Christmas was this week. We spent it in our travel trailer in Arizona, miles and miles away from our home, our friends, and our family back east. I loved the extra family time, the gifts hand-picked to match and delight each of our children, and the lights and sounds of Christmas everywhere.
But I missed singing or playing the piano for a Christmas cantata. I missed making shepherd costumes out of old towels and robes and watching my children act out the Christmas story in front of the church. I missed violin recitals and Christmas cookie exchanges. I missed baking cookies (my oven stinks for that) and pinterest-worthy Christmas crafts. I missed having a tree big enough for our presents to fit under. (See our trailer and decorations HERE.)
Most of all, I missed the familiarity of being with those I love at Christmas. I wanted to shop all day on Black Friday with my Mom, bake and decorate Christmas cookies with my sister and her kiddos (then eat all of the cookies when the kids weren’t looking!), and hang out with all of our friends. I wanted to stay up late watching Christmas movies with Brent’s sister and binge on caramel popcorn. I wanted to spend Christmas day with all of those dear to my heart. My days have been full as always, but this Christmas, I admit I was lonely.
Knowing this is just one Christmas of many that we will spend without our extended family or friends, I spent some time praying and thinking about that first Christmas, over 2,000 years ago. The one in Bethlehem, when the Christ-child was born.
And that’s when it hit me.
I bet she was lonely, too. Mary, I mean. Here she was, young, pregnant, and without her family and friends. Sure, she had Joseph, but I’m quite sure he had never attended a birth before and wasn’t the same as having her mother or sister or best friend helping her through the pains of labor. I’m guessing Mary was close to her cousin Elizabeth, and maybe she had hoped Elizabeth could come when her contractions started. Did Elizabeth share her birth details with Mary, to try to prepare her for what was to come?
Whatever labor and birth plan Mary had in place was thrown to the wind when she realized they had to travel during her third trimester. I wonder if she left behind the tiny baby things she had been sewing, hoping to make it back home before the birth? Did she even have diapers with her on that long, uncomfortable donkey ride? Was there a sympathetic innkeeper’s wife holding her hand during the night, or was Joseph her sole companion as she brought her first child into the world? I bet she couldn’t take a shower or wash the soiled linens from the birth, and I doubt she had soft pajamas to change in to, either.
There were no congratulatory flowers or cute going-home-from-the-stable new outfits. The only visitors were complete strangers. And men that smelled like sheep, not mothers or sisters or cousins who wanted to hear all the details of the birth that had just occurred. Nobody took pictures of the new little family and posted them for all to see. There were no middle-of-the-night panicked phone calls or texts to a friend….”Help! The baby’s poop is black, and he’s crying, and my milk is going everywhere, and I can’t figure out the football hold, and I just need someone to come sit with me while my hormones shift and I have a good long cry.”
I realize I’m just imagining all of these details, and please know there’s no disrespect intended. I know He was GOD, but He was also a baby. Mary’s first baby. It just occurred to me, in a way that I’d never thought of before this year, that I bet she was lonely, too.
And I stand in even more awe at the beauty that happened that night in a stable, many years ago. Not only the miracle of the baby that would be the Savior of the world, but also the quiet strength of a young woman who, because she believed God and the word of an angel, experienced an unattended birth in a dank, dirty, lonely stable. She believed the impossible and in reward, she got to be the first person to kiss the face of the newborn King. I bet she couldn’t see Him through the tears as she looked at him.
There would be a more painful day for Mary, some years later, when that precious son sacrificed Himself for the sins of mankind, and died an agonizing death right before her eyes. I wonder if, as she gazed at His broken body, she thought about the night He entered the world, when she and Joseph lay in that dark stable and delighted in their tiny baby. I’m guessing she couldn’t even see her son hanging on that Roman cross through the tears that flowed that day, too.
The true Christmas story is, of course, miraculous in so many incredible ways. This year, I realized the beauty that came from a surrendered will, from a belief in what seemed impossible, and from the raw loneliness Mary might have faced that night.
Christmas can be a lonely time for so many…..for the deployed soldier who is serving far away, to the missionary in a foreign land, to the hospitalized parent who longs for home, to the newly single adult who wishes for companionship, to the estranged family who is hurting yet apart. Maybe these thoughts that God brought to my heart will also bring a comfort to yours.
He was there that lonely night for her, and He is right here by my side now, too.