I’ve been enjoying the displays that depict the real meaning of Christmas—and noticing there are no women at the manger scene to welcome Mary’s first baby. The proud parents are there with the celebrated babe in the manger, surrounded by shepherds, wise men, various farm animals, and a little drummer boy.
Where are the sisters? Aunts and grandmothers? Other mothers summoned to pay their taxes?
How many readers out there are mothers? When you read the Christmas story, don’t you feel that some important details have been left out? How many young mothers would have been left to undergo their first pregnancy without another woman by her side? What can we assume based on the customs of the time?
We don’t know much about Mary and Joseph’s day to day lives, but history and archaeological finds have revealed some of the typical routines and rituals of Jewish families during Roman rule.
Their lives were centered around the temple, the community, and the family. If Joseph were required to report to his hometown of Bethlehem for tax purposes, it is likely that he had relatives in Nazareth who had to make the same journey. So it’s possible they had companions along the way. Above all, a trip undertaken by a lone traveler in those times was hazardous. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Communities were accustomed to traveling as a group, as we learn when Jesus as a young lad. He had stayed in Jerusalem to discuss with the elders and his parents didn’t miss him for an entire day, assuming he was “among their relatives and friends” (Luke 2:44 NIV).
So if they were traveling with a group, why isn’t it mentioned? The writers of the New Testament had a story to tell. In Luke’s case, the focus in the early chapters of his gospel was the miraculous birth of the Messiah and how it fit into the Old Testament prophecies and God’s ultimate plan to liberate the world from sin. His original audience would have been familiar with birthing procedures, travel considerations, and community involvement. There would be no need to mention it. Those were unnecessary details that would detract from Luke’s central message.
So, back to the women involved. I’m not going to speculate about the role of the unnamed women who may have been at Mary’s side on that Holy Night. Instead, let’s look at the role of the three women who are specifically named in connection with the Christ Child: Mary herself, her relative Elizabeth, and the devout widow Anna.
Mary’s story, of course, is the most familiar to us. Her life up to that point had been unremarkable—a devout Jewish girl awaiting the ceremony that would seal the marriage contract with Joseph. The message from the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:26-38 would have shaken her secure and predictable world. Her response and the words she spoke later on demonstrate an understanding of her religious history and the beliefs of “Abraham and his descendants forever” (Luke 1:55 NIV).
Mary’s first encounter with the Son of God would have come with the stirrings of the new life within her. To know she carried the Savior of the world must have brought incomparable happiness—and an overwhelming sense of responsibility.
Early in her miraculous pregnancy, Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was expecting for the first time. Gabriel’s message had informed Mary of the equally wondrous pregnancy of the older woman, wife of the priest Zechariah. They had no children because Elizabeth was barren and past the age of having children. Now she was awaiting the birth of John the Baptist, designated as the forerunner of Christ.
An emotional reunion followed. Elizabeth received Mary after her journey. Once she heard Mary’s greeting, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaped with joy and she was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). Years later, in adulthood, John would prepare the people for the coming of the Lord (verse 17).
Finally, we learn of the prophetess Anna. She was widowed at a young age, but rather than seek to remarry, she devoted her life to worshipping, fasting, and praying in the temple. She was in her eighties when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple for consecration as the first-born male of the family. The child was first recognized by Simeon, who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before seeing the salvation promised to both Jews and Gentiles (Luke 2:32).
While the parents were still marveling at the words of Simeon, Anna approached them. She confirmed Simeon’s message and spoke to all those that “looked forward to redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38 KJV).
I was fortunate to discover a picture of the Nativity that included other women attending the miraculous birth. Having spent a lifetime studying women of the Bible, I found it refreshing to see a depiction of the Christmas story that was possibly more in line with the reality of the times.