We often tend to think in visual impressions, or images. For some of us, our mental pictures of the night of Christ’s birth are probably unrealistic. Most likely, we’re guilty of imagining the night as a bit too pristine.
Let’s face it, none of us really wants to think of the harsh realities that Mary and Joseph faced. With the stained glass images of the manger scene, and the little halo above the baby Jesus’ head in those Renaissance paintings, we know that the Son of God was there in the stable. But we tend to picture Him as God in a pint-sized human package.
We forget that baby Jesus was equally human, with all the complications that accompany birth. To fully understand that Jesus was both God and Man, we need to accurately envision what happened in the stable that first Christmas night. Maybe the events began earlier in the afternoon with Mary doubled over in pain, her contractions increasing in frequency. There was no place for her to lie down, because she and Joseph were still on the hunt for lodging. She couldn’t ride comfortabely on the donkey, and she couldn’t walk without severe distress. She was miserable. A far cry from what artists portray in the glowing paintings.
Joseph was probably panicked looking for a place to stay. Perhaps he was frantic trying to find safety for his wife and feared that she would injure herself or the baby if she didn’t get settled soon. As afternoon became evening, Mary’s contractions grew relentless and her cries of pain perhaps so loud that she could have been heard by shepherds outside of town – if they had not been distracted by the singing of the angelic hosts.
Joseph, who had probably only been involved in his own birth, was useless as a midwife. All he could do was manage to wipe the sweat from Mary’s forehead and pray that this baby would make a quick entrance. Our disinfected view of the birth of Christ would be shattered if we had seen the real event. It was messy, painful and definitely unsanitary! Epidurals would not be invented for years to come! (Although I’m sure Mary would have loved one!) (*wink*)
Imagine – the animals in the stable were probably frightened by Mary’s cries and were jumping and kicking up dust. In the midst of this chaos, the baby Jesus was born, not at all plump and adorable, but howling and distressed from a difficult delivery. Joseph would have tried to clean him, but without a supply of clean water he probably had to brush him using rags soaked with the less than sterile water from the stable. It wasn’t a pretty picture.
But God the Father loved you so much He was willing to let His Son endure this experience. Sure, God could have made things easier – you know – pretty, clean and polished – like the artists do in the pictures above. But that was never the deal with Christ’s life on earth.
Yes, Jesus was both God and man, but He never used His supernatural powers to make His human life easier. He felt pain at His birth – just like you and I do.
He probably got hurt playing as a child – just like you and I did. He might have been embarrassed and humiliated by other kids who taunted and ostracized Him for being conceived out of wedlock. And we know that as an adult He was often the target of slander and unwarranted accusations, leading up to His torture and crucifixion. He lived a very difficult, painful, real human life, just as you and I do – but with more severity.
He endured all the pain and difficulty of humanity; none of it was minimized the least little bit by His diety. That is both the good news and the bad news. It was bad news for Him, but good news for us. It means, my dear friends, that we have a Savior who knows what we are going through. We have a God who knows about human pain, sorrow and suffering. We have a God who can comfort us because He can sympathize with us. That is a precious gift that we often overlook when we celebrate Christmas.
So as you gather together with your loved ones this Christmas season, I want to encourage you to really take time to think about the sacrifice that God gave for you. Don’t allow retailers to steal your attention by the latest “goodie” on the shelf. Rather, choose to give your attention and time to the God who knows your innermost being.
Remember, any pain or sorrow that you endure has already been experienced by Him. It is because of a heart full of love that God chose to send His son.
May your home be a sanctuary of love, a place of peace and a respite of hope as you celebrate the birth of our Savior.
Christy Demetriades, Ph.D.