Margins of Miraculous – A Grandmother’s Love by Shawn Blythe

Whether you call(ed) her Grammie, Mimi, Memaw, Abuela, Grandma, Bubbe or something else – your grandmother likely thought of you more often than you thought of her.  This is not to say that we don’t love our grandmothers or think of them often – but I suspect the balance of love, thought and prayers are largely in favor of originating from the grandmother.  In many cases, this love and affection must come from a distance as it is not unusual for our grandparents to live in a different town or even state.

Mary’s mother (Jesus’ grandmother) was likely no different.  It is important to note that Mary’s mother is never mentioned in the scripture, so I will be making two assumptions.  The first is that Mary’s mother was alive during the early years of Jesus’ life.  Given the historically accepted premise that Mary was relatively young when she gave birth to Jesus, coupled with life expectancies at that time (particularly as Mary’s mother survived childhood), we have a solid basis for this assumption.

The second is that Mary’s mother lived in the Nazareth area.  Scripture clearly states that Mary lived there at the time of Gabriel’s announcement while she was betrothed to Joseph (Luke 1).  Given Jewish customs of the day where the bride lived with her family between the betrothal and marriage ceremony,  it is reasonable to believe that she is living with her mother when she received the news of her pregnancy.  I don’t know how much information Mary shared with her mother regarding her situation (or for that matter how much Joseph shared with his mother-in-law!) – but I think it’s reasonable to conclude that a pregnancy during the betrothal period was not ideal. 

The inconvenient timing of the required tax registration in Bethlehem would have only increased her mother’s concern.  The travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem was roughly 90 miles and would have taken somewhere between five and ten days.  The journey was difficult with regards to terrain and included danger from both wild animals and bandits along the way.

There is no record that Mary’s mother (who I will refer to as Bubbe)  accompanied Mary and Joseph on their trip to Bethlehem, so it is quite likely that she waited in Nazareth for word of their safe arrival, as well as any news on her grandchild.  However, the news would not be what she hoped for.  Her daughter’s family would not be returning to Nazareth as originally planned but would need to flee to Egypt due to the threat from Herod (Matthew 2).  One can only imagine the worry of Bubbe as her grandson moved further and further away from her.  While Bubbe may have clung to the verse in Proverbs 17 that refers to grandchildren as a “crown to the aged”, she would certainly have wondered why that crown had to be so far away.  It is only later that both Matthew and Luke record the eventual return of Mary and Joseph to Nazareth where presumably Bubbe was waiting with open arms.

Bubbe, like us on many occasions, had to love from afar.  She likely did not experience the traditional joy and honor associated with being a grandparent.  The young child would not be placed in her lap, nor would she have the opportunity to physically care for him as Naomi experienced when Obed was born (Ruth 4).  She had little that she could offer in terms of physical assistance as the new parents overcame the risks of travel and the threat of jealous rulers.  All she could offer was an unconditional love and prayer.

She would stand alongside the countless others who have had nothing to offer besides love and prayer.  We are well acquainted with the exploits of Jacob and his 14 years of labor for Leah and Rachel; and the eventual tense separation from Laban.  But we rarely consider the worry that Isaac his father had during those fourteen years, nor the sorrow that Laban felt after he kissed his children and grandchildren goodbye at Galeed as they departed with Jacob (Genesis 31).

Bubbe, like Isaac, Laban and others before her, were necessarily ‘absent in body’ from those they loved.  However, this does not negate the opportunity or responsibility to be ‘present in spirit’ (Colossians 2).  We live in a spiritual world and therefore our ability to care for people is not limited to our proximity to them.  The Roman centurion understood this quite clearly as he explained why Jesus didn’t need to come to the centurion’s home in order for his servant to be healed (Luke 7).

For any who are grandmothers or have even witnessed a person becoming a grandmother, it is not difficult to imagine the spiritual connection between Bubbe and the Christ child as he lay in a manger with at least a week’s journey separating them.  I doubt this distance mitigated her love for her grandson.  I further doubt that this distance somehow reduced her thoughts and concerns for him.

We have that same amazing opportunity.  The entire world is at our fingertips.  No person or situation is too distant for our love and prayers to make a tangible difference.  There is no broken relationship that is beyond our ability to prayerfully seek a reconciliation.  There is no ambivalence or even hatred that can preclude our ability to express love  – even if it is but a pale reflection of the love that has been given to us.

There is no earthly reason why the birth of a child in a small town in Judea should have made a hill of beans of difference to the world.  But there is a spiritual reason why this birth would impact generations for time eternal.  There is no earthly reason that the thoughts or cares of an aging woman in Nazareth could have any impact on a newborn child in Bethlehem.  But there is a spiritual reason why her love was important.

The gift of salvation that we celebrate at Christmas was given to all of us – whether we were in Bethlehem that day or not.  God’s love is not constrained by time or distance.  The Roman centurion understood this.  Our ability to love and care for others is equally unconstrained.  Any grandmother – including Bubbe – understands this.  Our grandmothers loved us for no other reason than we were their children’s child.  God loves us for no other reason than he has chosen to love us. 

As we consider the gift, we should embrace the opportunity to actively love, care with determination and pray without ceasing for those who are distant from us.  For me, it is simply a poor attempt to replicate for others what I have already received for myself – not only from God, but also from my grandmother.