My body apparently had a love affair with pregnancy. (I can’t say that my mind was totally in agreement all the time, however.) What I mean by that rather odd opening line is that for some reason or other, my children expected to set up permanent housekeeping inside of me. It seems that they felt perfectly content to stay where they were, and chose not to make an exit until forced to do so. Both of the boys’ gestations were “certified” extended affairs – each lasting at least 10 months.
Why am I thinking about that today? Every time I consider the journey of Mary and Joseph those thousands of years ago, I remember the long journey Ashley and I made 35 years ago – on the way to being parents for the first time. The first thought that comes to mind in reference to the first Christmas? I had it easy! Given someone with a listening ear, or with the time to read one of my overly long reminiscences, I could easily spin out a “delivery room horror story” that could make even the most intrepid mother blanche. I’m good at exaggeration. Truth to tell, both pregnancies came with their own set of less-than-wonderful occurrences, and even though both Mary’s and my labor ended in the same and usual way, I had it way easier than Mary.
For one thing, we had a car. Even though I have never ridden on a donkey, I am pretty darn sure that the last week of pregnancy at home, sitting on a couch or chair, a sympathetic husband and family members around, topped off by a brief car ride to the local maternity hospital pretty much trumps a week-long donkey ride through the desert. The fact that this might not have been all that unusual for the times does in no way ameliorate how uncomfortable a time it must have been for both Mary and Joseph.
A first-century stable as a labor & delivery room? I can make the story of the former storage-closet turned labor room at a little country hospital where Hubs and I found ourselves that long-ago, long August day/night/day, sound like the ultimate “Fear Factor” set, but it was surely a palace compared to a stable – a rude structure or adapted cave, with a straw and dung-covered floor – as a place to give birth. With the hot breath of the livestock, at least it was warm. It was not, though, I am quite certain, springtime fresh and odor free. No Lysol. No Febreze. I am and have always been spoiled. But I am grateful. Whenever I tell my stories, no matter how harrowing the tale, still I can smile (at least in retrospect). I had it easy.
Each Christmas Eve, I take some time during the day in a quiet place, to sit down and meditate on the first Christmas. I close my eyes, and recall the story. A young girl, unmarried (though betrothed), receives a visit from an angel one day, and nine months later, all of time is divided in two. A young, ordinary girl, and a “simple man of trade” take and accept on faith the tasks that the God they loved and worshipped had asked of them. It was a mighty act of obedience, when Mary, most certainly knowing how many of her community would view her, nevertheless bowed her head and said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” And, just as miraculously, it was. And the honorable Joseph: no one of his time would have blamed him had he delivered Mary up to ostracization, or to death by stoning. But through a dream he is reassured that what had already happened and what would come to be were in God’s hands. Truly, “such a strange way to save the world. . .”
That journey taken by Mary and Joseph will always give me pause. I do not know if I could or would have answered as Mary did. And even if I had, I doubt my ability to see the events through to their conclusion. So I tell you now that when I ponder the sacred events that Christians throughout the world celebrate this weekend, as much as I am in awe and wonder at what was accomplished, I am even more grateful that it was neither asked of, nor up to, me!
So much majesty, so much mystery. Such pomp, and such poverty. The ordinary sweetness of everyday life surviving in the midst of unimaginable evil and senseless violence. God did the most extraordinary thing. God came among as, as one of us, to show us we are deeply and unfathomably loved, and to show us how to love one another. Love came down at Christmas. Love made flesh and bone, that brings with it the saving Grace of relationship: Creator and created. Especially at this time of year I never fail to be astounded and overwhelmed when I ponder such an audacious act of love. Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be, through every aspect of life, in joy and in sorrow – enough. . .