On Christmas Day 2019, with doting aunties and grandmas hovering round, my firstborn son turned two months old. I’d spent the previous weeks nursing him beneath the lights of the Christmas tree, often twinkling over us in the wee hours when the rest of the household was slumbering. And on those nights, as his little head nodded downy and drowsy down onto my shoulder, I thought a lot about the first Christmas. I feel like I understand how it might have been for Mary so much better now because of him.
I had it all planned out, you know. Our fourth child would be born peacefully at home, surrounded by the birthing professionals I had carefully chosen and built a relationship with over the last nine months. The birthing pool was sitting in the living room, ready for the moment I told Zach, “It’s time!” to be filled, tiny cord clamps and other medical supplies waiting in a box nearby for the midwife’s arrival. A pretty robe was hanging up, waiting for me to slip into after labor for first pictures with my new little one. Our bedroom was clean and ready, tiny baby newborn-sized clothes laid out on the changing table, one small pile of pink and one small pile of blue, and a pile of neutral in between awaiting the big gender reveal. My mom was ready to drop everything when the phone rang to come whisk our other children away until after the birth.I imagine that Mary had plans, too, those 2000 years ago. She, too, probably envisioned her child being born in the comfort of her own home, perhaps assisted by the wise old midwife who had helped every baby in Nazareth enter the world for the last 40 years, her mother nearby to hold her hand and offer encouragement during the frightening pangs of her first labor. The swaddling clothes were laid out next to the beautiful cradle her carpenter husband had crafted, and certainly, she had dreamed that the event would be at least nine months after her wedding day to her betrothed.
But things didn’t go according to plan, mine or hers.For me, what was supposed to be a trip into town for a routine prenatal turned into a trip to the hospital for induction after an unexpected diagnosis of preeclampsia. We arrived weary, after midnight and a long evening of testing and being shuffled between towns and hospitals. A doctor I had never seen before agreed to make room for me in her schedule because the situation was considered urgent. The unexpected circumstances were such that I arrived with nothing but the clothes on my back and my purse. No camera, no toiletries or changes of clothing, none of the small comforts and baby things I had so carefully arranged back home. I gave birth in a borrowed gown, surrounded by more strangers than not, an awkward but necessary blood pressure cuff attached to my arm and the foreign sound of monitors beeping. My firstborn son was wrapped in a hospital-issued swaddle instead of the little clothes sitting back at home. He was laid in a rolling baby cart of stainless steel and plastic labeled “Baby Ender” instead of the wooden-spindled cradle under the window in my bedroom.For Mary, the honor and wonder of being with child by the Holy Ghost looked unfortunately too much like a shameful out-of-wedlock birth to her neighbors. She received snubs and nasty gossip instead of congratulations. The wedding—after the fact—was very nearly called off. Caesar Augustas in Rome did not take due dates into account when he ordered an empire-wide census. A long, arduous trip kicked off labor. They arrived weary in an unfamiliar town where they knew nobody, too late for a premium room at the inn. They were stuck sleeping with animals on a night when she labored as a first-time mother, undoubtedly longing for comfort and familiarity more than any other night in her life. If anyone assisted her in birth besides Joseph, it was certainly a stranger, pulled in at the last minute for the emergency. A manger stood in for the hand-crafted cradle back home.
And yet in both of our cases, in spite of all the upset plans, the most important thing did go as planned:
A baby boy was pushed safely out into the world, opened his mouth with a healthy squall, and blinked his sleepy eyes to look up into his mother’s face for the very first time. The pain was forgotten. It didn’t matter who was there, or where we were, if there were monitors beeping or animals lowing. All that mattered was that our child was born.And all was well, because God was there.
For you in whatever unplanned circumstances you didn’t ask for this year, like celebrating the holiday in isolation, sick in the hospital, or mourning the loss of a loved one. God is with you.
Never forget that this is the true meaning of Christmas.“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)