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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XVIII No. 4
Christmastide 2003 - Epiphany 2004

A Meditation on the Season
Let us draw near the Stable

by Evelyn French

For 2000 years theologians have pondered the details of Jesus' birth. They have given us traditions, opinions, and legends. Few have approached very closely the humanity of Mary giving birth.

I think we sanitize the nativity story too much. It has become a porcelain decoration on our mantel, nearly lost amid the gifts, the garlands, the tinsel and the tree.

Some scholars believe that because of her sinless nature, Mary was spared the normal experience of pregnancy and the birth process. I wonder how they arrived at that conclusion, because she was not spared so many other experiences. She, with Joseph, stood before Simeon in the temple and was told a sword would pierce her heart (Lk 2:35). Joseph and Mary and the infant Jesus became refugees when Herod meant to destroy Him (Mt 3:13-15). She suffered the terror of being the mother of a 12-year-old missing for three days (Lk 3:41-51). She feared for Him when His ministry put Him at odds with the temple authorities of His native town, Nazareth, and the people of the synagogue rose up in fury against Him (Lk 4:14,30). She knew there was a price on His head and we know she followed Him to Calvary, for the tradition tells us that Jesus, from the cross, gave her into the keeping of the apostle John.

Let us walk a while with Mary and Joseph on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the census. We do not know how long they walked before Bethlehem was in sight. Bethlehem would be crowded, would they find lodging? Were they hungry as well as weary as they approached the inn?

In the months Mary spent with Elizabeth, Mary had learned what to expect in her own pregnancy. Did she recognize the signs of impending labor, birth and lactation? How dismayed were she and Joseph by the growing realization that the Messiah might be born very soon, away from their home in Nazareth?

Can we hear Joseph comforting her as they are turned away from the inn? Is he even now wondering how he can prepare a place for her to rest in that dark cave? Does he have a little doubt that he is equal to the responsibility he has accepted?

Now we are nearing the stable-cave. The acrid smell of animal urine and manure reaches our nostrils. As we follow Mary and Joseph into the black opening of the cave we hear animals stirring about. They are only mildly concerned that we are joining them.

Our eyes strain in the darkness to see the other living creatures with whom we will share this cave and this night. We cough from the dusty dried grass as Joseph gathers it up to make a couch for his beloved. As Mary watches, does she hope and trust that tomorrow will provide better accommodations for her child's birth? Or is she dismayed that she might give birth on this primitive couch in this dark place?

Weary from a long journey they rest a little now. They do not yet know labor is imminent. It is so good to lie on the couch Joseph has fashioned from cattle fodder and perhaps a donkey's saddle blanket and their cloaks. His presence close to her in this strange place reassures and comforts her. We can see only their dim outlines in the developing starlight, but we are glad they can rest.

But soon they are roused from their brief respite. We hear their muted voices, the urgency in their terse conversation. Very quickly we realize we must step back in the pale developing starlight. Scripture does not allow us to witness the intimate tableau. Even so, we are hushed in our proximity to the wondrous event just beyond our vision.

But now we can hear them! Their excitement! Their relief! Their joy! We are caught up in the drama. We are no longer aware of this being a stable. Their tears of joy are our tears. A tiny beam of starlight is reflected from their tear-wet faces -- the fragrance of a holy Presence reaches us.

Let us take our time to get home so we can savor our experience for a while. The porcelain crèche looks different now. It will be forever changed. Or, perhaps, it is we who are changed.

Evelyn French, a retired RN who lives near Colorado Springs, is the mother of eight. This year she published A Treasury of Plays Celebrating Our Faith.

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