When Mike was in college, he volunteered with a home for those with disabilities. He attended one of their plays which was the Christmas story. During the play the audience could hear one young man shout over and over “No room in the inn!” He was to play the role of the innkeeper and he was simple minded. When his part came and Joseph explained how his wife was pregnant and everyone else in Bethlehem had turned them away, the innkeeper responded, “Ah hell! You can have MY room.” Simple minded but not simple hearted.
Pregnant Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, a town crowded with people coming back to their home town to register with the Roman government which was an occupying force in Israel. Rome wanted to take a census, for tax purposes. The Roman Empire was not kind to those who did not follow their laws and the need for taxes was great because they had to pay their soldiers who maintained the Empire.
Joseph and Mary went from inn to inn trying to find a place to rest. I remember what it felt like to be nine months pregnant…swollen, out-of-sorts, and feeling like any moment I might pop! I cannot imagine needing a bed to just lie down and rest to discover that there were no vacancies anywhere.
And while the last innkeeper did not offer his room…he did offer them the cattle shed. A place with straw and flat surfaces…a place to rest. In the early days of the Midwest many farmers offered travelers their barns in which to rest.
|Nicaraguan Nativity painting|
Mary goes into labor. The baby is coming. This part of the story is not told. Maybe because long ago, people instinctively knew what having a baby was like or maybe because it was written by men who did not understand the pain, the messiness, the fear, the exhaustion of having a baby. I do. I can imagine Joseph going out into the night to find a mid-wife to help with the birth.
I can imagine the sweat pouring off Mary’s face. Did she know to breathe and focus on something else to help? Or was she terrified, it being her first child and first birth? We know she was young…so young.
Joseph and the midwife helped Mary, giving encouragement as each contraction tightened the largest muscle in the human body to move the baby in position and then eventually through the birth canal. We have no idea how long this birth was, but there was no spinal block…no drugs given…no fetal monitor…just working, pushing, and hoping against hope that baby and Mama will survive the ordeal.
Let me tell you, with no drugs, pushing a baby out is work and it hurts. There is a huge relief when the baby comes shooting out but it is not clean. Fluid, blood and most of the times feces come out of the body before and during the actual crowning and birth of the baby. Most of the time, mothers cry out with the effort so it is neither silent or calm as everyone is doing their job to help the baby come. Midwives are encouraging and – I suspect – Joseph was lending physical support as Mary squatted…maybe?
Taken away from her home and the people she knew, Mary gave birth to her son in a barn with Joseph and a stranger (mid-wife) …we can guess. When the birth is over, the cord is cut, the baby wiped off, Mary is cleaned, the straw with fluids, placenta, and feces is removed, and Mary will have tried to feed her child.
Baby and mother trying to get the nipple in the mouth so that sucking can happen and Mary’s uterus can start contracting down again.
I am sure with all the smells of the bodily functions, the animals were disturbed, moving and making noises. This was no silent night.
But as with all births, it was holy.
Despite the Empire’s desire to lord over the Israelites, despite the lack of room or space, despite the strange land, Mary gave birth to the Son of David.
Despite wars, famine, flooding, and all kinds of disasters, women give birth…no different from Mary. It can be frightening, painful, hard work, and something that we don’t want to happen, but babies come when it is their time.
We cannot forget that human element of the Christmas story.
Mary gave birth to Jesus. Not at home. Not in a hospital. Not in an inn. Not even in the innkeeper’s room, but in the cattle shed.
That is where the King of Kings – as we Christians call Jesus – was born…in a barn. Without a home.
We must remember this when we see refugees, homeless people, and outcasts…because we are seeing Jesus when we see them.