Originally posted in Toward Bethlehem series, December 25, 2011. Merry Christmas, dear friends!
How silently, how silentlyThe wondrous gift is givenSo God imparts to human heartsThe blessings of His heaven…
And He is born.
I lay Him on Mary’s chest, warm and wet and wailing, and cover them both with my robe, and kiss her sweaty hair. And we laugh through our tears, and I think I hear the angels singing.
Time and the census and Bethlehem itself fade away, and there is only us three, and firelight on the cave walls, and the sucking of a newborn mingling with soft bleats from the goat, and the Lord’s presence wrapping us so close I think I could touch Him. And then I remember I can.
I dig in my bag for the swaddling bands and lay them out for Mary. And she bathes Him and swaddles Him with hands tender and trembling, enfolding His tiny limbs and fragile ribcage. Then I cover the hay in the stone feed trough with the cloth from my headpiece so she has a place to lay Him.
I step outside to dump the water and stand a moment. Lifting my eyes to the heavens, I draw a long breath of the cool night air and let it out. A single star shines just above us, brighter than any I’ve ever seen. Could it be—?
My throat nearly closes. Ah, Lord God—why did You include me in all this? When I nearly threw my part away right at the beginning?
For He will save His people from their sins.
I step back in the stable. Mary has dozed off on her knees, her cheek resting on the manger, one hand on His swaddled form. I ease her back onto a bed of straw and kneel beside Him, resting my elbows on the stone trough’s edge.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder…
His tiny shoulders shift, crackling the hay. I brush His cheek with a gentle finger, and He turns His head, searching for milk. One fist works free of the swaddling clothes and into His mouth with a mewling cry.
And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Mary lifts her head, her eyes asking for her baby. I slide my hands under the warm, fragile weight of Him and lift, holding Him close to my chest.
Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
The tiny fist brushes my beard, blurring my eyes yet again. And I wonder if His Father in heaven is weeping too.
I nestle my baby close as Joseph lays Him in my arms again, the same thrill flooding me as when I held Him first. He turns His little head against my neck, and I kiss His forehead, His dark, damply curling hair.
My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave…from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name…
I look up at Joseph through the sparkle of fresh tears, and I see that he understands. And I am glad I didn’t let him go for a midwife, despite what some might think and frightened though we both were. Glad it is just us here, in the stillness, the holy preciousness of this night.
My baby looks up at me with bright eyes. Does He know—does He have any inkling at two hours old who He is and why He has come? I caress the tiny gripping fingers that have come free of the swaddling. Someday, before I am ready, He must show Himself to the world, to be embraced…or rejected. And that I cannot bear to think of, not yet. Joseph eases himself down beside me, and I nestle against him as he reaches to caress the baby’s head.
I sleep again, vaguely aware of Joseph lifting Him from my arms to the manger once more. I wake to hurried footsteps and hushed voices, shepherds with scruffy beards and dirt-grimed tunics telling of angels and a heavenly song. And I sit up with a prick of my heart and remember He is not just for us…He is for all people.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him…He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble…
And Joseph lets them come.
My head is still spinning as I follow the other shepherds through the narrow opening of the cave we use during lambing season. The flickering light of a small fire touches the weary, bright-eyed face of a girl, the protective one of her husband, a manger…
I sink to my knees, my hands trembling against my thighs.
A tiny, red-faced newborn, swaddled in a feed trough, just as the angel said.
He turns His head toward us, and His mouth opens in a yawn. He closes it and stares at us with eyes dark and bright, little fingers reaching out.
The backs of my eyes burn, and my heart throbs. The Lord has not forgotten us. He has remembered His promise; the Messiah has come. And He was not announced first to the rulers, or even to the priests and Pharisees. But to us, poor and humble as this little family.
Another snatch of Scripture from Abba’s lessons whispers through my mind: “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.”
And I bow my head, and the angels’ song thrums through me once more with a joy I know will never leave, whatever the future may hold.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”