Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thinking About Christmas: a non-FPIES post

Last year, in one of my friend’s Christmas cards – without a doubt THE most anticipated Christmas card to arrive in our mailbox each year –she wrote, among other things, “I also know that back in that stable there were screams of agony, and blood, mucus and poop in the hay, and a tunic soaked with breast milk on the night that Jesus was born.” Let’s be honest, this isn’t the usual Christmas card banter but it got me thinking… and I’ve been thinking for the last year about just this. The BIRTH of Christ. I think we say ‘the birth of Christ’ about a million times during the Christmas season, but I don’t know, even as mothers and women, that we think about it from this other perspective – and I think it’s an important one for us all to consider. To be honest, I wonder if it’s one that isn’t considered because most of those in the pulpit are men, but that’s a different issue all together.

The BIRTH of Christ. I’ve given birth. It’s messy. It’s painful and messy and smelly and exhausting. And dangerous. I don’t know the actual statistics but I do know that the US has an incredibly high infant mortality rate for an industrialized nation. Can you imagine what the statistics were when Christ was born? I am guessing that in the barn or cave where Mary gave birth, there wasn’t a midwife, much less a doctor or nurse. Mary had surely not practiced Lamaze, the Bradley method or hypno-birthing. Mary could, quite possibly, have given birth alone. Not to pick on men or Joseph, but it was a big deal for my Dad to be allowed in the delivery room when my Mom gave birth to my sister, and that was in the 70’s. Men, only relatively recently in history, have played a role in the birth of babies in any way. I’m going to go ahead and guess that nothing was sterilized in the barn the day that Christ was born, and that neither mother nor child got any antibiotics for any reason during or after the birth. There were, by all accounts, animals in close proximity. Farm animals! And don’t even get me started on pre-natal care. Mary had no ultrasound and was without prenatal vitamins. Didn’t she ride to Bethlehem for the census on a donkey? And wasn’t she incredibly young? What, like 15? So… the BIRTH of Christ? Simply because of when in time it took place, it is an event that is marvelous to me (and I gave birth without any drugs). The BIRTH of Christ was fraught with danger at every turn and the Lord God gave to us His only Son to become man this way. Just sit for a moment and think about that. Think of all that can go wrong. Think of what a messy business birth is. The Lord arrived this way. This gets me every time. When I really think of it, my throat closes up a bit and my eyes tear up. He so loves us that He allowed his Son to be born man, like all men, in this messy, dangerous way.

Christ was tiny. He wailed. He had a tiny, misshapen human head. He was blotchy and fuzzy. He nursed. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes because swaddling a child soothes them; feels like it did when they were back in the womb. I think that giraffes walk immediately once they’re born. Whales swim immediately. Some animals hatch from eggs without any parental protection present at all and simply get on with the business of living. Humans are wholly incapable of surviving on their own for years. YEARS. Can you picture a newborn just after birth? Not the round, pink ones you see in TV shows, but a bruised, puffy, real newborn? They’re helpless. They have no hard shells to protect them, no layer of fat to keep them warm, no sharp teeth to fend off predators. I can remember the moment I held my first child for the first time and was overwhelmed with emotion; feeling the love and the pride and the weight of responsibility for her. She needed me. She would need me for a long time. It didn’t end with infancy. Christ was an infant and then a toddler and then a child and a teenager. His world didn’t have safety seats for the donkey cart, vaccinations for all of the diseases that ran rampant, antibiotics, probiotics, vitamins…. Living to 50, during the time of Christ, would have been living to a ripe old age because life was harder. And the Lord God so loves us that He gave us His Son, to live as man lived, in this messy, dangerous way.

When we speak of Christmas and the birth of Christ, I think we all – me included for so long – picture this Nativity Scene: A serene Mary kneeling at the side of the manger and a peaceful Joseph looking down lovingly. The animals sit calmly by and Shepherds visit too. We sing Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem. The truth is, Mary probably wasn’t up for visitors that night, nor was she up for kneeling for too long. She was exhausted and sore. And the barn wasn’t peaceful, but filled with the cries and whimpers of a newborn. There are countries that, as part of their Christmas traditions, sing songs like lullabies, and other countries where people shake rattles to help soothe the Christ Child. I like those traditions. I like the thought of this more realistic Nativity scene. God became man. He became man with all of the trappings and pitfalls and messiness of life here on Earth. For us. He so loves us that He gave us His Son. His only Son. This parental love is a love I understand. This is a Christmas I can celebrate. This gift, this real labor of love, is one I can appreciate. This is the miracle of Christmas. Alleluia!

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