I am finally living in a place which isn’t 70 degrees on Christmas Day and yet, I still don’t feel like I am in the “Christmas Spirit”. I haven’t felt that familiar excitement and cheery goodness much these last few years either, but I thought the issue was the palm trees, not ME.
Even listening to Christmas music isn’t helping and that usually does the trick.
In fact, I think a few songs are only making it worse, to be quite honest.
I was singing Isaac some Christmas songs the other night as he was going to sleep, both to try and lull him to dreamland and to try and lull my heart into some sort of Christmasy feeling, and the lyrics to a few of these songs struck me as odd. I have been singing these same classic songs since I could form words with my little mouth, but I suppose I hadn’t taken the time to really analyze what I was singing.
Have you ever REALLY listened to the lyrics of “Away in a Manger” (one of my favorites, I might add)?
“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.”
Or how about Silent Night?
“Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, tender and mild”
A silent newborn!?
A few nights ago, I sat singing Christmas carols in the rocking chair across the room from Isaac, watching him jump in his bed by the pale light of his night light. As each moment ticked by I wished my little jumping monkey would hear the words I was singing and be tender and mild like the baby Jesus for a moment so he could wind down and sleep.
It was in that moment I realized that the story of Jesus’ birth as told via our much loved Christmas songs and even our sanitized version of the Christmas story we repeat year after year, has given me a vision of that blessed time that is most likely totally inaccurate. I know that deep down we know the Nativity scene depicted in so many front lawns and church services are not really what happened when Jesus was born, but no one seems to want to talk about what it might have really been like.
The problem is, this water-down version we hold to so dearly is hurting my ability to see myself in the true story of Jesus’ birth. Of course, I realize that not EVERYTHING is about me, but Jesus’ birth really is a good bit about me in the sense that it is about all of us; me included. Ever since I was a little girl I would imagine the baby Jesus laying so perfectly and quietly in that little straw bed with his mother, Mary, sitting adoringly beside him, a beautiful, peaceful smile on her face as the animals and wise men sing of His Glory. And Joseph was there too, somewhere, I suppose. I never much took the time to think about him.
Maybe some people are comforted in thinking the night Jesus was born was silent and painless, but it doesn’t bring comfort to me.
I just don’t buy it and I don’t believe that Jesus wants us to view it that way either.
When Tony and I found out we were pregnant with Isaac we were beyond excited. We knew that this little baby was going to change everything for the better and also bring so much joy and contentment into our lives. But even with that knowledge, I struggled with intense anxiety and depression throughout my entire pregnancy. Even though I was excited to meet Isaac and be his mom, I was so scared I wouldn’t know what to do or be good at it. My labor wasn’t painless and the struggles I faced after Isaac’s arrival were overwhelming and exhausting.
There wasn’t a silent night for months and had there been any cows lowing and waking the baby, I assure you, there would have been crying.
I know my child isn’t the Messiah, but I’m not really sure it matters. A baby is a baby, even if that baby is Jesus. It doesn’t make Him less Holy to have been a baby doing what babies do. He chose to come that way. The Creator of Heaven and Earth chose to limit Himself and to depend on the continual “yes” from Mary to nurture, care for Him, and love Him no matter how imperfect she was and how hard it was at times.
I don’t believe Jesus ever wanted us to think of his birth as totally peaceful and quiet with no crying or pain.
Is the pain of labor not Holy work?
I am not trying to be cynical, heretical, or take the beauty out of the Christmas story we know and love, I am actually trying to make it more beautiful.
In my mind, I imagine some of the thoughts and feelings that Mary had. I believe there were moments when she was enduring morning sickness or leg cramps and she wondered what she had agreed to. On the long journey to Bethlehem, when the labor pains started to wave over her, I imagine all she could think about was the safety of her baby and getting to a place where the baby could be born. Oh the anxiety it would have caused this young laboring mama-to-be to hear that there was no room for them at the inn and they would have to bring this precious baby into the world surrounded by animals, and all the sounds and smells that go along with it. Was Joseph running hurriedly around trying to collect anything and everything he could to aid in her labor and the delivery of the baby. Did he have the same look of awe, fear, and soberness that Tony did as he held my legs as I pushed our baby into this world? After Jesus’ arrival, I could see Mary feeling desperate to quell his hungry cries, but struggled to get him to latch to her breast in the darkness of the manger. Did she cry out to God for help as her baby wailed? Did she look at her baby in her arms as he cried and stare in wild wonder at the miracle she has has the privilege to participate in? As Jesus was a toddler, were there days that she had just had enough already and wished that he would just go to sleep? Did she ever take her fingers and run them through his hair and marvel at this amazing little life in front of her…a life that she brought into the world?
Is Mary so different from me and you?
I believe she is like us and we are like her and the story of Jesus’ arrival is the same story we all have the privilege to experience and THAT is what Jesus wanted us to see in this story. Is the birth of Jesus a Holy time? YES! Is it a Miracle? YES! Is Mary to be held highly for her faithfulness and hope in the Lord? YES!
But it is because of Jesus’ birth through Mary that we ALL get to experience the birth of Jesus in our own lives.
We are all invited by the Lord Himself to hold his life inside us, carry Him, and co-labor with Him in order to birth His purposes.
Each and every one of us.
The story of Jesus’ birth is a story which demonstrates once again, that God chooses people just like me and you to bring Him to the world around us through His presence living in us. It’s not just another story of someone that said Yes! to God.
It’s OUR story.
We are Mary.
We get the opportunity to say yes to carrying God inside of us and then allow Him to save the world through us.
The story of Jesus’ birth is so much more beautiful when we see that it’s not something far off and too lofty for us.
When I look at Mary and the Christmas story as it is currently told, I don’t see the depth of struggle and sacrifice it took to bring the birth of Jesus to pass. And yet in my own life, I am struggling big time to carry the presence of the Lord and labor to bring about His purposes in my life. Labor involves some amount of pain and sacrifice. Saying yes to God and then allowing Him to conceive His life and plans and purposes in me is a true labor of love and I have to say, for me, it is rarely silent.
It’s messy and loud. There is crying and doubting and struggle.
There is also immense joy and marvel at the grace and love of God.
If you, like me, are finding yourself feeling that you are the only one having such a hard time in life right now, I pray that you will be able to look at Mary and Joseph in what I believe is the reality of their privilege and their sacrifice, and know that you are not alone in your struggles and pains as you labor through this time. Their story isn’t something unattainable and sterile and perfect. This is the season of celebrating the fact that God sent His only son to us through a young virgin so that we could stop trying so hard to save ourselves and let God save us. He arrived here on Earth to live among us and experience everything we experience first hand so that we would never feel that He is so far away from our daily struggles. We celebrate the fact that God chose to limit himself and come as a helpless little baby into a world set out to reject him and kill him from the beginning. There hasn’t been room made for him in this world far before there was no room for his new tiny baby body at the inn. His birth story is just one more example God has given us to show He has an affinity for using imperfect people to bring change to the world.
When I think back on the beauty and pain I experienced bringing Isaac into the world, I am still in awe of all of it. I wouldn’t change any of it for a second because it has all worked together to make me who I am today. Night after night as he jumps around his crib instead of sleeping, I allow my mind to wonder if Mary ever giggled at Jesus’ tenacity and energy. Did she ever think back to the night He was born and marvel at how much she has grown and changed since that wonderful, miraculous night? I think she did and I don’t think that her humanity makes her any less a saint deserving of honor, perhaps it makes her more deserving. We don’t need to take the messy beauty out of the story of Jesus’ birth to make it more palatable. It is in the messy beauty of this story that I find comfort in knowing God can use me to birth His purposes if I am willing to persevere through the labor pains of bringing them to pass.
Messy Beautiful Katie