” column, I stumbled upon a headline that caught my eye, “Here’s Your Baby . . . Where’s My Present?” (New York Times, 12/6/15) The piece focused on “push presents,” especially Kim Kardashian’s sought after “push present.” After giving birth to her second child (or “pushing” her child out of the womb), Ms. Kardashian is expecting a Lorraine Schwartz diamond choker (whatever the hell that is) valued at somewhere around $1 million.
In this season of Advent, when some of us are preparing to revisit one of the most well-known births of all time, I couldn’t help but wonder what Mary might have wanted for her “push present.”
Sure, some strange men from the East (so we are told by the Gospel writer Matthew) showed up bearing gifts. But, those gifts were really for the newborn babe, though they were more symbolic gifts than practical ones. The Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew fails to tell us why the Magi brought those gifts in particular, but Christians have come to understand that each gift signaled an important aspect of the child: gold for kingship; frankincense for deity or priestliness; and myrrh as a symbol for death.
But, what about Mary? What would Mary have wanted for giving birth to the Son of God? What would Mary have sought as a “push present”?
Would Mary have been satisfied to know that she would become the Blessed Virgin Mother, revered, prayed to, sought after for care and assistance by countless followers of that child? Or, did she long for something a little more worldly—like a subscription to a good diaper service, or babysitting so she and Joseph could go out once in while, or perhaps just a decent ride out of Bethlehem on something other than a donkey?
In the other biblical birth narrative, in the Gospel of Luke, a band of shepherds seek out the new family and, upon finding them, share the story of what had propelled them to leave their flocks: an angel, followed by a multitude of the heavenly host. The angel had told the shepherds about the good news, the coming of the Savior. Upon hearing this, Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
Perhaps that was enough: the gift of simple, eloquent words, words deep with meaning as well as mystery: “’Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth goodwill among people.’”
The perfect present.