I love children. And this Christmas I am blessed to have many new little lives in my life that weren't there last Christmas.
As I think back on the year I've spent with all these little lives, it gives me a more realistic perspective on what Jesus' birth was really like.
First of all, Mary spent the last weeks of her pregnancy, big and achy, traveling to Bethlehem to pay taxes. Nazareth to Bethlehem is 80 miles, which in those days was about a four day trip. It is unclear whether she walked or rode a donkey, but either way, her trip was likely painful and exhausting.
Then, have you ever been on vacation and not be able to find a motel room? I've had to sleep in a van all night before because we couldn't find a room. That was bad enough, but imagine having to sleep in a barn with a bunch of animals. Animals smell. They're loud. They're dusty and dirty. And they have a mind of their own.
Now, think about what it would be like to give birth in an animal stall. No pain meds. No real place to get comfortable. And this after you are already tired and achy from a long trip. Then, there is the additional stress of the high infant mortality and maternal mortality rates of the time. Not to mention, this was Mary's first birth. It's not like she knew what to expect or how her body would react.
Hours and hours of labor. Hot, sweaty, dirty. Painful. Screaming. And if you've ever been around animals, you know they freak out when there is screaming and excitement going on.
Finally, the baby is born. What baby isn't born screaming? He's covered in goo and I'm guessing there isn't a lot of clean water for a baby to get washed in. Mary has to make her first attempts at breastfeeding a baby, which if they were anything like my first attempts, were completely frustrating. Crying baby. Crying mommy. Hormones all out of whack. She's no where near her family and if she did get any help, it was from complete strangers. Yes, Joseph was there, but I'm sure he is beyond stressed out and tired as well.
Then, a bunch of shepherds show up, wanting to see what the heck is going on. As much as I'm sure Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart", I'm sure it was awkward to breastfeed a baby, having blood clots and who knows what else leaking out of you and then have a bunch of strange men show up and gawk at you. Who knows, maybe she enjoyed the visitors, but I remember just wanting people to leave me alone and let me sleep.
And then "sleep in heavenly peace"? Unless heavenly peace only lasts two hours and you come out of it screaming for food, I'm thinking that is fairly inaccurate. Really, what baby sleeps in heavenly peace until they are about 4 or 5 months old?
So, all this to say, was that important night really a silent night? Was all calm as the song suggests?
My guess is no. Especially in light of how God intended King Jesus to be born in the lowliest of ways. There were no attendants to Mary as she gave birth. No royal feasts. No grand ceremonies or celebrations. Based on the glory of the angels that appeared to the shepherds, royal feasts and grand celebrations may have been taking place in heaven, but on earth, the birth seemed little more than a young, poor mother having just another baby. Even those considered to be the holiest of men on earth didn't recognize it as the birth of a king. In fact, it seems that only Christ's enemies, King Herod and the Magi he sent to find the infant king, realized the gravity of that single birth.
So why is this so important for us to realize?
1. Something great was happening, but to the casual observer, it was nothing special. Mary and Joseph had to trust what the angel told them because other than that, there was little to mark what was going on. Often times people want a sign from God that they are doing the right thing. Sometimes you don't need a sign as much as you need faith that what God told you would be true, will be true.
2. Just because things are bad, it doesn't mean you aren't in God's will. I'm sure Mary at some point thought, "Really God, you give me this baby to carry and instead of letting me have it at home where I'm more comfortable, you have me give birth in a far away town where there isn't even a room for me to sleep in." Not to mention the state of her reputation. Just because you are in God's will doesn't mean people will recognize it. I'm sure there were rumors flying about Mary and looks and whispers followed her wherever she went. How hard is it to carry through on God's will when everyone around you is judging you? I'm even sure those people said, "See how God is punishing her by making her give birth in such terrible conditions."
So next time you hear Silent Night, perhaps give it a hearty chuckle at how in accurate that song really is. It's still a beautiful song, but it's just about as biblical as little drummer boy.