I’ve seen eyes like hers before, but never in person.
There were so many faces to see that day in the dirty, crowded city. Surrounded by noise and people, our senses overwhelmed by new sights and smells, our excitement was tempered by the reality of visiting a foreign country. You have to keep your guard up. You’ve gotta know where your wallet is at all times and stay on the main road. And most of all, stick together. Stragglers are targets.
There’s a lot that can happen when you travel, especially at Christmas. The weather can be bad. Roads may be detoured. One winter we drove for miles in a surprise snowstorm before we found a motel that hadn’t filled up yet with stranded families. It’s not all Currier & Ives or Hallmark when December 25th rolls around, you know. You’ve got to be smart. Plan ahead. Cross your t's and dot your i's and keep AAA on speed dial.
After covering hundreds of miles to get to this town, we spent the day exploring shops and navigating past beggars of all ages. And just as we began to cross the street for the last time, I broke the rules. I became distracted and separated from my group in a foreign country. It was the most surprising thing I’d done all day, but I couldn’t help it.
I was compelled by the look in her eyes.
At first I took in the tiny scene and glanced away. “Feet, keeping moving,” I thought to myself, “there’s nothing to see here.” But my heart told me otherwise. A small, dirty child toddled around her, unaware of their poverty, while her mother sat on the ground looking up at me imploringly. I’m not the person who caves at every busy intersection, paying grown men and women to hold up questionable cardboard signs at freeway on-ramps. I’m skeptical and cautious and rarely accused of generosity. I don’t trust strangers much. This could have been a set up—after all, I was a tourist. A sucker ripe for the taking.
But in that moment when I turned around to look into her eyes, I was transported. I saw back two thousand years ago to another homeless young woman, herself in an unfamiliar town. Rejected by her family and responsible for a baby, she must have felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. She was probably about the same age as this one when she had to tell her fiancé she was carrying Someone else’s child. It was a terrifying position. The culture was strict. He could have had her killed. But, instead, he was the only one who believed her story. Against all logic, he married her and delayed intimacy until after his virgin bride gave birth. There’s a paradox for you.
In the last days of her pregnancy, they were forced to travel to a distant, crowded city much like this one, sleep in a dirty stable, and welcome her Son into the world before an audience of smelly animals.
You don’t get more base than that.
I'm captivated by the courage of that young woman—the only person on the planet who knew beyond all shadow of doubt that this Baby really was the Son of God. Today, as many canvases bear her image as her Son's. But in every one of them, it’s always her eyes that draw us in and make me wonder—how does a teenage girl raise the baby Who is her own Creator?
What did she do with all those things she weighed and pondered in her heart the night the shepherds came? And years later, after that horrible day at the foot of a cross, how did she transition from brokenhearted mother to follower of Christ—her son and yet her Messiah? Who else could have kept their sanity in circumstances like those except the woman who knew the Truth from the very beginning?
Amazing, isn’t it? God took “what the world calls weak to put the strong to shame. He deliberately chose what in the world is lowborn and branded with contempt . . .”* In many cultures, that’s how women are treated—only as valuable as a piece of property. But God elevated women and trusted Mary with His very Life, His Only Son. Through her He gave us our Savior, Jesus.
He was a Man of Sorrows. Born of a woman of sorrows. At this moment of my vacation, I found myself staring into a sad woman’s eyes and remembering another woman whose sorrows gave birth to Hope. Impulsively, I dropped a piece of currency into the cup held out by this Madonna of Ensenada. She never said a word, but just looked up at me with those dark, pleading eyes. It was a sobering moment as I contrasted our two worlds separated by a common border. Two mothers staring into one another’s faces.
One a reflection of hopelessness.
The other one rescued by Hope.
Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The babe, the Son of Mary!
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king, to own Him,
The King of Kings salvation brings . . . the babe, the Son of Mary!
*(1 Cor. 1:27-28)What Child Is This? Words by William Chatterton Dix