Friday, December 08, 2006

Nativity

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. - Luke 1:38

The events of this year - pregnancy, childbirth, babyraising - have given me a new perspective on the well known Christmas story. As much as I love hearing the old lore told in the old King James - "And it came to pass in those days...the days were accomplished that she should be delivered...and lo! an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid" - I find I love it even more through new eyes.

I have been nine months pregnant. I know that every movement is pain, there is no sleep, there is no relief. I do not know the discomfort of traveling from my home during this month, on a donkey or in a cart, on mud-rutted paths and dusty roads. But I know now that this was not a journey for soul searching or deep thoughts. It would take all the stamina of a strong woman to survive.

I have given birth in a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art facility. Mary was far from home. But I know now that she was certainly not alone. The town was full, the inn was full - certainly midwives, mothers, grandmothers heard her terrorized cries and came to labor by her side. I know that while the night was holy, it was most certainly not silent, nor peaceful. I know the pain she felt as her body was torn apart to make way for her child. I know the violence that overtook her as she gave herself over to the drama of birth. I know the bustle that overtook the stable, the inn, the neighborhood, as women worked to give this new life a chance to breathe his first breath.

A plague upon our songs, our nativity scenes, our fables! This is the moment when God becomes man! Miracle of miracles, why do we water it down with our rose colored glasses? He did not spring from a lotus blossom, he was born. This is the very foundation of our faith - God made man - a Son has been given - God with us - Emmanuel.

I have lain post-partum on my hospital bed after 37 hours of labor, crying tears of joy as I gaze in awe at my new born son. I can feel Mary's relief, joy, wonder, and exhaustion as she collapses into the straw with her own new son. Not well groomed, thin, and peaceful as my nativity scene portrays, I know precisely how her body was bruised, bloody, swollen, stretched, and torn; how her hair and skin was soaked with sweat and her soul with exhaustion.

I know that as she nursed her child she struggled with teeth clenched in pain and frustration. What a beautiful, beautiful scene this is. If I were artistic in any medium I would paint or photograph the famous Madonna - again and again, as it really was, with real women and their babies, nursing in all their natural moist, dirty, awkward, disheveled beauty.

I know that the baby - King of all Creation - did not sleep at night, and neither did Mary. I know the endless hours of crying, screaming, bouncing, singing. I know the weeks of raging emotions that followed, as everything, everything, everything was demanded of Mary again, and again, and again. As hormones and life changes and deep emotions collide and overtake and subside.

When we speak of the virgin birth, the miracle we speak of is in the "virgin" half of the phrase. But what about the miracle of birth, and the miracle that this is God being birthed? The miracle that God imparts through women all over the world, every minute of every day. And the ultimate miracle - that God himself was made man - was born - with all the blood and trauma, and joy, that surrounds any other birth.

How can it be? Hallelujah.

8 comments:

sam said...

hey cath,
the chapel team here at Grace had a discussion about the birth of the messiah just a couple of days ago. the discussion centered on how much we have made a very somber, scary occassion "pretty."
we've decided that we're going to tell the christmas story from the point of view of the prophecies, which includes not only the birth of the messiah, but his death and resurrection.
thanks for the post.. it gives realism to the otherwise candied version we hear a lot. no one but a new mother can identify best. :)

Anonymous said...

Cath,

Amen to that! What a gift that women can understand something of the suffering and beauty of salvation because we are allowed to go through the pain of childbirth. I always wondered about that "women will be saved through childbearing" verse until I experienced labor myself. Though I can do nothing with the textual, hermeneutical, theologically sound explanations of that verse, I can say it is a great mystery. Perhaps we are not "saved" so much as allowed to enter into an understanding of salvation in a whole new way.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas to you. We can't wait to see you in January!

Ash

Wonders for Oyarsa said...

If it makes you feel any better, Silent Night and Away in a Manger are probably my least favorite Christmas Carols.

You should check out this post taking this picture to task, and reminding us of the vision of Christmas we read in Revelation. Good stuff...

Literacygirl said...

So how graphic are the new carols of the Christ child's birth going to be? Will the phrase "umbilical cord around the neck" be in any of the verses?

Should we have carols? Yes. I think in the Christian tradition it is a great way to express our love and devotion, and to remember miracles.

I think this can be taken too far. Some of the songs are artistic expression. As long as we don't JUST sing these songs, without any other message is when we have the problem.

Yes, we can remember the seriousness of labor and delivery, and the poverty level life they lived in. Agreed.

I just am not sure you are going to be able to find a nativity scene that represents the true nature of the birth.

And not that nativity scenes are what we need to celebrate Christ's birth, but it's a pretty good visualization for younger children and some younger adults as well.

Feliz Navidad & some after birth too!

:-) From a mother of hundreds, even though I haven't pushed them through... there has been plenty of labor! :-)

Anonymous said...

Let me try to explain further. There is so much hype within secular and non-secular circles alike regarding how secularized Christmas is and who the "real Mary" is. People can go overboard, and then in practicality very few of their ideas can be put into people's traditions. I don't really want a 3 year old or 15 year old singing about Mary's labor, you know?.

I guess what would be INTERSTING to be discussed it the realities, practicalities, and implications of celebrating the "human birthing" process of Mary. What does that look like? I don't feel it is an "all or nothing" situations. Ban "Away in the Manger"? I don't think so.

So what would this new paradigm of Christmas celebration/remembering look, feel, sound, taste, sound like?

(sorry, I can't post for some reason under my blogger account)

Catherine said...

Hmmm. Wow. Are you sure we're talking about the same thing? I didn't say anything about writting new carols or starting traditions or banning Away in the Manger, or the "real" Mary or the secularization of Christmas. I love our traditions. Could it be that you are associating what I said with other things that bother you?

What I'm saying is that the experiences of this year have given me a new perspective on what Christ's birth was like, and that has blessed me, and I want to celebrate that.

But...to respond a bit to the points you made, I think it would be great if kids were taught about what it really was like. Kids are the most in touch with babies, since so many have little siblings or pregnant mommies. The beautiful story is beautiful because its real. Because God DID have an umbilical chord around his neck - as unbelievable as that is, that's the beauty of Christmas. That we have the kind of God that would stoop low enough to be just like us, in order to show us his love. That's EXACTLY what I want my kids to sing about. Life isn't sterile, as much as we in America want to make it out to be, and neither is love, and neither is God's love, or God becoming man.

So, I don't know where I became associated with banning Christmas carols. I'm just grateful for what God has done for me, and how giving birth to Asher has helped me know this inside out.

Anonymous said...

I guess I was referring to the recent conversations in regard to the role of Mary in protestantism -talking about what "the real" Mary was like, and putting away the fantasy. (There is some comparing of evangelical vs. catholic, but not too much.) I have not read these books in their entirety, but have read several reviews about them.

They include: Mary for Evangelicals: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of Our Lord by Tim Perry & The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus (which I think will be discussed tonight on WGN Milt Rosenberg).

and I am trying to find the article I read 2 or so months ago in Christianity Today.

I guess I feel that many of the songs we do sing do impart the message of Jesus incarnate, and the Father reaching to us below. I don't think they are "plagued".

One of my favorite examples in terms of talking about Christ's overwhelming love for us is written in "Messy Christianity" by the late Mike Yaconelli. (sp?) & Love Beyond Reason by John Ortberg. Or.... just the Bible itself!! :-) I am so amazed when I read in the books of moses how many times God was willing to give the Israelites another chance, & show grace & mercy -because I am sure in need of that.

There is a heightened interest in the Marian theology as of late due to productions such as "The Nativity" and the Anne Rice book titled “Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt” and the increase in inner-faith dialogues and serving/worshipping together.

The role of Mary as not just a character in a fairy tale, and these discussions often focus on her important role as Mother, and how that needs to be appreciated and recognized. There have been many discussions within Christian magazines, local and CNN Nighly News (it was with the newscaster with blondish hair? hannity and Colmes??) focusing on Mary, her sacrifice, and her willingness to bear a child as a single, Jewish woman.

I believe we do need to be real about the "messy-ness" of humanity (inc. the birth of Christ). I'm just not sure what that looks like. Like write a song about it, and maybe I'll jump on board. C'mon Cath, you're famous for that!!

Look, this is just a topic that I take issue with. Obviously we have 2 different ideas on what exactly that issue is! :-) I don't have any hidden agendas, and just thought I'd get the discussion going. But I guess this will be the end for me. I only have 1 favorite cousin, contrary to a comment I made 16 years ago...

Oh, and I am thankful for Asher! I just saw the sweetest teddy bear that had "Baby's First Christmas" on it's little belly! (trying to lighten the atmosphere.... im ok if your ok?)

Anonymous said...

Cath,

You should listen to "Labor of Love" on Andrew Peterson's Christmas CD. I just rediscovered it today and thought of this post. By the way, I love having the 12 days of Christmas to listen to Christmas music. It is much better than the typical American thing of having Christmas end on the 25th. See you soon!

Ash