this Christmas in a bit different for me in that, several months ago i entered a small room in Bethlehem where generations of folks have gone to worship the one who was born there. tradition holds great sentimental power, and many believe he was born on that exact spot. truth is, we don't know that. but regardless of the arguments of scholars or the validity of tradition, i know that i stood on the ground and breathed the air where a young girl also once stood and breathed.
her breath must have been short, what with all the heaviness on her shoulders and all that weight in her belly. not just the weight of the baby, but of all that expectation. the weight of the whole world. and yet, despite all the mystery and angel-dreams, it was, a pregnancy. a crave-inducing, hormone-raging, uncomfortable pregnancy. and so she stood there, perhaps with her hands on her back for support, and she braced herself against her own fear, against her own physical discomfort, against her own wild imagination.
i stood there, too, earlier this year. in that same land. with the same dust on my feet. with the same humanity and the same desire to ponder everything that happened. yeah, mary and i are quite different, and her courage in the midst of all the adversity she faced is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
but this Christmas, as i re-read the familiar stories, i am able to envision the pastoral hills surrounding bethlehem, and the judean wilderness not far away. i've been to the rocky heights of nazareth and traversed the long road between. the well-worn words of Scripture have taken on new life for me this year, and i just can't stop thinking about the earthiness of that pregnancy. the birth of love is, perhaps first and foremost, a birth. that is, it involved a great deal of grunting and sweating and pain and exhaustion.
and maybe we would do well to remember that this Christmas, in the middle of the candle-lit sanctuaries and in our warm and cozy living rooms, surrounded by the sweet sounds of Bing Crosby crooning about glistening treetops. in between sips of our peppermint lattes and while reading through the pile of photocards we received from loved ones, we would do well to remember that all this celebration starts a bloody mess. the people who walked in darkness were stumbling around until that son started crowning over the horizon. there was labor and delivery involved, and the delivery started with broken water, chaos, and pain.
then....overwhelming relief and joy. the people have seen a great light. mary lays eyes on the flesh of her flesh: the hope of the nations. and she holds the crying little thing close to her breast. this is Christmas: birth, life, noel.
just as i hope your christmas is unfalteringly merry, i also hope that it is real; that it is grounded; and that it is pregnant with pondering just how painful birth really is...and how beautiful.