I sit and I reflect. It is my tradition, to take a stolen moment and think on Christmas as it relates to life. It seems to me this year that the babe in the manger is being pushed aside, buried and minimized. It is as if popular opinion thinks that if we aren’t talking about him that he disappears. In truth it is quite the opposite. In the public arena, anger and fear rule the day. Greed and materialism fight for center stage. In the private places the quiet babe calls to my heart. He draws me without words. No fanfare. No over-the-top pizazz. It is the simplicity, so very out of place in the world around me, which causes me to pause.
I know the pain of birthing a baby. I know the frantic feeling of a body trying to expel a precious burden, carried for 9 months, into the outer world. It is not a quiet thing. There is fear involved. Blood. Some panic as the pain increases. Sweat. Panting. Screaming. Laser focus mixed with incoherent blurry thought…drawn into yourself, into a foggy world that is both incredibly crisp and clear yet miles away from your surroundings. It is in this place that Mary found herself. Away from support, with a man she did not know, birthing a baby that an Angel told her about, that God conceived within her. Odd place for a teenager to be don’t you think? What if this was your daughter? I want to believe that God extended some mercy to her and that her labor was shortened, or somehow less painful, but we do not have record of that. It is my thought that in order to be fully human he had to be birthed just as every other baby is birthed and so I say bless Mary. Bless her faith and her spirit to be a vessel for God. Bless her courage and her fear. Bless her knowing and her wondering. Just bless that woman for all that she endured to bring me my savior.
And Joseph. Betrothed to a pregnant woman. Scandalous. Standing up and obeying God against what must have been enormous pressure. Then putting her on a donkey, and taking a long journey with a woman about to deliver…that took guts. It took patience, and bravery. What young man do you know that could do something like that? And then to be a labor coach before there was such a thing. Midwives did this work, yet he found himself nurse and caretaker in a barn with only a star for light. Animals the only witnesses. Had he ever even seen a baby born? Did he have a clue on what to do? Don’t you know his fear was great, even as he prayed for divine intervention? And did he wonder…did they both…wonder if they had missed God? The angels did not say the baby will be born in a barn. They did not give directions on how to birth God. Such an ordinary thing must have seemed so far from what one would have thought God would have done. I wonder if their expectations were shattered or if they took it all in trusting in an unseen, unprecedented, invisible plan.
One of the things I love most about this story, and the thing that has my attention again this year is the lull. After the baby is born, after the fear is over, and the joy has come there is a space of time where all is quiet. No bustling to try to find room. No more donkey riding. All the preparation is over and the gift lies in their arms. I can imagine this so clearly it is as if I am standing in the stall. Joseph amazingly delivers the baby. He stands in awe as he looks into the face of God for the first time in history. Shushing baby cries, he comforts God. He is stunned into silence as the eyes of Jesus look into him. After an eternity moment he is drawn back to the task at hand and he wraps God in rags. He comes to Mary’s side, sitting on the straw beside her he holds out Jesus for her to see. She recognizes God and he looks like her. How surreal must that have been? She gazes at this life she has known for months, seeing him fully for the first time. His eyes connect and hold hers even as he squirms. He knows her soul. Joseph offers the baby to her and she reaches for God, pulling him close and cradling him against herself so that his heartbeat and hers beat as one. She counts his fingers and toes. She marvels at this miracle that came from her body. They cry. Their tears are liquid joy. The tears give way to smiles and then quiet laughter and shared whispers between the couple as they ponder this great thing.
They hold one another and the baby Jesus. They marvel. They are relieved. They are in love with this new life that is the ancient of days. Their hearts explode with it. Doubt and fear flee, replaced by hope and joy…and as the adrenaline fades…peace. Calm. Rest. A moment to bask in each other’s arms, the babe for which they suffered much, safely delivered and sleeping peacefully upon Mary’s chest encircled by his earthly father’s embrace. The wordless night is overflowing with life. Somewhere between sleep and awake this intimate moment with God is protected from the noisy world outside. There are no presents, or angels yet. No visitors. No shepherds. No kings. No carpenter shop. No soldiers. No cross. Just a young couple and their baby who happens to be God in the flesh. As if it is the most normal birth in the world. All of this takes place in the lull…without a word. Yet, in the glow of God’s light, the silence is loud enough for the world to hear.
That is the pause I take this season. A lull in my own world in which God reveals himself as a babe. Who is not ruffled by the whirlwind outside, but settles in to share his heartbeat with me. Silent night indeed.