And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them at the inn. Luke 2:6-7
We paint a really peaceful picture this time of year with our nativity scenes; the trustworthy donkey and sleepy cows, gentle lambs and their shepherds, three wisemen and their gifts. This is the time for peace on earth, goodwill toward men, snow on pine trees and stockings over the fire. It doesn't matter that our blonde Mary and peaceful barn animals are unrealistic OR that the idea that there were only three magi and the idea that they were even there is just historically inaccurate OR that literally one half of the world is experiencing Summer rather than snow on December 25th, which is a solid 2 months later than Jesus could possibly have been born - because in our minds it's all so peaceful, serene.
Today on the radio I heard someone say, "I just picture Mary, so peaceful, grateful to have a place to put her baby." Now, perhaps Mary and I are different creatures entirely, but I cannot imagine this version of her. I cannot see her as peacefully allowing strangers to come gawk at her child right after she has been in labor for God knows how long. I cannot envision her being grateful that her sweet baby boy, the son of God, has to be put into a feeding trough.
What I do picture is a young woman of strength, who endured the terrible trek to Bethlehem at 9 months pregnant on the back of a donkey. I imagine her endurance when she and Joseph were turned away from the inn. I see her resolve looking at the stable like "This is doable, it will be okay, we will just tidy it up a bit, no problem, look at all this hay to make beds with! It will be fine." I see her bravery as she realized that she was going into labor in a barn.
If you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing labor pains, let me paint you a picture: it hurts. It hurts an impossible amount. And I mean impossible. Your whole body is in pain and you can't seem to remember what your body felt like without that pain. You are exhausted physically and mentally, everything about the process tells you that you cannot do it. You cannot make it through this - the epidural wasn't invented for the hell of it.
And you certainly cannot make it through this in barn. You cannot make it surrounded by animals who are probably less than calm with everything that is going on. You cannot make it when you need to make sure the hay you are laying on doesn't have animal feces because that might lead to an infection and at this point in history? An infection means death. There is no water to boil, no sterile instruments, no helpful nurse or doctor or midwife who has been through this before and can tell you what is next or what to expect. It is just you and your husband and the cast of Old MacDonald.
Do I think that just because Jesus is the son of God he somehow magically just popped out, no effort? No. That is ridiculous. He came into this world like all babies come into this world and it is not exactly "peaceful."
But it is worth it. Because suddenly the pain is gone, suddenly you are no longer worried about how you will make it through because you already did. And you are holding the fruit of your labor and he is perfect. His cry is not one of an angry 2 year old that can't have his way, but a muffled noise that is so precious. And this is the moment you can't imagine why it seemed so impossible only moments before.
I picture Mary looking at her perfect son, holding him against her chest and looking around at the scene and laughing. Because I would laugh. I would laugh at the stressed animals and messy hay. I would laugh at my husband's exhaustion from watching me be exhausted, his nervousness about being a father and plain talent for it. I would laugh at our lack and our obvious prosperity. I would laugh. There would not be a peaceful moment of quiet, but laughter amongst the neighs and snorts. There would be joy in that chaotic, turbulent, excited moment.
Because, what else could there possibly be?