My perspective on Christmas has changed dramatically over the last four years. I have become a mother and it has caused me to see Mary’s story in a whole new light. I have learned that birth doesn’t just ‘happen,’ as is implied in the stories. It is a lot of work! I have read hundreds of birth stories. Each one is unique. Each has its own character and tone for the story. Jesus’ birth is the most famous birth in all of history, and yet we don’t know many of the nitty gritty details. These are the details I think about.
The distance from Bethlehem to Nazareth is 70 miles, as the crow flies. Mary and Joseph probably traveled more like 80 to 90 miles through hills, forests, and fields. When we have backpacked in the mountains, we have averaged 10 miles a day. Mary was traveling by donkey, and probably some by foot, with a very pregnant belly. Eighty miles, in her condition, likely took at least a week. These days, pregnant women are cautioned about riding horses or bikes as our bellies grow for fear of falling. We are told not to stray far from home as we near our due date so we can be close to our doctors and midwives. We are told to elevate our feet to ease the swelling. Mary cast all those cares aside and did what was required of her. She made a long journey by donkey and by swollen foot just before her baby was to arrive.
When they arrived the innkeeper saw that she was very pregnant. Sure, he probably didn’t have room in the inn because everyone else was traveling too, but he probably didn’t want to try too hard to make room either. People didn’t want me in a football stadium four days past my due date because they were worried I would go into labor. Birth is a messy affair. Who would clean up the mess? Not to mention Mary and Joseph’s baby was conceived out of wedlock. Was the innkeeper worried about what people would think if he showed them mercy for their situation? (Luke 2:7b)
Walking is often prescribed as a natural labor inducer, if the baby is ready to come, of course. It worked for me twice! The first time I over did it and did not save energy for labor. The journey to Bethlehem likely helped induce Mary’s labor so that by the time she got there it was time for the birth. She was tired from the trip, and then she went into labor, which has been compared to running a marathon. As a first timer with a tired body she probably had a long labor. She was exhausted!
The Scriptures do not indicate that Mary had a midwife. Nor did she have her family and friends to support her. In those days childbirth was a normal part of life. Babies were delivered by female family members, friends and midwives. It was a woman’s business. Mary had probably witnessed many births, but this was an unassisted childbirth. Can you imagine? Mary and Joseph were first time parents. The one person there to comfort Mary was a carpenter who had no previous experience with childbirth. He must have been a nervous wreck. Our unplanned unassisted birth was a little nerve wracking, but at least we had a previous home birth experience under our belt.
The Bible stories use nice words like stable and manger, which make the ordinary things seem a little more like a fairy tale. But really they were in a stinky barn and Jesus was laid in a feeding trough. They were surrounded by animals making animal noises and creating animal smells. Not the place I would dream of having a new baby.
He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. (Luke 2:7) I never understood this until I had my first child. I thought it was another of those good story words that translated to baby blankets. For four days no one slept in our house. And then we learned how to swaddle. And there was peace again. We were able to sleep for at least a couple hours at a time. Swaddling clothes made our baby feel snug and secure after being in the confines of the womb and she was able to rest peacefully. Baby Jesus had the same needs – to be wrapped snugly to mimic His mother’s womb as He adjusted to life on the outside. He was fully human after all.
And Mary treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:19) There are some things that a mother just cannot express in words. Particularly during the after birth euphoria. Particularly if the only onlookers are men. So many feelings and emotions rise up that have never been felt before. A lot happens in labor that a woman needs to process, particularly if there are some unexpected elements in the birth story. Like giving birth in a barn without any assistance. All of these were surely magnified for Mary, knowing that she was cradling the Son of God.
It all seems so ordinary when we look at it in these terms. And yet it was the most extraordinary of nights! There were choirs of angels. Shepherds came to worship the King. God placed a special star in the sky. There were kings from far away that came to visit (in due time). The little baby who was born so helpless to such a vulnerable pair of ordinary parents was Christ the King! Emmanuel. God With Us. The One who would save us all.
Has becoming a parent changed your perspective on Christmas?
Luke 2 – New International Version (NIV)
The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.