It was a lifelong dream coming true. In a crowded stairwell I inched toward what we had all come to see. Down in the basement, below street level, the room smelled of the smoke from oil lamps dangling precariously overhead, the very place, according to tradition, where Jesus Christ was born. I was in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
“Every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) surrounded me, whispering in their heart languages and chanting ancient hymns. We were all swaddled in the clothes of our culture— shawls, robes, rosaries, golf shirts, cargo pants, skirts, cowboy boots and belt buckles—that reflected the flame of the candles.
Everyone took their turn. When it was mine, I did what the others did. I knelt down in front of the beautiful brocade hangings, peered in and saw the oil lamps hanging over the 14-point silver star embedded in the marble floor.
As local custom proclaims, this was the place that “the true God of true God” touched down on earth as an infant. And it all happened because of the hope a young woman had in her God.
As I knelt I knew I should have been thinking about Jesus but, in that moment, I couldn’t stop thinking about Mary. Where did she summon such wild hope? Maybe it was because she was so young.
Feeling the pressure of the crowd behind me, I turned and began to stand up, when there she was! I was startled. Her dark hair covered with a shawl, her olive skin. It was Mary, just like I had always imagined her. In embarrassment I looked away, but as I did I saw her again a few rows back and then again over by the stairwell. Although she was a little older and in different clothes, I could see in the eyes that it was Mary.
Back up the stairs to the main sanctuary I saw her again. Outside, the same thing. She was everywhere.
Years later, I still see her. I am in a season of perpetual epiphany. It seems that no matter which congregation in Mennonite Church Canada I worship with, no matter whom I talk to in church lobbies, no matter which regional church gathering I attend, no matter when or where we meet with the Joint Council and executive staff, no matter who comes to visit at the offices, or which staff member or volunteer in the nationwide church I am working with on any given day, time and time again I discover I am surrounded by people whose lives reflect those world-altering words of Mary: “Let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
God bless all of you in our nationwide family of faith whose “yes” to God is witnessing to the redemption of all things (Ephesians 1:10)—God’s dream come true.
Doug Klassen is the executive minister of MC Canada.