Mother and Child
Every year during this season, my mind wanders to the heart of Mary, mother of Jesus. All through the year we focus on her son, Jesus, and his teachings. But, for one day a year we focus on this mere slip of a girl, maybe as young as 12 years old, walking or riding a donkey 70 miles or so, nine months pregnant only to give birth in a barn with only a manger for a bassinet. We don’t really understand the dirt and filth and ugliness of a manger because we don’t call anything by that name anymore. It isn’t as bad as a rat-infested dumpster, but if you have ever seen those feeding troughs in a cow field or a horse barn, that’s it. No amenities, no inside plumbing, no heat, no lights, no turned-down bed with a chocolate mint ready for her pleasure. A manger is a dark, dank, smelly pit of a place, not fit for a freshly born baby.
By comparison, the comforts of my life, which are modest by many standards, seem like the most luxurious trappings. But it isn’t the surroundings of Jesus birth that draws my soul to Mary. It is the fact that I too have given birth and understand what it feels like to be nine months pregnant. It is uncomfortable at best. My eldest was born in the middle of a snowstorm in winter. I try to imagine me riding a donkey or walking in the dark on a rough road to a place where I would give birth, not even knowing if I might have this child in a ditch along the way.
Any mother who has given birth knows that childbirth is accompanied by pain, lots of it. Labor pains, because we labor to bring a new life into the world. Mary must have had labor pains but no one ever talks about it. Surely, Luke didn’t. But I think about it. I think about not being 21 when my firstborn arrived but, 12, or 13, or 14. I wasn’t even mature enough to care for a child at that age. They’ll say “Well, girls had babies at a younger age back then.” Sure, I know that. But still, so young, so inexperienced, so innocent, this Mary. I would be scared, maybe Mary was too. So far from home, no mother to comfort her or wipe her brow.
And exhausted, probably dirty, maybe thirsty, discouraged that no inn had a bed for them. Perhaps Mary was crying, maybe even sobbing as she told Joseph that the pains were getting worse, closer together. Closer. Closer. Finally, sometime after midnight, in the cold, damp night air, a barn with a manger is all that awaits this Mary, this mere slip of a girl, about to give birth on the streets of Bethlehem. Maybe the straw on the barn floor was fresh and fragrant. I certainly hope something was clean.
And then, to the cadence of Mary’s screams this special child is born; the screams of his first breath melding with those of his mother. Then, then…silence…as the pain subsides and the babe, wrapped in one of Mary’s scarves, begins to suckle her warm, life-giving mother’s milk. And, I like to think, Mary forgets about the manger and the filth and the exhaustion as she cuddles her newborn son, names him “Jeshua,” and snuggles closer keeping them both warm with God’s almighty, everlasting love.