When I was pregnant with my first child, I was living in Vancouver and managed somehow to get myself around that big city on a bicycle until I reached 36 weeks’ gestation, or four weeks before my due date. It wasn’t comfortable, it certainly wasn’t pretty, but recalling it gets me thinking about Mary, Mary the mother of Jesus.
Christmas is coming. It’s just a week away. Most of us know the routine by now: a party or two, buying gifts, sending cards… If you’re anything like me it’ll all feel like a mad rush until Boxing Day. If, however, you have a little time to contemplate the first Christmas, the time of Christ’s birth, then this Christmas I encourage you to think about Mary, Mary the mother.
I can’t imagine that riding a donkey when heavily pregnant is much more comfortable than riding a bike, yet Mary had to travel some distance to reach Bethlehem with Joseph, her betrothed, at full term, in order to take part in a census. While most mothers-to-be are busy ‘nesting’ in the weeks before their child’s birth, getting things ready, practising their breathing, resting their swollen ankles and trying not to go out too much, Mary had to contend with travel, crowds and congestion, with the prospect of a safe place to deliver her child very much uncertain. Wherever it was she called home was far behind her as she traveled to Bethlehem, and the census brought in every other woman, man and child who originated from the region, which of course put tremendous pressure on the town in terms of accommodation and food.
We are told that when Mary gave birth she placed Jesus in a manger, a feeding trough for livestock, because there was no guest room available for them. What we are not told is whether the feeding trough was indoors or out, or how many nights they were without a room. We can’t even presume that they were fortunate enough to have privacy for the child’s birth. Given that Bethlehem was bustling with people trying to register for the census, it’s unlikely that Mary and Joseph were alone in being unable to find a room. Yet this is the place and these are the circumstances into which Jesus, Mary’s child, was born.
What does this tell us about Mary? What does this tell us about Jesus? And if Jesus is God in the flesh, what does this tell us about God?
The nativity story is, of course, just the beginning. Luke 3:23 tells us that it was thirty years before Jesus began his ministry. Thirty years of growing up. Thirty years under his mother’s eye.
Christmas is a good time to reflect on all sorts of things. This Christmas I intend to give Mary more thought. That God subjected himself to be born is something. That God subjected himself to be parented is another. But that a teenage girl would subject herself to give birth to and parent him is ponderous indeed.