I’ve switched to singing Christmas hymns to my baby as I rock him to sleep. I sing of a silent night, guarding shepherds, bright stars looking down on him. I can’t get out of my head the picture of a light-drenched nativity scene–of Mary bending over her child, of Joseph standing there guarding them both, of a tiny baby swaddled in cloths.
I thought childbirth would change that. After sixteen hours of labor, I thought it would be hard for me to still picture the manger scene as a peaceful, shining, idyllic place. I thought I would have new understanding and that my eyes would be opened.
But all I can remember is that glowing, beautiful moment holding my son. It may just be hindsight (because if I really think, I remember the I-am-going-to-die-pain). Overshadowing it all, though–all the moments of pain and days of adjusting and discomfort–is this glorious joy of meeting my son.
So the manger scene remains the same. I’ve read the books that try to break down how challenging it must have been for Mary and Joseph. I can’t even imagine riding on a donkey in the last weeks of pregnancy. Having a baby in a stable with no women to help–it’s less than ideal to say the least. But I can only assume that Mary, too, must have experienced those light-drenched moments of early motherhood.
I’ve read all the books that talk about how brave Mary was in her obedience. While I agree that she would have had to face rejection at carrying a baby out of wedlock, I also consider her joy. After so much waiting, the Messiah was coming and she was chosen to bear him. Probably she had read the prophecies in Isaiah. Of course she had been waiting for the Savior. I remember the joy of a growing child inside of me. I can’t even imagine the awe of carrying the Messiah. This lines up with Scripture if you read her Magnificat (one of my favorite passages).
And then finally–out of the fear and pain and darkness and great expectancy comes a tiny baby. Her baby. Her son.
But motherhood has changed how I view the Christmas story in a fundamental way. It is mostly wrapped up in the phrase Simeon says to Mary: “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Lk. 2:35). It’s the angst she felt on the way back from Jerusalem when she thought she had lost her twelve-year-old son. It’s that moment of unimaginable grief on the Cross–of having to endure what even Abraham was not forced to endure–the sacrifice of her son. For her. For me. For you.
And the new mother heart in me grieves. Her boy that she had nourished, loved, and protected. To watch him learn to grasp objects in his tiny hand, to crawl and walk and talk. She had been treasuring it all up in her heart. To see him as a man stepping into his role so young. She has such faith in her son, telling the servants at the wedding in Cana to do whatever He says. But she also feels pain as she and his brothers can’t even reach him and instead of making a way for them, he declares that all who do God’s will are his brothers and mother (Lk. 8). Perhaps she feels rejected. And she sees him rejected by so many. She is standing at the Cross, and as he is dying, he makes sure she has a home.
God made flesh–part of her flesh. And as a sword pierces his side, a figurative one pierces her soul. I can’t imagine her fear, her pain, her grief. And then–the glory of the resurrection before He leaves again with a promise to return.
So that Christmas nativity scene remains a beautiful, peaceful moment– a silent, holy night in the midst of the chaos and pain that would come before Light would finally conquer the darkness. The newborn baby, his mother and father, the shepherd, the angels. And I can almost picture the cave-like structure in the Bethlehem hillside. But even as I sing “Raise, raise the song on high; the virgin sings her lullaby” and “all is calm; all is bright”, I can’t stop thinking of this verse:
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.