***Warning: graphic birth content***
This will be the second year in a row that I have a client due on Christmas. In our recent prenatal visit, I shared about my Christmas day birth last year and Megan, my client, said, “Oh I really hope I don’t interrupt your holiday again!”
“No!” I responded. “What better time to bring life into the world than when we are celebrating the birth of Jesus?”
Babies are unpredictable, but they can almost certainly be counted upon to arrive during the middle of the night and on holidays.
Megan’s first birth was precipitous, meaning unusually fast. Women often think that they want fast childbirth, but these kinds of births can be incredibly intense and sometimes traumatic, not giving a woman’s mind and emotions time to absorb what's happening. Megan’s big fear was that she would have this second baby in the back seat of the car. As a doula, it’s my job to help her think through all the “what ifs” and release those fears, so we talked about emergency strategies for car and sidewalk deliveries.
“It could be worse,” I laughed. “You could have your baby in a stable.”
Thankfully, my Christmas plans this year will not be interrupted, because Megan gave birth a few weeks early and had a beautiful, healthy baby boy. (Her birth was less than two hours from the first contraction, but we made it to the hospital)!
After a few years of attending births, I look at the cute little nativity scenes and wonder if they’ve missed something. I can’t look at the virgin birth the same way.
I imagine Mary, squatting over a bed of straw, naked and sweaty - straining, grunting, vomiting, pushing with blood and amniotic fluid dripping down her thighs.
I certainly hope women from Bethlehem came and helped, but the story doesn’t say so. I imagine Joseph, with Mary squeezing his hand during the waves of contractions, trying to stay calm. Joseph, wondering, like every panicked new father - Is this what's supposed to happen?
I imagine Joseph’s arm around Mary, both breathlessly exhausted, crying tears of joy as she holds slippery, vernix-covered little Jesus on her chest, still attached to his pulsing cord.
Did Joseph cut the umbilical cord with a rusty, old pocketknife? Did they know what to do with the placenta? Did they have enough swaddling clothes to mop up all the messy post-birth blood?
Never is the joy and pain of the human experience mingled together more vividly than in the birth room. There is nothing more beautiful, more real and raw than childbirth.
God made flesh.
Could this helpless little human child really be the eternal, divine Creator God, clothed in flesh?
The Apostle John says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”
What an interesting choice of words. Scripture could have said, “God became human,” because that is obviously true, but flesh holds a deeper connotation. Flesh is dependent on physical needs for survival. Flesh is finite and corruptible; it breaks down. Flesh endures colds, flus, cancer and injuries. Also, throughout Scripture the Greek work sarx (flesh) is juxtaposed with the word pnuema (spirit) to highlight our weak and carnal nature (Gal 5, Co 2:11, etc). Flesh experiences temptation.
'Flesh' represents all the parts of us that need redemption. The King of Kings was born into messy humanity.
He could have come as a conquering King, but instead he came in humility. Fleeing the reign of Herod, Jesus arrived on earth as a refugee.
He could have come during an age of hospitals, technology and sanitation. But he didn’t.
It was a fitting arrival for the Holy One who would later wash his disciples' feet, teaching us the humble way of Kingdom life - an upside-down life, where the greatest among us is the one who serves.
A fitting arrival for the One who would soon make the blind see, heal the leper, forgive the adulteress, and raise the dead.
A fitting arrival for the One who would later give his life in ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world.
In order to accomplish salvation for us, God became flesh to embody the fullness of the human experience. The writer of Hebrews speaks about Jesus’ humanity: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Heb 2:14)
This tender, helpless child in our nativity is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah foretold:
“A virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14) ... “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his Kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Immanuel, God with us. What hope this should inspire! What a loving and gracious God!
God with us in our highlights, our joys and our achievements. God is with us in the weaknesses of our flesh, our sicknesses, sorrows and pain. God is with us in our marriages, our parenting, our jobs, and our finances. In our friendships. In our heartaches. There is nowhere His love does not reach.
This Christmas season, let us be careful not to lose the meaning of Christmas in busy events, materialism, or even religious activities. Let us quiet our hearts, still our anxious thoughts, and meditate on the meaning of Immanuel, God with us. Let us go into the world with bold assurance of His salvation and the greatness of sacrificial love. Let us surrender our lives to His Lordship and follow his example in serving others.