For over 5 years, I’ve been helping women have babies. I’m a certified labor doula and midwife assistant and have helped over 160 women bring their babies into this world. The job is arduous, unpredictable and messy.
Several years ago God began to give me insight about birth — ways it is close to His heart. Ways it paralleled His love for us. Ways I benefitted from the experience myself. And through that, I began to ponder Mary and the birth of Jesus.
We all know Mary was a teenager, but really think about that. She was only a few years older than my oldest daughter. A teenaged girl in a culture where her entire identity consists of having a husband, having babies, and all that entails. She had no rights, no voice, no occupation outside of being told what to do and having a family.
It was risky to the extent of knowing she could loose her life, and if she was “shown mercy,” she would be labeled a liar and a whore for the rest of her life. She wouldn’t be taken by any man, she would be a burden to her family, and carry shame with her for the rest of her life.
I can’t imagine how terrified she must have been. Even today, it’s scandalous when young girls get pregnant, but with help and support they can still have hope and a future. But for Mary, this would have tainted her for life.
I am certain she considered all of this: a possible death, certain shame and cruelty from others, labels that would prevent her from starting over. Giving up her only opportunity to do something with her life. Disappointment from her parents. Being an embarrassment to her family. But her answer is “I am His servant, let it be to me according to your word”. And so it all began. She was brave and had immense trust.
When we read the words of the angel, she is told who her son is said to be. Luke 1:32–33 says,
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Upon hearing this, she goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant. When she greeted her, the baby inside Elizabeth leaped within her and Elizabeth exclaimed, “Why am I so favored that the mother of our Lord would come to me!” Elizabeth was John the Baptist’s mother, old and pregnant, claiming to have a great child within her. And here comes Mary, young, unmarried, and pregnant, proclaiming she is carrying the savior of the world.
Most people would have called them crazy. Even today.
I’m not sure there was any way for Mary to fathom the depth of what she was told about the greatness of her baby, but in her Magnificat she speaks of being blessed among all women.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. I believe she stayed and helped Elizabeth give birth to her son, six months before she would have her own child. Two women helped one another, served one another, found comfort in the other’s company. It’s the sweetest picture of empowerment and sisterhood, in a time when it scarcely existed.
We don’t know when Mary told the rest of her family. Did she tell them right away? Did she wait until she began to show?
I know some of the young moms I’ve worked with waited until the last possible moment. One continued to lie even when her mom guessed she was pregnant. It’s not a secret easily kept. And it quickly becomes a secret impossible to keep.
Joseph was also a good man, refusing to have Mary killed or publicly shaming her. Instead he trusted Mary and the angel’s words. I’m sure he was ridiculed and also brought shame to his family for taking a promiscuous girl as his wife.
But he did.
He even honored her by not having sex with her until after the baby was born. Again, in this culture, she had no say over her body, and his act was loving and selfless and showed a kindness to Mary beyond what her culture said she deserved.
I don’t know, but it’s entirely possible they were shunned by their families. In moments somewhat similar to these, where I was so sure of something, when I get resistance from others I can start to wonder: “Did I hear it right? Did I make the right choice?”
So many things are left unanswered, I wonder if they ever doubted their choices — they were human, after all. I wonder if they ever said, “This won’t work out!” Those months before Jesus’s birth had to have been so full of massive ups and downs.
When the time came for Mary to give birth, they were traveling to Bethlehem.
Really think about that.
They were foreigners and alone. They had no friends or family near, and Joseph’s betrothed wife is in labor with a child that is not his. He can’t find a place for her to rest or give birth. He felt completely helpless.
I can guarantee that. I’ve seen that deer-in-the-headlights look with many, many dads during labor. They feel worthless and want to fix it.
Not only could Joseph not fix Mary’s pain, but he couldn’t even find a private place for her to have her baby. A true need and an urgent one.
And Mary. Desperate, vulnerable, alone, scared, in pain. In labor, a very intimate thing, in front of a man she hardly knows. A man she may not have even grown to love yet.
He had never seen her without clothes on.
No matter what people will tell you, women want to keep their dignity while in birth. It’s something I work hard to preserve for each woman I’m with. They are still women, with thoughts going on in their heads and people seeing you in this state isn’t less uneasy just because you’re giving birth.
Imagine it for a moment.
Taking off your clothes in front of a stranger,
maybe even pooping in front of someone you have yet to trust.
We don’t know if she had a midwife to help her, but we do know she didn’t have any family with her. Birth was something women in the families were a part of. Mary had probably seen a handful in her life.
I can picture her pacing, falling to her knees, crying, grabbing her belly as contraction after contraction seized her. I can see her sweating, wiping her hair from her face. Asking for a drink of water. Crying out for her mom. Clutching onto a post or laying on the hard floor.
Nothing is clean. Nothing is sanitary. Women died doing it. And she is left on her own. In a place that isn’t her home. With a man she is just getting to know. Doing one of the hardest things a woman does.
In my job, seeing so many women give birth, those moments are engrained into my mind.
I’m certain, like every single woman on the planet, she thought she would die. She lost track of the goal. Felt helpless.
It’s a very vulnerable and very desperate scenario.
I wonder, was Joseph any help? He had never seen a woman give birth. Was Mary embarrassed or self conscious? Was she fearful of what he would think? Did she ask for his help? Did she have anyone to help her? Did he run to find help? Was she completely alone? Was she scared to yell out?
Then the moment came when her body told her it’s time to bring her baby forth and, if she was quiet before, she probably isn’t now. It’s the most intense and impossible sensation, one that feels it will swallow you whole. The hard work, the energy expelled, the digging deep for each push. The grunting, the wanting to give up. The thought you would give anything if it could just be over.
The breaking of her body. Those last shouts. The blood. The water. The slippery form of a baby. The cries…New life.
I wish I could see that moment. But if it’s anything like the many births I’ve seen, it was probably no more than a humble, messy, raw and simple moment.
Unremarkable. A commonplace miracle.
An unremarkable birth and commonplace miracle that changed the world. He came into it just like all of us. The creator of the universe, a helpless immigrant baby to an unwed teen mom.
Each woman who has ever become a mother–her body breaks to bring forth a new life. Mary’s body broke to bring forth life. Her body broke to to bring the peace God had established within Jesus. It began with a simple, but so costly “yes” from a girl and it continued with his birth.
Then, 33 years later, Jesus’s body also broke to bring us life. His body broke to finish the job that began within Mary’s body. The job of bringing peace between us and God. And peace between each other. And his mother was there to the end, when all but two others ran away.
What a beautiful bookend to the most beautiful story I know.
So I ask this advent: what are you and I giving up to bring peace to others?
Mary gave up her dignity, safety, home, reputation and body.
For Joseph, it was his honor, his name, and home. He became a father to a child that wasn’t his.
Jesus gave up everything.
To them, there was no cost too great.
I pray these next few days, we think on Mary. Her sacrifice, her courage, her trust. That we may be more like her. Maybe that means saying yes more.
I pray we think of Our Savior’s birth in the stable where she cried out and felt alone, scared and helpless.
And I pray we deeply consider the beauty of Jesus becoming our brother. The weight of His name, ending oppression. His light, breaking chains. What an endless mystery that is. Merry Christmas. May we all ponder His gift of peace and love.