When I was a little girl, my mom explained that “We are Jewish, and Jews don’t believe in Jesus, so Christmas is not our holiday.” I still enjoyed the holiday decorations, the upbeat songs, and the feel-good movies, but none of that changed my belief that Jesus was not for me. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I was challenged to see for myself who Jesus is. And so, in 1972, my life was revolutionized when I received Him as my Messiah.
Though my mother initially was opposed to my faith, she made friends quite easily with my Jews for Jesus family. She often visited me in San Francisco, and if it happened to be December, she’d spend a whole day in our headquarters preparing potato latkes (a Hanukkah delicacy) for our entire staff.
As Mary was chosen by God to carry the Messiah into the world, we are likewise called to carry His message.
The Greatest Jewish Mother Ever
As I think about my mother, my faith in Jesus, and this special time of year, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve learned from the greatest Jewish mother ever. Her Hebrew name was Miriam, but she’s better known as Mary, and she was given the extraordinary task of mothering the Messiah. As Mary was chosen by God to carry the Messiah into the world, we are likewise called to carry His message. At times that can be challenging. What can we learn from Mary’s experiences?
Carrying the Hope of God’s Promise
We first meet Mary, a Jewish girl of 13 or 14, who is engaged to be married. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33).
Imagine how Mary must have felt! Like all Jewish people of her time, she had been awaiting the Messiah, the hope of Israel—in fact, the hope of the whole world. God’s promises and predictions throughout the Scriptures had pointed to the Messiah. And Mary was carrying that hope in her womb! Her heart had to be racing. It must have been a fearful thing to be pregnant prior to marriage. But Mary’s fear was far outweighed by the hope of God’s promise.
As we enter this season, are there any fears you may have about carrying the gospel message into the world? What Scripture-based hopes outweigh those fears?
Carrying the Hope That Conquers Anxiety
Next, we see Mary as the mother of an adolescent at Passover. It was customary to go up to Jerusalem for the festival. It was also expected that parents would take their sons to Jerusalem a year before their bar mitzvah to acquaint them with the Temple rituals. Sort of a dry run.
Mary and Joseph combined the two events on the Passover before Jesus’ bar mitzvah. After they departed from Jerusalem, they experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. After a full day’s journey, they realized that Jesus was not with them! Imagine suddenly discovering that your child has been missing for 24 hours!
Of course, Mary and Joseph were rearing the one and only sinless human being. They were unaccustomed to their Son being anywhere other than exactly where He should be. Mary must have been frantic.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that after three days, Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the Temple with the teachers. At that point, Mary sounded like every Jewish mother I’ve ever known. “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” (Luke 2:48).
But she couldn’t guilt trip the Savior, who in typical Jewish fashion answered her question with a question,
“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” (v. 49).
Had Mary simply recalled the Scripture-based hope she had received years earlier, it would have conquered her anxiety. Nevertheless, she probably didn’t question Jesus’ comings and goings ever again.
Does it ever seem as though Jesus is not doing quite what you’d expect Him to? Which promises and predictions of Scripture can conquer the anxiety you might feel in those moments?
Jesus was neither ignoring nor disrespecting His earthly family. He was doing a very rabbinical thing: He was using a life situation to make a point. All who trust and follow Jesus—that includes you and me—are His family!
Carrying the Hope of an Amazing Relationship
We encounter Mary again when Jesus is in the midst of public ministry. In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus addresses the crowd while Mary is out on the periphery. When someone informs Jesus that His mother wishes to speak to Him, He replies, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then He points to His own disciples and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus was neither ignoring nor disrespecting His earthly family. He was doing a very rabbinical thing: He was using a life situation to make a point. And it was an astounding point: all who trust and follow Jesus—that includes you and me—are His family!
We don’t know why Mary was at the edge of the crowd. We do know that Jesus had not pushed her aside. Maybe the crowd had pushed themselves between Mary and her Son—or maybe that day she had not made it a priority to arrive early to hear Him.
In this season, it is easy to feel pushed far from Jesus by all the commercialism of Christmas. Sometimes our own busyness can get in the way of our closeness to Him.
The reality of the relationship we have with Jesus gives me hope and compels me to bring the gospel message into the world. And it’s a hope that means more than ever to me this year.
You see, the same mom who once told me that Christmas was not our holiday, recently departed this earth. Losing her has left a big hole. Yet, I can rejoice that she did pray to receive the Lord, thanks to the prayers and support of friends like you, and the ministry she received from one of my Jews for Jesus colleagues. Mom is now part of the cloud of witnesses cheering us on, and we continue to carry the message of hope to more and more Jewish people.
Susan Perlman is one of the founders of Jews for Jesus. She continues to be passionate about sharing Jesus as well as spearheading our partnerships with other organizations who have the same heart for evangelism.