Being this enormously pregnant at this time of year has led me to think quite a lot about the reason for the season. Such a trite, overused phrase it is – ‘reason for the season’ – bandied about by almost every church message board in the days leading up to Christmas, yet it’s a reminder that all the pressure to shop, shop, shop and spend, spend, spend is just a cultural holiday. There’s more to this particular day than just that, and we should take pause to remember it.
I was pregnant with my first son during the Christmas season, too, but only about six months in. Large enough for knowing smiles in the grocery store, but not nearly huge enough for overly-kindly Southern women to pull me aside and express what a miracle a Christmas baby would be.
At this point, I don’t care if he’s a Christmas baby, you see. I just want him out. I’m enormously uncomfortable, the Gestational Diabetes is a pain in the rear end during the carb laden Christmas season, and I just want to get on with the joy of being a mother instead of lugging my not-so-aerodynamic belly up and down the stairs while being unable to keep up with my toddler. I feel like I am so, so done with this, and the little guy is taking his time making his appearance.
Two thousand years ago, a heavily pregnant woman was also making preparations. Not for the Christmas season. It didn’t exist, yet. She was preparing for a journey to a different town to do her civic duty at the side of her husband, the man who loved her so much that he stayed with her even when told her child wasn’t his. An angel messenger is a pretty good pregnancy test, one that comes with an accurate due date, unlike what women at the time must’ve normally done to calculate when a child might arrive. Still, she probably had no idea when setting off on her trip that her child would be born outside of her home, in her husband’s hometown, not hers.
As the tradition goes, Mary and Joseph made their way from the Galilee to Bethlehem with Mary riding on a donkey. Nine months pregnant and riding about 100 miles, 158 kilometers, on the back of a donkey. I’m so huge that I can barely sit up straight in my car. And add to that the problem of lodging – a whole city filled to the brim for the census, leaving hugely pregnant Mary forced to sleep on a bed of hay, no matter how uncomfortable it must’ve left her.
And so that night of all nights, a new baby was born. A hundred miles from home, she labored without her friends or midwife, with only her new husband to hold her hand and guide the baby into the world. Women did, and still do, die in labor, especially in those conditions. She must’ve been so scared that night, giving birth on a pile of hay surrounded by animals instead of her loved ones. There’s more than one miracle to celebrate on Christmas morning: Jesus was born, yes. But his mother made it through, too, despite all the terrible conditions and hardships she had to face. Alone in a stable in an unfamiliar city, a baby was born, and a family gained a member, regardless of who that baby would become.
Tonight, I’ll no doubt sit in church and get all sorts of knowing smiles and parades of people asking when I’m due. It’s uncomfortable to me, being the center of that attention when all I really want is to be at home with my feet up and tea in my hands to keep the constant late-pregnancy swelling down. But tonight, I need to keep in mind what another woman went through long before me.
Will it be a pain for my son to share his birthday with a season so full of hype? Will he complain about joint birthday-Christmas presents, and a birthday party overshadowed by Santa? Yes. But he’ll also share his birthday season with the Son of God. That’s pretty special. It’s my job to help him understand that.