I love nativity sets. I have found myself collecting tiny scenes of a baby lying in hay over the last few years. It is striking to me how different cultures use their craftiness to show an artsy version of the birth of Jesus; some sit large and across whole tables while others, like the sweet sets we purchased in Peru last year, are no bigger than a grade A egg.
This year my eyes kept falling on the left of each of the nativity scenes. Whether the paint was bright on clay or she was carved out of drift wood, there, on her knees, was Mary gazing at her new son. My mind is overwhelmed when I think of Mary that day and what she could have possibly been thinking.
When I was pregnant with Lula, I poured over birth stories. I gobbled up the possibilities of how my baby would enter the world. I was fascinated by the nature of birth in that, despite the best laid plans, babies truly are born in their own time and by their own accord. In all of my reading though, I never would have been able to imagine the ordeal Mary and Joseph faced on the night of Jesus’ birth.
Mary, at the swollen end of pregnancy, must have felt the early tightenings of labor starting as she rode on the donkey to Bethlehem. Did she feel dread, knowing that she was not in the ideal situation to bring a child into the world? Did she even know what to expect? I often wonder how involved her village would have been in preparing her for birth given the scandalous nature of a virgin mother. Did the women of her family gather near to give her their knowledge, to pass on their wisdom?
As they pressed on into town, I wonder if Joseph could feel the pressure of the situation rising. The dread he must have felt when he was turned away from the inn keeper’s doors, knowing that a baby was coming into the world that night whether a bed was opened for Mary or not. I can only imagine that Joseph’s desire to protect Mary and his coming son was palpable to everyone he encountered. Weary and probably just as confused as Mary, his fatherly pride must have been battered when he could not produce a room for his family, which added stress to an already unfathomable situation.
The pressures and pains of labor must have reached their climax as they neared the stables. The baby, the Messiah, Emmanuel was going to be born NOW and the manger would have to do. There was no more time to wander the streets looking for shelter. This is where my heart pounds for this sweet girl. Did a midwife from the town attend her birth? Was someone there to help the innocent mother of Jesus bring him into the world? Or was it Joseph that offered comfort and a strong grip as a baby was born into a stable full of farm animals?
The night that Jesus was born into Earth is a birth story like no other. Becoming a mother to Christ Jesus in the stalls of a stable was probably not on Mary’s birth wish list. Having shepherds and wise men come visit was probably not the first round of visitors she had in mind after laboring on a donkey and delivering her son in a barn. But he was delivered safely into her arms as promised in Isaiah 7:14, “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”
The world would never be the same.