I think it was the first time I stuck my finger up some one else’s nose that I realized motherhood wasn’t quite what I’d pictured it to be. Every new mom notices that her tolerance for “disgusting” skyrockets shortly after the new arrival makes its debut. There isn’t a body part, fluid or function that I haven’t gotten closer acquainted with since my kids were born.
This has convinced me that the most compelling reason to have your baby in a hospital is that someone else cleans up after you. (Which is not going to happen at home for the next five years). I had each of my three kids at Stanford Hospital. Two were induced, and I had epidurals with all of them. Two were big (upwards of 9lbs), one was small (less than 8lbs) and during my labors, which were long, my sisters sneaked cups of Jamba Juice smoothies in to me. The rooms I stayed in were clean, people brought me food, ice packs and towels, and an army of nurses and their assistants marched in every half hour to make sure both my baby and me were still showing vital signs. While I would have appreciated the little vampire who showed up to take a blood sample at 5:30 in the morning to wait a few hours, I was well cared for, which I expected.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in a barn, which historians tell us, was more likely a cave than the snug, nativity tableau we’re all familiar with. It wasn’t clean, it wasn’t warm and it probably smelled like manure. The only doula Mary had was her first time father/husband, who was a carpenter, not a farmer, and therefore unlikely to know much about childbirth. No one gave her ice chips, pain meds or swaddling lessons, and she had to figure out breastfeeding on her own. It took me four weeks and three lactation consultants to figure out how to nurse my first son and I flashed everyone within viewing range in the process.
In a culture where pregnant women were supposed to be kept in seclusion from when they started showing until a month postpartum, Mary was both a revolutionary and an outcast, a fitting presentiment for the life of her child. She never expected to be pregnant before her wedding, miles from home in her third trimester or enduring labor in the company of barnyard animals. But when God chose her, she listened. Months ago, an angel visited her with the news that she was to give birth to the Son of the Most High. And her answer, was “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 2:26-38) So here she is, exhausted from labor, far from her family, stuck in a cave, surrounded by shepherds, struggling to nurse the Creator of the Universe.
Today’s rendition of Christmas is superficial and sterile compared the barn in Bethlehem. It’s obligatory and efficient. We’ve eroded the rustic magic, the mystery and the staggering irony. It’s sadly appropriate that we’ve deteriorated to the innocuous, noncommittal, “Happy Holidays.” For what is Christmas without Christ, but an excuse for rabid greed and materialism? And frankly, who needs to practice selfishness? What, exactly, is “Christmas spirit?” Optimism? Generosity? Tolerating relatives? Fascination with lights?
Christmas is that Jesus’ cosmic plunge from the throne of heaven to the arms of a teenage girl gave us the promise that love is stronger than evil, hate and even death. Such is Christmas as it should be understood. The light, shining in the darkness and the darkness mute and uncomprehending. (John 1:5) During his life on earth, Jesus made a habit of turning people’s expectations upside down. Mary expected to marry Joseph, settle down in Nazareth and raise a family. The Jews expected their Messiah to be a king and lead them out from under Roman oppression.
I don’t know what I expected from motherhood, but it wasn’t chaotic multi-tasking, strained finances, crowded closets, tiny socks, assistant chefs, crooked grins, lisped songs, enthusiastic hugs or delighted discoveries that I experience daily. Mary didn’t have a stranglehold on her expectations, or God never would have been able to use her. She agreed to be the Lord’s servant and follow his directions. Jesus came to help me do the same. I’d rather release my expectations and anticipate the grace, hope, joy and peace that his promise brings. I’m counting on Christmas to help me remember that.