Baby Jesus reading: Luke 2:6-18
Happy Birthday Jesus! The day has arrived. Mary and Joseph finally meet the Son of God face to face. NOTHING has gone as expected but EVERYTHING is perfect.
We left our couple in a stable in Bethlehem in the middle of the night. Mary is in labor. But at least they are safe and dry. Let’s peek back in on them and see how things are going.
♥ ♦ ♥
Mary is reclining on the bed of hay Joseph prepared for her. She is grateful for the relief of leaving the donkey’s back. Her contractions are strong and steady. She knows that the Babe will soon make His appearance. She doesn’t know how soon though because she has never done this before. She prays He doesn’t take too long!
Joseph is doing all he can to comfort Mary. Other than stroking her forehead, speaking soft words of encouragement, and holding her hand he doesn’t know what else to do. If only the inn keeper hadn’t run off so soon. They could have asked him to send a midwife. Joseph can’t leave Mary’s side so they will just have to make due.
Mary, even in the pain of labor, is concerned about scaring the animals that share their shelter so she stifles her cries. During one contraction she is gripping Joseph’s hand, holding her abdomen with the other and biting her lip when a shadow falls upon the two of them. Her eyes are closed so she doesn’t see it. Joseph notices the shadow though and turns his head towards it source.
Standing in the entrance to the stable is a woman. She smiles warmly at him. “You look like you could use a little help. My name’s Miriam and I’m a midwife.”
“Yes please!” cry Joseph and Mary in unison.
Miriam chuckles and then moves over to Mary’s side. “How long have you been experiencing the pains?”
“Since about midday.”
“And how often are the coming now?”
“VERY fast!” Mary is seized by another while talking with Miriam.
Miriam places her hand on Mary’s abdomen to feel for positioning. “This is your first Child” questions Miriam.
Both Mary and Joseph answer together again. “Yes.”
“It may be a while being it is the first but things are looking good so far.” Miriam addresses Joseph. “I need to do a further inspection of your wife to see the Child’s progress. You can tend to the animals while we are busy.”
Joseph blushes and quickly jumps up and busies himself with other tasks. He has not touched or even looked at Mary in this fashion. They have kept her pure during her pregnancy. He turns back to Miriam at the entrance to the stable. “By the way, my name is Joseph and this is my wife Mary.”
“Good to know” replies Miriam with a smile.
Mary is a little timid as she has never been touched in her private places before but her needs outweigh her modesty for now.
Miriam examines Mary. She is surprised to find the signs of virginity in Mary but she says nothing of it. She has to break this seal before she can judge Mary’s progress towards birthing her Baby. “You are doing fine. Your time may not be too much longer. I can feel the Baby’s head pressing downward.”
Mary is relieved to hear this. Miriam’s earlier prediction of ‘some time’ was a bit distressing. As another pain seizes Mary, Miriam uses her experienced hands to judge Mary’s true progress.
“Joseph, do you happen to have a blanket or two handy” asks Miriam.
Joseph opens one of the bundles and retrieves two blankets and brings them to Miriam. She places one over Mary and the other under her. “This is to give the Babe somewhere besides the straw to rest upon as he enters the world.” Then Miriam pats Mary’s knee and says, “And this one is to give you a little bit of privacy in this situation.”
Mary smiles at Miriam’s concern but is quickly pulled back into her own concerns as an even stronger contraction grips her. This time she can’t completely stifle her cry.
“It’s ok to make some noise if you need to” comforts Miriam. “Giving birth is supposed to hurt. It is the price of being a daughter of Eve.”
Miriam keeps a close watch on Mary’s progress. She also opens her bag and lays out a linen rag for wiping the Baby down, string for tying the cord, a knife to cut the cord, and swaddling cloths to wrap the it in after it is cleaned. Joseph has finished his task with the animals and is at Mary’s side again holding her hand.
A little more than an hour after Miriam arrived at Mary’s side she is instructing Mary in bringing the Baby into the world. “Push Mary with all your might!”
Mary does. After the fourth time the feels the relief of the Baby exiting and moments later hears him cry for the first time. Miriam quickly checks the Baby over. “You have a beautiful Son.” Miriam lays the Baby on Mary’s chest while she ties the cord in two places. After a few moments she cuts the cord between the two strings. She then begins to wipe the Baby with the linen rag stimulating a lusty cry from him.
Mary and Joseph smile down at their Son. What a wonder He is!
“Joseph, you take Him and finish cleaning him while Mary and I finish up with the birth process.”
Within the time it takes Joseph to lovingly wipe his son clean of the fluids of birth Mary has passed the source of His nourishment from her womb and Miriam has cleaned her. She has also placed a fresh linen rag in place to catch her flow.
After she finishes with Mary, Miriam gently takes the Baby back from Joseph and wraps him in the swaddling cloth. As she does so she explains the different tucking processes. “This keeps his arms close to his body to conserve heat and make him feel more secure. He was cocooned for nine months in a tight space. Swaddling him gives him that same sensation.” Once he is wrapped she hands him back to Joseph for another look and to give Mary a moment to move into a more comfortable position. Joseph can’t pry his eyes away from his Son.
After a few minutes of father and Son bonding Miriam offers; “Now would be a good time to give your Son his first meal.” Joseph hands their Son to Mary and Miriam shows her how to hold him and help him latch onto her breast. Miriam offers words of encouragement to Mary. “You two are naturals.”
The Baby is soon satisfied and drifts off to sleep. While Mary was nursing their son Joseph was tending to making a comfortable bed for him. There wasn’t much to work with. He had no wood to lovingly carve to just the right shape. He had few blankets to pad beneath him. What he did have was hay and a feeding trough; manger. He emptied it first and brushed it clean with the rag he used to clean his Son. Then he filled it with straw. Next he took his spare tunic and arranged it so the hay would not poke through or around it. This humble concoction was all he had to offer his Son as his first bed. Only for a moment did he think back to the cradle he had lovingly carved for his Son.
Mary handed their Son to Joseph who carefully laid Him in his temporary bed. The Babe settled in as if He were sleeping in a king’s palace.
Miriam, seeing her work was done returned her supplies to her bag in preparation to leave.
“How can we repay you? We haven’t much but what we do have you are welcome to” offers Joseph.
“No payment is necessary. It is enough that I have been witness to the miracle of Lord. I have attended the virgin birth as promised in the scriptures.”
Mary and Joseph both look at Miriam in wonder. The Lord had surely sent her to their aid. Miriam bows down by the manger and gives the Messiah a parting kiss. “Sleep well little one. There is much work to do, but not right now.” Miriam then rises and walks off into the night.
While Mary, Joseph and Miriam are welcoming the new Baby a group of shepherds are on a hillside not too far away. The sheep have bedded down for the night and all is relatively quiet. Two of the shepherds are sitting by the campfire while four others sleep.
“Did your sister’s family make it into town today” asks the first shepherd.
“Yes. They arrived about midday. They are staying with her for a few days. This census gave them a good reason for a visit.”
“I hear you there! My parents had to come back from Hebron. I haven’t seen them in three years.”
“It may bring families back together but it is making shopping for ANYTHING nearly impossible!”
“We ran out of meal two days ago. My wife is afraid to venture into town. Even if she could push her way through the crowds into the merchant’s stalls the prices would be beyond our means.”
“It’s a seller’s paradise, that’s for sure. Too bad I don’t have anything worth selling.”
From the area where the other shepherds were sleeping comes a voice. “Would you keep it down over there? Some of us are trying to sleep!”
The shepherds by the fire continue their conversation in hushed whispers. While they are talking the sky suddenly lightens, but not as one would expect with the dawning of a new day. This light is more like a candle being lit, a REALLY BIG candle. The hillside they are on is flooded with this light. The shepherds who were trying to sleep sit up to see what is going on.
A voice calls out in the night. All heads turn to locate the source. It is coming from the source of the light! The light dims a little in intensity and a form is clearly visible. It is the form of a man, yet not a man. This form is in the sky and looking down on the shepherds. The voice is speaking directly to the shepherds.
As soon as they heard the voice and recognized the shape the whole group of shepherds fell on their faces in fear.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (verses 10b-12).
The shepherds kept their faces to the ground while the angel spoke to them. They KNEW it must be an angel of God who addressed them as none other could have flown in the sky nor would pronounce such wonders for the people of Israel.
After the angel shared the good news with them the hills were brought to life with the most wonderful music ever heard. The first shepherd raised his head a little to see what was going on. As he did, his eyes opened wide at the sight of a Heavenly choir singing praises to the Lord. He tapped the shepherd next to him and pointed upward. Within a few moments all six shepherds were kneeling and gazing into the sky. Never had anyone professed to have seen such a sight.
Time passed. None could say how much of it. It felt like only moments and yet also like an eternity. The voices from Heaven quieted and the light faded from the sky. The shepherds had sat spell bound during the whole concert from the angels. The music seemed to flow into every fiber of their beings and charge them with a purpose that refused to fade with the angels.
“We have to go find this Baby” called the second shepherd to his fellows.
“ABSOLUTLY!” was the unanimous answer he received.
Quickly the shepherds gathered their sheep and herded them back towards Bethlehem. The sheep weren’t too excited about having their sleep interrupted but they moved along under the familiar hand of their shepherds.
The shepherds knew of every sheepfold within the territory and began searching for them. The shepherd who had called out in the night for quiet was the first to spot the family in the small stable. “Look! That has to be them.”
Quickly they made their way to the stable. When they arrived the found Mary reclining on the hay beside the manger where the Child lay sleeping. Joseph rose protectively as the shepherds approached. “Can I help you with something” he asked.
“We have come to see the Baby the angels sang of” volunteered the first shepherd.
“An angel appeared to us on the hilltop and told us that the Savior was born this day and that we could find him wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Joseph is speechless. He smiles at the shepherds and steps to one side. He lays a finger across his lips indicating for the shepherds to be quiet so as not to wake the Baby or Mary. It has been a long night for both.
Quietly they step in to gaze down at the Baby in the manger. Mary stirs at the approach. She opens her eyes to see the smiling face of the youngest of the shepherds gazing at her Son.
“Hello there young man” she whispers.
“Greetings to you too, mother of our Savior” he responds in awe.
“I’m just a humble servant of the Lord, the same as you.”
The Baby stirs and Mary lifts him from His bed. His eyes open and He appears to be taking in all those around Him. The shepherds crowd in a little closer so they can all see the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise. As the Babe begins to cry in hunger the shepherds retreat leaving Mary in peace to see to her Child.
“We have to tell people of this wondrous news!”
“Yes! ALL need to hear the story of the angels and the Baby.”
Dawn is breaking when the shepherds leave on their mission to share the angels’ message. Joseph watches as they make their way back the way they came. He hopes their news doesn’t bring too many visitors right away. Mary needs her rest right now. By midday they will need to register for the census. Now instead of two names to add to the roles there will be three. Joseph, Mary and Jesus of the lineage of David and the tribe of Judah.
Many MANY miles away another group has seen proof of a great event unfolding. In the east a group of astronomers have seen a new star in the heavens. These are no ordinary star gazers but a group who has been watching for the birth of a king. It has been said that His star in the heavens will proclaim His birth. He will shepherd His people Israel. Tonight they have seen such a star!
These men have prepared for this all their lives. They themselves are of the line of kings in their country. They are to bring gifts to the new King. Their journey begins this very night.
(to be continued)
♥ ♦ ♥
For those who know the story, the wise men didn’t appear at the manger as the shepherds did. The kings would travel for close to two years in search of this Child. I would like to honor their journey by observing the days of the Epiphany, as it is termed in the Catholic church. I don’t have a “Jesse Tree” like calendar to draw from so I have decided instead to share thirteen special songs of this season instead. I want to start with one of my favorites today. It is “Happy Birthday Jesus” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
This is one of my favorite songs because it reminds me of the true gift of Christmas; Jesus. It’s His birthday and He deserves to have this day celebrated as such. No. We don’t know if this is the ACTUAL day of His birth but it is the day we have chosen to acknowledge that most special night.
I have an ornament that has prominent place each year, no matter how I decorate, that reminds me of this fact. It is a salt dough ornament in the shape of a birthday cake where I have written His name on it. The one I have now is the second of its kind as the one I had when my children were small gave way to age a few years back. My daughter helped me find a new cookie cutter and I made Jesus’ new cake with my grandchildren. They helped me decorate it and we talked of the reason I hang this every year.
Lord Jesus, I want to wish You a Happy Birthday. I know my heart is far from perfect and I even neglect You on Your birthday at times. I don’t want to forget for even a moment how truly precious a gift YOU gave by agreeing to leave Heaven and dwell among us. You could have said ‘no’ at any point but You chose to take on the form of a helpless infant so You could one day buy back my life from Satan.
I don’t want to dwell on that glorious day right now though. I want to imagine instead all the birthdays you had as a child. What did You ask for? Did You ask for toys in the early years? Did You ask for special meals? Or did You instead find ways to honor others even on the day designated to honor Your birth? I can almost see You now as a youth pulling back the leather thong that bound Your first set of carpentry tools. The ones You would use while learning the trade of Your earthly father. Did Your eyes shine with joy that day or was there a lump of sorrow below the surface knowing that his earthly father would not see the fulfillment of His own work.