The births of our two sons couldn’t be more different. Our first son was born in June. It had been hot, I was overdue, and I was tired. I joked with my husband one day that I needed to put an eviction notice on my belly. We ended up going into labour (finally) and despite all my careful planning and preparing, my “birth plan” went right out the window. Our first son was born via emergency C-section while I was under general anaesthetic. It was traumatic, terrifying, and not at all the experience I expected.
Our second son, however, was born in the cool temperatures of late March via planned C-section. We leisurely packed our bags, called family, drove to the hospital to check in, and waited while I was prepped, given a spinal anaesthetic, taken to the OR and our son was born. The drastic difference between the two is as different as my two boys are. None the less, neither of them had the birth story that I thought my children would have.
I sometimes wonder if Mary had a “birth plan” for Jesus’ birth. If she did, I’m sure it didn’t involve a census, a lot of travel, and a stay in a stable with a bunch of farm animals. I wonder if she felt panicked, and disappointed? Perhaps she had planned to have the women of her family come to her home, gather around her, and help bring her son into the world. She likely didn’t expect it to be just her and Joseph with a few cows and sheep! And poor Joseph! Bringing babies into the world would not have been something he was prepared for, as labour and birth was the domain of women, not men.
None the less – that wasn’t God’s plan. He, in his infinite wisdom had a different “birth plan” for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. There wasn’t going to be a gathering of family – women in with Mary and the men out with Joseph. There wasn’t going to be shared experiences, muffled laughter, and celebration when the baby was finally born. Instead there was going to be a sky full of stars, a stable, the quiet calm shuffling of animal feet, a starry night, and just Mary and Joseph bringing the Love of God into the world.
Despite the varying circumstances of their births I can still vividly recall the time just after each of our boys was born. I would hold them in my arms, cuddling, nursing, singing, and talking to them. I would marvel at the perfect smallness of their ten little fingers and ten little toes. Smile at how the shape of their ears reminded me of their father, or the funny little smiles that flitted across their sleeping faces. In the time after each of my boys was born my heart just expanded immeasurably. You can’t possibly fathom just how much you will love this little person until they are there in your life! I used to wonder, when pregnant with our second son, how I could possibly love another child as much as I loved the one I already had in my life? How could that be possible? And yet, from the second he was born I knew I loved him with my whole being, just like his older brother.
When Mary first held Jesus, lovingly wrapped in swaddling clothes, in her arms, I’m certain her heart would have just been exploding with love. Not just the normal love a mother has for her child, but also the incredible powerful knowledge that she was holding the embodiment of God’s Love in her arms. God’s Love made into flesh. I’m sure she looked down into his beautiful face and felt the embrace of God on her heart. Mary: transformed by love from young, unwed virgin to earthly mother of our Saviour.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message tells us the Nativity story in this way:
Luke 2: 1-20
About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.
There were sheepherders camping in the neighbourhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them! They were terrified! The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Saviour has just been born in David’s town, a Saviour who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’ve got to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
At once, the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him!
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!
Those last few verses really speak to my heart. As a young mother I can recall looking at my baby laying in the arms of my parents and grandparents – become grandparents and great-grandparents for the first time! The light that shined in my family’s eyes when they first met each of our sons. The love that just overflows when a new baby is born. These moments can seem fleeting at the time but I often look back on them and recall just how full of joy and love my heart was as we cooed, and smiled and welcomed new life into our families. I truly treasure those moments “in my heart”.
Through Mary, God’s love became flesh. Through us, God’s love can become evident in the world. At Advent, and always, we should strive to be a people of Love.
Have you ever had a child ask you how much you love them? How did you answer? (What a tough question!)
How do you think Mary felt when she realized that she was going to give birth in a stable with a bunch of animals, knowing that she was carrying the son of God?
Loving Father, Thank you for the gift of your son: your heavenly Love made flesh. Help us to remember just how deeply you love us, and to be examples of your Love to all those we encounter. As Mary waited, nested and prepared for the birth of Jesus, so do we as we have journeyed through Advent. Help us to treasure all the hope, peace, joy and love you have given us in our hearts and hold them dear.