Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Birthing Sweet: There Was No Epidural in Bethlehem (Part One)

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Every Christmas I wonder about Mary’s labor and delivery. Because my experiences in childbirth have been so precious, I cannot help but wish that I knew more about Mary’s. Unfortunately, those details are not included in even the most thorough biblical account of Christ’s birth. Spiritually speaking, the world had been laboring thousands of years, waiting for the Messiah. Certainly Mary experienced the relentless extremes of labor as her body relinquished her firstborn. It is not God’s character to be hasty. Why would God rush through the birth of His Son, bypassing the inherent struggle of delivery? If we hurry through pain--if we hope to elude it--we miss its purpose. Of all pain, labor pain definitely has a purpose.

But who wants to ponder pain at Christmastime? We tend to reserve those thoughts for Easter, when we consider the Cross. We gloss over the details of Mary’s blood, sweat and tears with cute little nativity scenes that have been anesthetized to hurt and fear.

I don’t know about yours, but my crèche is neat and clean. Mary sits regally in a gown that looks as though it has just been ironed. She is a gracious hostess for someone who has just given birth, extending holy hospitality to the shepherds who have come to visit. Although not chronologically accurate, the wise men have dropped by unannounced as well, but everyone is getting along splendidly as they gaze at the sleeping, peaceful babe.

My children and I see Christmas numb to the details of that less than silent night. Do you? Let’s pause for moment to remember that there was no epidural in Bethlehem.

Scene from The Nativity Story

The last trimester is the most uncomfortable time to be traveling. Most likely, Mary’s labor had begun along the way. If Mary was indeed riding a donkey, she had bounced as it clip-clopped all the way down those dusty roads, sure with each step that she would deliver the child at any moment.
And Joseph, kind and patient Joseph, may have had a sinking feeling that they would be the last ones in Bethlehem. He may have already been concerned that there wouldn’t be any rooms left. Upon arriving in town, sweaty and tearful, they begged with a desperate urgency to be granted a room--and they were denied! A young woman, great with child, relegated to a stable for a birthing suite. Now her physical grief would be further stressed by the pain of humiliation.*

Tomorrow -- Part Two of Birthing Sweet: There Was No Epidural in Bethlehem
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*This post is adapted from the article, Birthing Sweet by Rebecca Ingram Powell, first published in ParentLife magazine, December 2003.

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