When I was in sixth grade, I was cast as Mary in our church Christmas Pageant. I remember when the pageant was announced and the auditions scheduled. I rehearsed my line for weeks and walked right into that Sunday School classroom, confident but not too confident, after all Mary possesses a humble competency, virginal, which wasn't a stretch since I was 11 and filled with the Holy Spirit, which was a stretch because I was 11. I said my line and afterwards, I felt the fluorescent glow of the basement classroom lights warming me and I knew, I just knew, I'd be Mary.
Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that being Mary, the mother of the Savior, was not all glitz and glamour.
First of all, I was forced to do pretty everything for everyone else in the Pageant with very little credit. Joseph, who was played by a 3rd grade boy (there are loads of boys in the Bible, but always a shortage at church!), required constant direction. My costume was ill-fitting and I had to steal curtain tie-backs from the Church Parlor to make it suitable for my tastes. The three kings had lavish costumes. Even the boring shepherds got some accessories. I had two sheets that smelled like "Fresh Linen" dryer sheets, haphazardly draped on my body.
I know a picture from the whole thing exists somewhere--but I am with Gabriel, that scene stealing angel that everyone loved, who also kept forgetting their one line (You will have a child and he will be the Son of God), which required me to cue them along and say "GABRIEL DON'T YOU HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO TELL ME ALREADY?"
Friends, it was a lot of pressure.
But the real kicker: everyone was most interested in looking at Baby Jesus, who was played by a stupid, ugly doll that someone dug out of a toy box in the nursery. I remember the doll had several smudges on its face and no clothing. Some children even wanted to take turns holding it and it became my job to manage baby Jesus photo ops.
I was just 11 years old and already facing the inescapable pressure of Christmas.
Christmas is a lot. There is a lot to do and a lot to think about doing and a lot to worry about and while we all pretend that the world stops to celebrate, the truth is the world keeps spinning and we have to celebrate the holiday while also working and parenting and cleaning and folding sheets. There is no escaping our duties and our roles--even when the world pressures us to do less and remember the reason for the season--we cannot escape the day to day things like laundry and making meals and working.
I've long thought there has to be a better way--like maybe I could do less this time of year and be okay with the less. But the truth is that even if I tried to do less, there will always be someone asking for more. The pressure is inescapable; the only way to get through it is to simply accept it. Mary, I am certain, had to accept the inescapable pressure of being 14 years and a new mother to the Son of God. She lived with that pressure everyday (I can only imagine how she felt when Jesus wandered off only to be found arguing with rabbis in the Temple.). She could not say, "Sorry, not today God!" Mary had to just accept it and then somehow get through it.
This is the season of inescapable pressure. You cannot avoid it. You cannot go over it. You cannot go around it. It surrounds us. The best we can do is accept it; do the best we can and just hope we don't find ourselves managing photo ops with a doll baby wrapped in a towel and if we do, well, we just have to embrace the pressure and get on with it.