This December finds me wrapping presents, roasting a leg of lamb, and preparing for the birth of my first son, who was conceived not-so-immaculately in Bethlehem over Easter. I started thinking about Mary a lot while I was there, and my connection with her has grown over the past nine months to a level that's probably inappropriate for a protestant.
Friends are starting to ask me whether I'm nervous about the birth, and I am. I've never done anything like it before. For as much as I've read and learned and asked, I can't know what to expect. What I really want is for everything to go according to my plan. So much of life is learning to roll with the punches and adapt and make new plans... but I want to wake up with some mild contractions on a morning when my house is clean. I do not want to be the fifth person in 30 years who my midwife has to call back-up for due to a birth already in progress. I want to labor for about eight hours, and I want to deliver my baby at home and hear him cry in no more than three seconds. I would prefer that all of this happen on either December 28 (for the tax benefit), January 1 (for the 1/1/11 birthday), or January 9 (exactly one week past my due date, giving me a week to relax without work or school).
I wonder if Mary had a birth plan, or a set of ridiculously specific expectations, like I do. If she did, I can't imagine it included going out of town at nine months pregnant. It also probably didn't include barn animals. But she had the same promise I have, the same promise you have, which is that no matter what happens or how different things are from expected, God is with us. It's a promise that He fulfilled through a birth some two millenia ago.
The Nativity, from Luke 1 -2
By Sally Lloyd Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible
Everything was ready. The moment God had been waiting for was here at last! God was coming to help his people, just as he had promised in the beginning. But how would he come? What would he be like? What would he do?
Mountains would have bowed down. Seas would have roared. Trees would have clapped their hands. But the earth held its breath. As silent as snow falling, he came in. And when no one was looking, the darkness, he came.
There was a young girl who was engaged to a man named Joseph. (Joseph was the great-great-great-great grandson of King David.) One morning, this girl was minding her own business when, suddenly, a great warrior of light appeared -- right there, in her bedroom. He was Gabriel and he was an angel, a special messenger from heaven.
When she saw the tall shining man standing there, Mary was frightened. "You don't have to be scared," Gabriel said. "God is very happy with you!" Mary looked around to see if perhaps he was talking to someone else.
"Mary," Gabriel said, and he laughed such gladness that Mary's eyes filled with sudden tears.
"Mary, you're going to have a baby. A little boy. You will call him Jesus. He is God's own Son. He's the One! He's the Rescuer!" The God who flung planets into space and kept the whirling around and around, the God who could do anything at all -- was making himself small. And coming down... as a baby.
Wait. God was sending a baby to rescue the world?
"But it's too wonderful!" Mary said and felt her heart beating hard. "How can it be true?"
"Is there anything too wonderful for God?" Gabriel asked.
So Mary trusted God more than what her eyes could see. And she believed. "I am God's servant," she said. "Whatever God says, I will do." Sure enough, it was just as the angel had said. Nine months later, Mary was almost ready to have her baby.
Now, Mary and Joesph had to make a trip to Bethlehem, the town King David was from. But when they reached the little town, the found that every room was full. Every bed was taken. "Go away!" the innkeepers told them. "There isn't any place for you."
Where would they stay? Soon Mary's baby would come. They couldn't find anywhere except an old, tumbledown stable. So they stayed where the cows and donkeys and the horses stayed.
And there, in the stable, amongst the chickens and the donkeys and the cows, in the quiet of the night, God gave the world his wonderful gift. The baby that would change the world was born. His baby Son.
Mary and Joseph wrapped him up to keep him warm. They made a soft bed of straw and used the animals' feeding trough as his cradle. And they gazed in wonder at God's Great Gift, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.
Mary and Joseph named him Jesus, "Emmanuel" -- which means "God has come to live with us."
Because, of course, he had.