Let’s put this in perspective. I live outside of Boston. Let’s imagine that in my ninth month of pregnancy, my husband Kris finds out that we have to go back to New Jersey or else we’ll lose our health insurance, or something of equal importance that means not returning to his hometown is not an option. We have to go. After packing up our things, our donkey pulls up out front. I, nine months pregnant, mount it, prepared to ride for days to reach Kris’s hometown. Except, his parents no longer live there, and he has no friends or family left there. We know nobody.
As we set off for my husband’s place of origin, my faith, though not unshakeable, is strong, as is his. After a long and tiring journey, we finally arrive. I am medically exhausted. It was too much for my pregnant body, and it requires rest. Not necessarily out of chivalry, but out of compassion, and because he is my partner, my husband searches for a place where I can get the rest that my baby and I need. My abdominal muscles, back, and legs all hurt. I am having that ninth month of pregnancy pressure in my pelvis, and I am in tears because I just need to lie down, take the pressure off my body and sleep.
Each door that my husband knocks on provides the same answer: “We have no room for you. We have no place that your pregnant wife can rest.” My husband becomes more desperate as he sees the pleading in my eyes, hears it in my words and feels it from my body. Finally, he comes back to me as I wait on the mule and says, “I have found us a place to sleep for the night. It isn’t the most comfortable of accommodations, but it will have to do for tonight.”.
Now, what I have been suspecting for the last several hours is undeniable. I am in labor. Though I try to stay calm for my husband’s sake, this is my first pregnancy and I am scared. I am afraid of labor and possible complications. Mostly though, I am terrified of the enormity of what is happening to me.
A tired Mary lay on a “bed” of hay or dirt, surrounded by animals that were dirty, and smelly, and who urinated and defecated all around them. I’m certain though, that when Mary first held her baby, like all of us mothers, her surroundings were irrelevant.
I wonder if understanding that her child was the Son of God made her feel greater emotion. As a mother, I suppose not. I imagine that she was filled with the exact same emotion that I felt when Owen and Sydney were first put into my arms, and your children into yours. That she looked at her beautiful baby Jesus, and wondered how she could be so blessed to have such love delivered to her life, and how grateful she felt that the man standing beside her was faithful and brave enough to protect her and her child so significantly.
I suspect that it was at least hours before Mary felt the itch of the hay against her legs again, and once more became aware of the smells of the animals; that the swaddled bundle in her arms provided only a temporary analgesic from her surroundings.
I certainly can’t fathom Mary’s “birth story” after having delivered my two children in a beautiful maternity unit with the most wonderful caregivers in attendance. I have always imagined, or understood, that Jesus’ birth was serene, and lovely. This is probably because songs like “Away in a Manger” are sung by angelic voices and accompanied by the finest musicians playing perfectly tuned instruments. More so though, I know that it’s because the results from this birth were indeed, beautiful and awesome.
So this Christmas, I will sing “Away in a Manger”, as beautifully as I can. This event, this birth, deserves not only my praise and gratitude, but also my admiration from one mother to another.