No one likes to watch a scene in a movie where a woman is giving birth. Have you ever noticed that? No one. This semester in a seminary class filled with grown adults there was squirming in every single seat as our professor scrambled to fast forward to the next scene in a documentary he showed about marriage issues. All the people in the room seemed to think he could not grab that remote quick enough.
Sure, we take great delight in the baby afterwards. Some of us even take monthly pictures of our growing middles as the pregnancy moves along. Pregnant women – we can usually handle that. The babies at the end – oh, we love them. But, the process of going from point A to point B – we look away if it’s on the movie screen. Most of us don’t want to hear it, see it, or even think about the pain, the sweat, the tears.
Of course, I agree there is tremendous beauty in a life coming into the world. I wept at all of my kids’ births because the process was truly breath-taking. But, let’s be real – most of us don’t actually enjoy searing pain, right?
Every year at Christmas I think about what it must’ve been like for Mary giving birth in a cave. Mary, giving birth alone, far from family, in a place she didn’t know. A place, in fact, where there was no room for her at all. Mary, a young woman, asked by God to do an enormous thing that would bring societal shame and cast doubt on her character. Mary, written into God’s great story, to play a painful role that meant she had to trust God to get her through not just a tough beginning, but a heart-wrenching end as she would have to watch this very son die.
And, what was it like for Joseph, a Jewish carpenter who had surely never been anywhere near the birthing process – to be her mid-wife, her doctor, the sole person at her side? Joseph, frantically banging on doors, begging for a place – any place! – for his pregnant wife. Joseph, thrust into a story he didn’t ask for, a story with burning intensity from the very start that now had him alone in a distant city with a wife on the verge of giving birth.
Their obedience humbles me. Their obedience is astonishing. You never read of Mary or Joseph complaining as angels declare the role they are asked to fill. They accepted the part God gave them to play, even with willing hearts: “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me as you have said.” “When Joseph woke up…he did as the angel commanded him.” Simple, sweet, hard obedience.
Mary’s birth story is not cozy or quaint. She didn’t have soft sheets, or ice cubes to crunch on, an epidural to alleviate the pain, or fuzzy flannel blankets to swaddle her boy. She gave birth in a cave, away from all her family, with her faithful, trusting husband next to her (who was probably scared out of his mind to deliver a baby). Then, she placed that sweet baby on a pile of scratchy hay. Mary’s birth story would make most of us crumple into a ball if we had to do that.
Mary’s birth story makes me weep with gratitude. She obeyed…and gave birth to the One we need most. She obeyed…and endured a broken heart when that Son had to carry the cross. I can’t imagine the pain she went through that night in the little town of Bethlehem, but even more, I can’t imagine the pain she went through that day the veil was torn and the Father turned his face away.
Mary and Joseph’s obedience humbles me, challenges me, and always fills me with a lot to ponder each Christmas. Oh, that I would obey without complaint, that I would follow God down the hard road, and go to tough places, even when it means I might feel there is no room for me in the inn. Oh, that I would let the Author write the story and accept the role He has for me, no matter the cost.
But, greater, of course, is the amazing truth of the One who came. The One who humbled himself to be born as a baby. He, who created the universe, allowed himself to go through the birthing process. Do you ever think about that? He went through the birthing process. The great Author wrote Himself into the story so that we would have a way to truly know Him. He accepted a role in the story that would cost him his very life, so that we might know forgiveness, and so our relationship with Him could be once and for all fully restored. So, that we could actually experience a new birth, and become what we were always meant to be.
What kind of a God is that?! Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.
When I meet Mary in the new heavens and the new earth someday, I hope she’ll tell me her birth story. I hope I can ask Joseph what it was like that night in the cave. That is a birth story where I will want to hear every detail.
Happy birthday, Jesus.
Where have you seen God writing in your life this advent so that you may truly know him?