It is definitely interesting how being a dad has changed my perspectives on life, the world, and scripture. Today, the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke was illuminated to me in a completely new and wildly unexpected way.
My heart was awakened as we sang the classic carol “O’ Holy Night”. I started picturing the classic nativity scene. Then, the Christmas sermon our pastor delivered recounted the birth of Christ… comparing the evil tyrant King Herod, with the loving, humble, powerful King Jesus.
During church, I started reflecting on my wife’s pregnancy and the birth of our son. During my reflection, I started comparing and contrasting our experience with the experience of Mary and Joseph as new parents of Jesus.
I assume most new Christian parents think these things… however, it is new to me. My meditation on and experience of the miracle of Christmas is profoundly different than a year ago. So, here we go…
MY WIFE AND I, after having been married for 4 years, found out she was pregnant after taking 3 or 4 pregnancy tests.
MARY found out she was pregnant, as a virgin, by proclamation from an angel of the Lord.
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son ofthe Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:26-33
Her initial response was expected… “And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34. Finding out you are going to have a child already introduces a plethora of questions and anxieties. Imagine finding out like this! Was it a dream? How will this work? Imagine the other considerations that went through Mary’s (and at some point Joseph’s) mind.
Mary’s response was incredible… especially for a teenager!!
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38
This response reminds me of Christ’s teaching on prayer: “Our Father in heave, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10-11.
Mary was also most likely illiterate and not very educated. However, we know she was a student of scripture (via traditional oral recitation) because of what Mary said in Luke 1:46-55 (click link to read). This is one of many stupendous stories peppered throughout scripture of God using “the least” to magnify and proclaim His Name into eternity.
She was no scholar, but she probably knew the prophecies about the Messiah. She may have even knew what she would one day witness the fulfillment of the prophecies and watch her Son would be beaten and murdered.
Also, I can only imagine being Joseph during all of this. He was excited and smitten with this fiance. Then he found out she was pregnant. On top of that, he had to figure out how to trust what would have seemed like crazy talk… what did “impregnated by the Holy Spirit” mean? Imagine the horrible gossip being muttered around town about Mary AND Joseph. They lived in a very tiny town. Yuck.
Thankfully, God miraculously spoke to him.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25
Note: Do not miss that Joseph did not have sex with his wife until AFTER she gave birth (probably months later). This definitely shows Joseph’s discipline, obedience, and the quality of man he was.
Mary and Joseph were newlyweds.
WE were excited to tell family… so we drove to their homes in our cushioned, air-conditioned, gas-powered car and flew in airplanes 1000s of miles to visit friends and family.
MARY trekked ~70 miles on foot or donkey, as a pregnant woman, from Galilee to Judah to be with her aunt and uncle.
My wife was incredibly nauseous in her first trimester. She had a comfy bed, air conditioning, any food she needed, and nausea medicine. The trip to Judah must have been miserable. Don’t forget… she also had to travel back to Galilee AFTER her visit with family.
WE had health coverage through Kaiser Permanente. We had many visits to multiple medical professionals that cared for my wife AND the baby. Modern technology allowed us and doctors to monitor the heart beat AND see images of our child [that showed our child’s clubbed foot] WHILE in the womb! My wife was a bit scared about the idea of the pain and experience of childbirth.
MARY was a poor teenager who knew her child would be the SON OF GOD!
What the heck kind of questions run through a teenage mother’s mind related to that?
She probably had access to a mid-wife or her mom… but, what did they know 2000 years ago? Again, all while being gossiped about and being given dirty looks around town.
Surely she was also got plenty of advice from people about how to be a mom. I’m sure she thought, “Does this apply to the Son of God?” My wife definitely got a lot of [sometimes contradictory] advice.
Surely she was a bit scared of the idea of the pain and experience of childbirth.
WE live in America, a democratic republic with elected public officials and many laws with balances of power.
MARY lived in an area ruled but a totalitarian, evil King Herod.
King Herod was so narcissistic and maniacal that he tried to kill “all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under (Matthew 2:16).
Can you imagine how scared they were? They knew they were protected by God. However. they were human and surely thought someone might try to kill them at every corner.
During MY WIFE’S pregnancy… we researched all kinds of topics on the internet and went to birthing classes.
During MARY’S pregnancy… she and Joseph probably got advice from their parents?
We had so many questions and more information at our fingertips than we could hope to ever exhaust.
Don’t forget, they probably gossiped about and called names by folks in the town. Other women probably did not want to be associated with Mary.
MY WIFE spent her 3rd trimester in the comfort of our home, with access to pretty much anything she could possibly want.
MARY spent her 3rd trimester traveling 100+ miles BY DONKEY through the desert.
My wife was so uncomfortable during her 3rd trimester. I did everything I could to help and serve her (as I am sure Joseph did Mary). She had any food she did or did not desire.
Mary probably had barely enough food to live on. She and Joseph traveled through the hilly, dusty, rocky, scrub-brush desert. Deserts are horribly uncomfortable. The days are hot and the nights are cold. They most likely slept under the stars, exposed to the elements… after baking in the hot sun all day.
They were dirty, exhausted, and tired.
I was wondering what kind of dad I would be to our son. I felt horribly inadequate. I worried about silly things like me being a nerd and not-handy (what if my kid wants to play football… he could get hurt!)… and not being able to teach my son “manly things”. I was fearful of problems with the birth or genetic problems with my son.
How the heck heck heck did Joseph process through being a dad to the Son of God?!?!?! Talk about feeling inadequate!
When MY WIFE started labor, we loaded our packed suitcase into our comfy minivan, and drove straight to the hospital. My wife and I had been to our hospital dozens of times. We knew exactly where to go and what to do when we got there. I had rehearsed it in my head many times.
When MARY started labor, she and Joseph were frantically trying to find ANYWHERE to rest!
They knew they were about to give birth to the divine Son of God, but were out of town and could not find anywhere to go!
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:7
This was both Mary and Joseph’s first child. They were probably a little excited, but mostly anxious and scared out of their minds.
During MY WIFE’S labor and delivery, we had millions of dollars and centuries of experience in scientific equipment, medicine, and seasoned medical professional tending to every possible need we had. We gave birth in a sterile hospital room. When my son was born, we had a handful of medical professionals taking care of EVERYTHING.
Near the end of my wife’s labor, the pain was unbearable, so she got an epidural to take the edge off.
A midwife pulled the baby out and stitched up my wife. Directed by the nurses, I cut the umbilical cord. After holding the baby for a moment… the nurses cleaned the child, checked for problems, cleaned him, weighed / measured him, gave him a vitamin shot and other medicine, put anti-bacterial gel in his eyes to prevent infection, wrapped him, and did who knows what else.
Our son was place in a sterile container that monitored his body temperature and vitals to make sure he was OK.
The whole time, I was freaked out that something could go wrong at any moment, but tried to not show it. I prayed like crazy.
During MARY’S labor and delivery… she felt every ounce of the pain. She had a scared husband that had probably never seen a birth before. She gave birth in a stinky, animal barn.
Perhaps someone told them what to expect or what needed to be done at different points in the labor and delivery? THEY WERE TEENAGERS. I cannot imagine delivering our child alone. Perhaps they had to cut the umbilical cord by banging two rocks together? Perhaps they had a sharpened rock or some other utility?
What if something went wrong?
I bet Joseph was praying like crazy.
Joseph was trying to encourage and support his wife.
They were alone.
They were cold.
They were dirty.
Baby Jesus was wrapped in old cloth and placed in an animal feeding trough.
When MY SON was born… there was no pomp and circumstance. We experienced the miracle of life. While I’m not trying to minimize that miracle… nothing else happened (except I cried a lot and was overwhelmed with emotions I had never experience before). We sat in the room overwhelmed… trying to process everything that had happened.
When MARY’S SON was born… angels and the cosmos declared his Glory, and wealthy men fell to the ground in worship of her baby.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:13-14
And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Matthew 2:9-10
Creation screamed His name in the form of a brilliant star.
Remember, Mary and Joseph were poor. The gifts they received from the wise men were valued at many years wages. They probably rarely or ever even saw men like this in their lives.
Surely they sat in the barn… overwhelmed… trying to process everything that had happened.
After MY SON was born… we stayed at the hospital for tests and care. I was exhausted after being up for nearly 2 days with no sleep. My wife was trying to figure out how to breast feed. I was trying to think of everything I could do to care for my wife. Then we loaded our son into a car seat, put him into the minivan, then went back to our comfortable house. We were careful and a bit frightened.
I thought about how I would provide and care for my family (financially and spiritually).
We marveled at the beauty of our baby boy. We watched his chest rise and fall as he breathed. I momentarily gasped if my son’s breathing rhythm changed at all. We stressed when he cried and we did not know the reason. I even got a bit annoyed and angry when our kid was crying and would not stop.
After MARY’S SON was born… they loaded up the donkey for a unplanned trip to Egypt, then later back home to Nazareth.
The quickly picked up everything at night and departed on an unplanned trip to Egypt.
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. Matthew 2:13-15
They were ridiculously exhausted.
Imagine how uncomfortable that trip was for Mary after what her body had been through. Childbirth is so incredibly violent. Imagine carrying the helpless baby on the back of a donkey through the desert… to a place you had never been before, while being frightened for your AND your baby’s lives!
What questions ran through their minds as they processed experiencing the painful and bloody miracle of childbirth AND… by the way… processing that Mary had given birth to the Son of God?
They journeyed back to their mediocre [gossipy] hometown, to resume some kind of normal life… just as we did… with the Son of God in their arms.
Imagine what it is like when it gets around town that you actually think you are the parents of the Son of God.
Joseph thought about how he would provide and care for his family (financially and spiritually).
They marveled at the beauty of their baby boy. They watched his chest rise and fall as he breathed. They probably momentarily gasped if their son’s breathing rhythm changed at all. They stressed when he cried and they did not know the reason.
Dare I say they even got frustrated, annoyed, or angry when baby Jesus was crying and would not stop? That’s what babies do. Human Baby Jesus was not a perfectly quiet baby that walked around with a visible halo and started talking at age 0. They were exhausted. May and Jesus were wonderfully obedient lovers of God, but they were not divine. I bet they thought “Wait a minute… this kid is a little frustrating… how can he be the Son of God?”
When MY SON was born… with tears in my eyes, I held him in my arms. I wondered what our new normal would look like. I wondered what the future held. He was a soft, tiny, helpless, pure, crying, precious, beautiful, baby human boy, and DISGUSTINGLY FILTHY SINNER.
When MARY’S SON was born… with tears in her eyes… she and Joseph held Him in their arms… They wondered what their new normal would look like… They wondered what their and His future held… He was a soft, tiny, helpless, pure, crying, precious,beautiful, baby human boy, and the LIVING GOD… in FLESH… and SAVIOR OF ALL HUMANITY.