I was brought up Quaker, Christian in a mild sort of way. We didn’t talk lots about Jesus, but we knew what Christmas was meant to be about. We did Christmas pageants, we sang carols, we read the Bible story of the birth of Jesus every year. (Of course, we also read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with a similar level of reverence, but we knew it was a completely different kettle of sugarplums.)
I like the story of Christmas. I like the image of a baby bathed in starshine, protected by the friendly beasts, mysteriously drawing believers to trek from afar to worship him. I like the idea of the world celebrating so that the “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.”
I was probably about thirteen when I read Robert Fulghum’s It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It. Reading his essay about pondering, I realized for the first time that Mary was, as he says, a “teenage kid” in a barn when she bore the Son of God.
Nowadays, I know that most first-time moms in biblical times would have been teenagers, because lifespans did not allow for dallying much past puberty in the business of family planning. But when I first read this, I was a teen and could NOT conceive (sorry) of having a child. Much less a child I didn’t ask for, planted by the Almighty before I’ve even “known” a man.
I just think that if I were in such a situation, I’d be scared outta my gourd.
So when I contemplate Jesus’ birth, I hope that the details left out by Matthew and Luke were the untold story of an exhilarating birth experience for young Mary.
I hope she was not having real contractions while she was riding on a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Being in a moving car while in labour is bad enough; a donkey ride would be excruciating.
I hope she had a deep affinity for animals, and secretly wanted to give birth in the straw, surrounded by their creaturely sounds and smells… and in blissful ignorance of the kinds of pathogens that exist in a livestock barn. Because if I were moments away from giving birth, being told – over and over – that I couldn’t have a bed or any decent place to rest… well, I might just freak right out on one of those innkeepers.
I hope Joseph held her hand and told her she was doing great, awesome, amazing. I know there’s no way he fed her ice chips, but I hope he had some water nearby.
I hope she had one of those smooth labours: quick but not too quick, with the baby in an ideal position to be born, just a few pushes – and there was the Prince of Peace. Because it’s crossed my mind more than once: giving birth as a virgin would be… um, ouch. (Perhaps God gave her the gift of elasticity, or maybe Jesus healed her flesh on his way out.)
I hope she looked at her newborn son and fell directly in love with him. I hope whatever fear she might have been feeling melted away as she looked at his little face, knowing she was meant to be his mama. I hope he latched right on with no trouble, and they got to have some beautiful mother-son snuggling time before all the “astrologers, sheep ranchers, and angels” started showing up. I hope he slept well – especially with all the travelling they were going to have to do, all too soon.
I hope that when she lost him, many years later, she felt it had been worth the pain to parent such a very special boy. That she was comforted by many sweet memories with her extraordinary son. There’s no doubt in my mind that she was a wonderful mother, or she wouldn’t have been the one to have him.
She must have been euphoric to see him again, a few days later. After all she’d endured, she deserved that moment. I hope it brought her peace.
It’s 1 a.m. on December 25th. Time for bed.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.