Nativity simply means "birth", so when we say Nativity scene, we are speaking of a birth scene. As you may know, "Birth" has been my primary career for over 30 years, first as a doula (someone who provides labor support to the birthing mother), a childbirth, breastfeeding and parenting educator, and now as Mom/Baby nurse and lactation consultant. With much first hand knowledge of "birth scenes", I have to smile at the overly sweet and calm depictions of Jesus Birth Scenes, which are prevalent at this time of year. And yes, I too have several of them in my home.
When I think of a birth scene, I see a mother, sweaty, working incredibly hard, making noises and faces that no woman wants to be made public. I see tears of anxiety, of fear, of anticipation, of joy. I see women who want to give up and others who find strength to rise up and birth with a power they never knew existed before. I see fathers, anxious, wanting to help but not knowing how.
And that moment of birth ~ the primal nature of it. Sweat, fluid, blood. The triumphal yell (or grunt as it may be) from the mother as the newborn babe enters the world. The sudden quiet while everyone waits for the baby to make a sound, to know that all is ok. The audible sigh of relief when the first cry comes. How a mother reaches out for her baby to bring it to her, where it belongs, nestled close between her breasts. The father who embraces mother and child ~ awestruck and overwhelmed by the power it took to bring this new life into the world, the overwhelming love felt for mother and child.
For me, this is the Nativity, the real birth scene.
After the birth, mother and father settle in and begin getting to know their newborn. Tentatively touching at first, then stroking, then holding close. The newborn nestles into mother's chest and begins to nurse. The first couple of hours are spent in this sweet phase of introduction to one another. The new family is born.
Then the newborn becomes sleepy. The newborn is cleaned and dressed, wrapped snuggly in a blanket. The new mother is tired too after the long hard work of birthing this new little one. Mother and child often find their way to sleep at this time. The newborn snugged down in a bassinet as close to the mother as she can get it, while she naps, though she wakens at the slightest newborn sound.
The hospital where I work cares for very high risk pregnancies and births, so I see many families who are out of their normal environment, many of who have had to unexpectedly travel long distances in order to give birth. They are anxious, fearful, wondering how they will manage the logistics of being far from family and friends.
Now translate that to the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Did he come into the world in an easy delivery? Did he come into the world with sweat and tears and not a small amount of anxiety? I'm inclined to believe the latter, as nowhere in scripture do we find that Jesus led an "easy" life on earth. It is easy to imagine the young couple, Mary and Joseph, anxious at the situation in which they find themselves, in a strange town, far from home, and with no place to stay. With the labor pains growing, getting more and more uncomfortable for Mary, Joseph getting more and more anxious about where they will end up.
Once a place was found in which to give birth, whether it was a shed, a cave, a barn or a small rented room somewhere ~ we don't really know. We do know that Jesus was laid in a manger ~ the closest thing to a baby bed that they could find. I'm sure that Mary, exhausted, slept curled beside that manger where she could respond to the slightest sound of the newborn Jesus.
And then, as this new family, exhausted from birth, yet riding high on the excitement of it ~ visitors arrived. Strangers. Grubby shepherds from out in the fields. With their flocks of sheep probably near at hand. Come to see this amazing newborn. I can imagine the consternation that Mary and Joseph must have felt at these strangers knowing about this miraculous birth and coming to see the newborn Jesus. How protective she must have felt, yet proud and happy at the same time.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to tall the people; for to 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 babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." and the they went with haste, and found Mary and joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke 2: 4-20
May you have a Blessed Christmas Eve
filled with the wonder of the Nativity of Jesus!