He Called You His Mother
by Amy Rachel Peterson
These days of Christmas we have massive things to celebrate: the world’s redemption, our reconciliation, the King’s gracious condescension to become a lowly part of His own creation for our sakes. It’s the universe’s greatest story, wrapped into its most commonplace: a baby, a mother. The personal drama of a conception and a birth has occurred over 14 billion times since Eve had her first son. So yes, commonplace. Yet what mother has ever felt the moment—the miracle of a soul’s creation—commonplace? In fact, instead of making His advent on our soil simply relatable, God joyfully and carefully chose a path to make Himself deeply accessible to all human beings—“immediate family” in a way not even the angels likely anticipated, even while they were singing in the sheep field. God was inviting us not just to identify, but to enter in.
Sometimes, though, it doesn’t seem so accessible. Our celebrations of Jesus’ birth seem to bring up deeper longings than the day or the occasion can satisfy. We all have reasons why.
As a single woman, Christmas Day can be awfully challenging. I remember standing in the kitchen with sisters, each eagerly showing the generous gifts their husbands gave them, and I vividly recall the split-second of silence when I, of course, had no present to show (except a scarf from my thoughtful sister!). But the single girl’s lack of presents is small compared to the bigger lacks that dig into my heart at Christmastime. Joseph’s faithfulness to Mary and my siblings’ happy marriages make my empty house hard to return to Christmas night. Worse, the week’s constant images of the best-ever Baby in the arms of the sweetest mother, and the extra-affectionate cuddles parents and children share all around me as they consciously treasure the thought of Jesus as a tiny one—these have at times brought physical shards of pain into my chest.
My girl arms imagine what the warm, sweaty weight of bundled-up, 7-pound God felt like asleep on Mary’s shoulder. During Christmas the so-called “commonplace” event that most women throughout history have experienced becomes a deep, immensely accessible invitation to relate to Him differently than as a human to the Divine. That day He does not feel like King, Lord, Judge, but like son, brother, friend. Our hearts yearn toward Mary, honoring and respecting and wondering at the immense privilege this one girl had. Forever His mother. Have you felt this way, also? For a brief moment I imagine . . . what if it had been me? It’s too great and sacred a privilege to think about, and yet—yet—what if it had been me?
It wasn’t. Ridiculous thought. Yet my heart has many times, perhaps like yours, secretly leapt at the thought of being Mary. To have been the one who cared for and sustained Him? To have been His last earthly concern while He was dying? To have the fierce loyalty of a man toward his mother . . . and for that man to happen to be God Himself? One person above all others has, we imagine, unfettered access past the terrifying Seraphim and straight to His side, any time she wants. His mom can blithely tread where even the original 12 apostles might hesitate for a second. Such relationship, such welcome!
If you’ve imagined this with me, then you know the feeling of crashing back to reality, to all of life’s real lacks. Suddenly, not only am I not His mother, I remember I am no one’s mother. I am no one’s spouse, to receive a Christmas gift. I am no one’s parent, to share a special love throughout our eternal lives. And you? What of you? You may be someone’s mother, but no one’s sister or favorite brother. You may be no one’s deepest earthly concern. You may have a spouse who adores you but is as inept a human as all the rest, and you don’t really walk around your days feeling adored. Perhaps you were left by your father or berated by your mother. You may have received plenty of Christmas gifts, or you may have received none, or you may be patiently happy with your one scarf. But in your core, I suspect, you aren’t all that different from a single girl at Christmastime—your heart desires certain sorts of deep good, which you do not have. I know this because no one, except perhaps sweet Mary, has received on this earth a good that is great enough to fill the capacity for it that God created inherent in our souls. Solomon says, “He has put eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). How we sting from every millimeter of that relational capacity that is yet unfilled. Emptiness occasionally clenches our souls and makes itself known, no matter how many blessings we have. Then the heart drops, or the stomach lurches, and the thoughts come: I am no one’s mother.
And I am certainly not Jesus’ mother. I cannot sally past the Seraphim just to ask Him to make wine for supper and to beam at Him a little bit.
Or can I? There is an obscure, lovely word that is only used in two verses in the entire Greek New Testament. It is used once about you and me, but first it was used about Mary.
After centuries of waiting for the signal, a day had come when the angel Gabriel was released to bring the most anticipated announcement in history to the most awaited girl on the earth. He used carefully chosen words for his message to Mary that she would soon be the mother of the Messiah: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:28; emphasis added).
Mary was receiving a gift beyond all others. “Highly favored” (charitoō) is a perfectly fitting description for this woman, both in its meaning and in its rarity of use. Her privilege would never be given to another woman; she would have a unique relationship with the Son of God that saints will still marvel at millions of years from now.
None of the rest of us will ever be His mother. Mary was indeed highly favored. However, a shocking announcement had not been only awaiting her; there is one for us, also. It comes in the early verses of Ephesians, slipped into a phrase we’ve read quite a few times: “He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).
This passage is one of the high notes of Scripture. It marvels at the immensity of God’s adoption of us through Jesus and describes the overwhelming glory of the grace by which He made us accepted. And yes, that word accepted—it is Mary’s accolade charitoō, highly favored.
Charles Spurgeon writes, “Are there grander words in any language than those four?” Accepted in the Beloved . . . permanently His, never to be removed from the family of God, fully righteous, living in a loved state, completely encompassed and welcomed and belonging within Christ Jesus. Few phrases in Scripture so capture the beauty and glory of what God has done for us. Accepted means more than the English suggests. It means we are delighted in. It means we are highly favored, graced with special honor. It means the same thing about us as it meant about Mary.
Twice in the New Testament God’s conveyance of divine delight and highest favor is expressed: once toward Mary, the mother He chose for Jesus; and once toward us, those redeemed by His grace.
Can it be that we are as precious within His heart as Mary is? It seems too good to be true. But considering the carefully controlled use of this word, the Author of the Bible seems to be saying just that. Your heart perhaps is leaping with hope but also trembling at the presumptuousness of such a thought. Tremble not. Jesus Himself made clear our place at the heart of His family, in the center of His home. You have likely already called the passages to mind.
One day the crowd told Him that His mother and brothers were outside wanting to talk with Him.
But He answered . . ., “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48–50; emphasis added)
And again, in Luke 11, when a woman cried out (as our own hearts often do during Christmas meditations), “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” Jesus didn’t deny Mary was especially blessed; He answered that we who keep the Word of God are also that blessed:
But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (vs. 28)
With our hearts bent on Him and feet that follow His Word, for you and me to take charitoō’s two applications at face value is entirely biblical. Mary was His physical mother, and she enjoys all the privileges of relationship that come with mothering a son. She holds a treasured place in His heart. But Jesus also considers me His mother, and you His brother or His sister or His mother. It’s a beautiful invitation to step into an unheard-of level of relationship with Him.
We are His greatest earthly concern. His “commonplace” birth to a sweet, uncomplicated girl was an invitation to the least of us—it shouts to high heaven that the deepest family tie with Jesus is open to the simple soul who does the Father’s will and word.
We were all made for more than we currently have—there’s no use denying it, whether you’re single, married, a child, or an adult. And what is that more? It is a depth of relationship with God that exceeds the rest of life put together—a depth well named by the closest of physical family ties.
He called you His mother. He called you His sister. He called you His brother.
REJOICE, highly favored one; the Lord is with you.
This Christmas season we invite you to worship with IHOPKC’s YouTube Christmas playlist featuring music recorded live in our Global Prayer Room. Watch the playlist here.
Amy Rachel Peterson is the managing editor of Forerunner Publishing (IHOPKC) and the author of Perpetua: A Bride, A Martyr, A Passion, a novel based on the life of the beloved third-century saint. Born in California during the Jesus Movement, Amy’s first years were spent in Christian communal houses and her growing years in the multicultural, urban environment of Chicago. She studied history at Wheaton College. Amy’s gaze on the eternal gives her a deep vision to see the Lamb’s bride “love His appearing.” Discover more at amyrachelpeterson.com.