The desert was cool at night but she was sweating, borderline feverish. With every waddle of the donkey she cringed, grinding her teeth and bearing her nails hard into the reins as waves of contractions came and went at a quickening pace. She dared not breathe a word to Joseph, knowing he wanted to make it to Bethlehem tonight and not quite knowing his thoughts of all that had transpired. So she bore on in silence as she had the whole way to his little hometown, never seeming to get closer and suffocating under the silence.
No room. No room anywhere. She just wanted to lie down, to sleep until it was all over and the babe had come and she could feel no more pain searing through her body.
No room at the last stop, a small inn. But. A stable. It was that or sleep by the well in the streets.
“Joseph,” she whispered, “it is time.”
She cries out in the night. Her rite of passage into motherhood, this nine months of wonder and unknown that began with an angel’s message, now culminated here, on this scattering of straw. She cried out from the pain and the cows lowed and the hens clucked and the horses neighed, disturbed by these cries and yet empathizing with her, knowing the pain and labor.
She pushes and gasps and pushes more, fear and exhaustion shaking her body. Blood and mud mingle on the ground, the essence of life as her Baby enters the world. He gasps; heaven and earth meld into one as the Child chokes in His first human breath- the Giver of the Breath of Life now inhaling to give life to Himself. Her cries are echoed by His and He is God and He is man and He is cold and He is hungry and He is just a Babe.
Swaddling clothes, a manger. All she has to offer him in this humble stable that is their home for the evening. She walks Joseph through the steps of cleansing and helping her to heal and be comfortable and she takes the Babe and she feeds Him. The Giver of Manna now clinging to His mother.
Does He comprehend? Can a babe, this Babe, be aware of the weight on His shoulders? Does His mother know? Does He look at her with comprehension or is He just a hungry newborn Who needs His mother’s touch?
She whispers His Name in the dark stable.
They have come a long way and her story seems unbelievable. No man has known her. An angel came to her alone, speaking to her alone and leaving it to her to convince Joseph and everyone else to believe what she was told. And then: prophecies fulfilled. And now shepherds and kings come to bow before Him? She feels that she is dreaming and looks down on her Baby, kisses His face, pondering what the angel said so many days ago. She whispers His Name again, like a soft lullaby to a world crying out for a Savior:
Emanuel. God with us. Down in the dirt and the grime and the sweat and the tears, brought forth in much of the same and in nothing less than a beggar’s room for the night with only the animals to keep him company. Two young parents and no public fanfare, just a star to lead the way and angels rejoicing in the night sky over a field of sheep and a few shepherds. Big miracles in the small places.
Christ born- the biggest miracle of all, God in human flesh to save His creation- comes to Earth in a small place in a small space.
He gives Himself in many ways before this moment and is seen in many forms- a pillar of fire, a cloud, a burning bush, backside Glory, Provider, Protector, Counselor, Warrior, Healer, and many, many, more.
But this is different. He has given Himself as Man, as the greatest gift to mankind. He could have appeared full grown, with all the strength and power and might of Heaven and sword in hand. But He started at the beginning. Helpless. Cold. Hungry. A Babe whose sole existence depends on His parents. He started in the mud with the rest of us and would grow and give of Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.
This Babe we sing of, the one we place so carefully in the manger of our nativities in home and at church, the One that many try to remove from the holiday and life in general, the One that forever changed the world and souls and eternal life, He is the greatest gift. He is the only thing that matters on Christmas and everyday.
His life began small here on earth. It began in the birth pangs like so many others but no other has had God Himself, the Trinity, within a tiny Child.
How humble. How beautiful. How precious a gift for us to share this, and every, Christmas.
Jesus. Savior. Gift of love and life. Thank You for being the gift to this world.