Celebrating the Girl Who Did Something Unthinkable
By Nikki Toyama-Szeto
My friend's family has a tradition that on someone's birthday, they celebrate their mother. That totally makes sense to me. As momentous as a birthday is, truly it was the mother who was doing most of the work that day. It makes sense to me that we honor mothers on birthdays.
As we begin the Advent season, I start with Jesus. But I find that my mind and thoughts drift to Mary. My Christmas meditations always hover on her, and what she saw during the first Christmas. Mary helps me enter into the ugly and awesome in the Christmas story.
Mary helps me enter into the ugly and awesome in the Christmas story.
Mary gave birth to her child, in a barn. Was there anyone with her, when she gave birth? Was her mother or sister nearby to hold her hand, to whisper to her, that she's doing a great job, that she's going to be fine? Who were the women in the room? When the pain seared through her, and she thought she was going to die, or at least break permanently, did she have familiar faces, and compassionate eyes reassuring her that though this feels so utterly foreign, this is exactly what it is supposed to feel like?
Planning for Birth
My own delivery of my daughter was uneventful by American standards. We toured a birthing room. It was nicer than some hotel rooms. Our midwife would be with us, but also the modern conveniences of medicine. My sister drove up from Chicago, as soon as the first signs of labor started. She dutifully stopped and picked up sushi from the store near her home—my first meal to break this fast of "dangerous food" I was on for the health of my child.
We had moved across countries, about six weeks before my daughter was due. And all the foreignness, and loneliness, of childbirth was there with me. My doctors, the women I had met in pre-natal classes, all of them were gone. I was trying to navigate a new place, a new hospital. I tried to not over-react to the insuppressible surprise by my doctors at receiving a new patient so close to the birth date.
So we prepared, we took classes—every class we could to get ready. We took some classes twice. We read books. We talked to people. We practiced breathing, and wrote out labor plans, and baby-proofed. I had the best overnight hospital bag packed—we were ready for every contingency.
Normal and Heroic
For Mary, her birthplan went out the window. There was no baby room to get ready. There were no people to tell about her intentions for a natural birth, for pain meds, for the baby to be placed on her body, for a lactation consultant to be on the ready.
Mary endured a journey, on a donkey, while she was 9 months pregnant. And then she birthed her first baby, in conditions that are utterly beyond what I could imagine.
And for that—I respect her. Mary is utterly heroic and normal at the same time. She endures a trip on a donkey and gives birth in circumstances utterly foreign. And yet she joins a legacy of women, since time began, who have birthed new life. And Jesus was raised by this woman.
Mary is utterly heroic and normal at the same time.
And seeing the Christmas story from this perspective gives me hope. It gives me hope for a Jesus who can enter into the most horrid stories that cross our paths every day.
This Jesus has a messy entrance into a messy world. And he does it via the private domain of woman. He enters into the smells and mess that surround birth. Christmas is about a Jesus who was raised by this Mary. Not a superhuman Mary, wise and pure beyond her years, who never flinches at the task in front of her. She is Mary, a girl-woman who simply did something that is both unthinkable and everyday—she gave birth to a child, while traveling. And because she did, I don't impute super-natural, unattainable qualities to her. I simply say, "Thank you. Thank you for doing it. Because you did, the world has Jesus."
I am encouraged to know that Jesus was raised by this Mary. A woman who then went on to live as a political refugee in a foreign land—but perhaps that's a reflection for another time.
My friend's family has a tradition for their birthdays. On their birthday, each child gives a gift to their mother—after all, she is the one who did the work on that day! And this Christmas, my mind and reflections are filled with Mary, the mother on this birthday celebration. Thank you, Mary, for the part you played, to bring us Christmas.
Nikki Toyama-Szeto is Executive Director of Evangelicals for Social Action. This article first appeared on Missio Alliance, and is reprinted here by permission.