It seems that, whenever I have a baby, I get to thinking more about Mary's vital role in the Christmas story. And, okay, so it's not like I had a baby, in the literal sense of the word but, in the past, I have birthed a child. So, I've long been a serious critic of the traditional nativity scene.
I love them. I have many. They are among my most cherished Christmas decorations. But they are ridiculous.
Chosen One straight up just gave birth to a baby in a cave. Or a barn. Or a stable. In any case, it was NOT a hospital bed with doctors and nurses all around. It was not her home with her mother and trusted women of the village.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that there was probably a considerable amount of animal feces. There was straw--hopefully some of it was still clean. There was blood and, after the baby, came the rest, the part that horrifies the husbands in the delivery room because, they were totally expecting that baby but, they maybe weren't so knowledgeable about the afterbirth.
I'd like to think that someone wiser in the ways of labor and delivery came along to help Joseph out but the Bible doesn't mention her. Had there been a midwife or a villager, she would have been the first to lay eyes on the Savior and I think she would have warranted a Biblical mention. So I feel like it was maybe just Joe. I've heard of husbands delivering babies in cars or hallways and even the most stoic of them seem a little rattled.
So in a room of animal waste and blood and guts, a baby came into the world. My baby came into the world in a sterile hospital environment. I had every benefit of modern medicine and it still took me approximately thirty seconds of gingerly lowering myself into a sitting position just to perch on the end of a bed. I was certainly not kneeling on any floors, sitting on my feet. Yet, this is always how Mary is depicted. Crouched on her heels like giving birth took nothing out of her.
Yes. We're told that she placed him in a manger because there was no room in the inn. But I don't know any mothers who just put their baby in a bassinet and leave them there all night long. Certainly the manger contained him for a time but I'm willing to bet good money that Mary did a considerable amount of holding him. I think she also laid in a pile of hay--the cleanest Joseph could scoop into a heap. I suspect she looked tired, perhaps swollen, her tunic all in disarray and her head covering askew or, maybe even, folded beneath her for a pillow.
Joseph was, no doubt, overwhelmed. Exhausted. Concerned for his wife's well being and anxious about what the future held. Perhaps it was he who sat on his heels, staring at the baby while Mary slept, watching the rise and fall of his tiny chest.
I have no doubt that the shepherds found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in the manger just as the Bible reports. I just think Mary looked haggard and was, at best, propped up in the corner of the stable. I think Joseph was welcoming but disheveled from his recent hands on experience with childbirth. I think the animals were slightly agitated, their home overtaken by first a screaming woman and then a crying baby.
I want to add a nativity to my collection, one in which Mary is lying down. Joseph is sitting beside her. The baby is sleeping. He is not glowing nor is he wearing a crown. The shepherds are there but the wise men are still two years away.
This, perhaps, is Christmas.
Frozen statues in the cold
Washed in moonlight, blue and gold
Mary's babe in plastic hay
Quiet wonder on her face
Mary you look so serene
Far too pretty, much to clean
We might think we know you well
But what stories would you tell?
Of all the dirt and dust and shame
Every burning labor pain
And as I turn to walk away
I hear you say
I am real
Don't turn me into memory or myth
Let me be real
And I'll show you what it means to love like this
To be real