Mary (Luke 2:1-7)
Joseph pounded on the door to the house and yelled, “Uncle! Uncle!” He glanced behind him, and then raised his fist to knock again when he heard the lock release and the door slowly opened.
Glancing behind him again, Joseph turned back to face the door and caught a glimpse of a room full of people before a large man stepped from behind the door and blocked his view.
“Who’s creating all this ruckus?” the man said, squinting into the darkened doorway where Joseph stood looking behind him. “Joseph!” the man yelled, turning back to the room full of people he yelled again, “It’s Joseph! He’s finally here.”
“My boy,” the man said smiling. He grasped Joseph and attempted to pull him into the house, “we’ve been waiting for you. We expected you two days ago.”
“Uncle Yitzhak,” Joseph said breathlessly, “Help.” He pulled away from the older man’s grasp and stepped into the darkness. A moment later he re-appeared, leading a donkey with one hand and supporting a heavily pregnant woman with the other.
“Oh! This must be your new wife,” Yitzhak said, “Miriam, right?”
As he spoke the woman suddenly doubled over and cried out in pain. Clutching her swollen belly with one hand she gripped Joseph’s hand tightly with the other. Joseph grimaced in pain as he cried out, “Uncle, help, she’s in labor!”
Yitzhak stood frozen in place, shocked at this unexpected turn of events. Suddenly, he heard a woman’s voice behind him. “Move,” Rebecca said, pushing her immobile husband out of her way as she hurried toward the young woman who was gasping for breath at Joseph’s side.
“Yitzhak, get the donkey,” Rebecca ordered as she grasped Mary’s other hand and with Joseph drew the girl into the house.
The room was crowded with people—relatives of Joseph, Yitzhak, and Rebecca who had come to Bethlehem for the census. Every spare space in the house was full to bursting.
Mary stood staring at a room full of strangers, trying to slow her breathing as sweat beaded on her forehead. She knew she didn’t have long before the next contraction. Her labor had started the day before, as she and Joseph had been traveling the final miles to Bethlehem. At first the pain was tolerable, more an irritation, as the muscles in her back and across her belly tightened sporadically. At first she had kept it to herself, confident they would reach Joseph’s uncle’s home before things got too bad. But as they traveled the final mile toward the city, the pains had become more regular and more intense. She had been walking beside the donkey Joseph had bought to help ease their journey when a particularly painful contraction hit. Doubling over she had cried out in pain.
Joseph, who had been walking a few feet ahead, stopped in his tracks. Turning, he saw Mary slowly standing back upright. She smiled at him, trying to convince him nothing had happened.
“Mary?” he said, walking quickly to her side, “are you alright?”
“Fine,” she said, attempting to smile reassuringly but failing, “really, I’m fine.”
“No you’re not,” Joseph responded sternly, “What’s wrong?”
Mary swallowed and said shakily, “I think I’m in labor.”
“You think, or you know?” Joseph asked, concern filling his voice.
“I know,” she said, her voice filling with fear. “It started yesterday. I thought it would take longer. Some women in Nazareth were in labor for days before their babies came. But things seem to be going so much faster than I expected. The contractions are getting stronger and I think they’re coming closer together.”
Joseph stared at his young wife for a moment. Turning, he made a quick mental calculation of how far they still had to travel to reach the city gates; from there his uncle’s house was only a few blocks away. Turning back to Mary he said, “We’ve still got a ways to go. Do you think you can make it?”
Mary forced herself to stand up straight, “Yes,” she said, her voice full of false confidence, “I can make it.”
“Alright,” Joseph responded, “let’s go. Tell me if you need to stop or if you want to ride. I’ll help you onto the donkey.”
The final leg of their journey took hours. The sun had sunk below the horizon by the time they reached the city gates. They made their way to his uncle’s home as darkness settled.
Now Mary stood, face to face with a room full of strangers. Rebecca and Joseph had both let go of her hands as they crossed the threshold. Rebecca had disappeared off to her left and Joseph was standing, stunned before a room full of his relatives.
As Mary sensed the next contraction building within her, tears began to stream down her face. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be! She was supposed to be at home, in Nazareth, with her mother and sisters and aunts surrounding her. She was supposed to be with her family, surrounded by women who had helped usher her into the world and who would now help her bring forth her son. “No, this wasn’t how it was supposed to be,” she thought, as she closed her eyes and began to weep, steeling herself for the next contraction.
As she bent forward in pain, she felt someone grasp her hands. She squeezed the person’s hands tightly, riding the pain, and unable to open her eyes to see whose hands she held.
A woman’s voice spoke softly into her ear, “Breathe, my child, breathe. Don’t fight it, breathe into it. We’re here. We’ve got you.”
As the pain subsided, Mary opened her eyes. The women in the room had surrounded her like a wall. Directly in front of her stood a woman with gentle eyes and long hair cascading down her shoulders. The woman held Mary’s hands tightly and Mary knew it was her voice who had spoken softly in her ear.
Suddenly she heard Rebecca’s voice cut through the hushed silence. “Sarah, Hannah, hurry, help me prepare a space for her in the lower room. Ruth, help move the sheep back, we’ll pen them in the far corner. Deborah, grab the birthing stool from the storage room. Everyone else, make yourself useful!”
The women scattered, following Rebecca’s instructions.
The woman holding Mary’s hands drew her close and said calmly, “Come, my dear. Let’s get you somewhere more private.”
Mary glanced back at Joseph, who was still standing by the door looking somewhat bumfuzzled by all the activity. Rebecca strode toward him and gave her husband Yitzhak, who was standing beside Joseph looking equally bumfuzzled, a gentle thump on the head. “Help him,” she commanded, “sit him down, get him some tea, and keep out of our way.”
Turning, Rebecca strode back toward the front of the house into the space where the sheep and cattle normally slept. The other woman had prepared a place for Mary at the far corner of the room. Rebecca surveyed it carefully before nodding her approval. She turned back toward the door, and waited.
The kind woman with the long hair drew Mary steadily forward, supporting her as she walked slowly toward the doorway through which the other women had disappeared. Pausing for a moment, she turned and looked at the young girl, “Your name is Mary, right? Don’t worry, my child, we’ve all been through this before.”
Mary nodded. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Havah,” the kind woman said, and began to draw Mary forward down the stairs into the room prepared for her.
She had just reached the bottom of the steps when the next contraction came upon her fast and hard. Havah held her strongly, supporting her as she cried out in pain. The others gathered around her quickly, ushering her to the birthing space they had prepared as Rebecca took charge once again.
“Ruth, take her right arm; Hannah, her left, help her onto the stool. Sarah, go around and support her back. Deborah, fetch more water and Yael prepare the rest of the birthing tools in case we need them.”
As Mary sunk onto the birthing stool, her breath coming in gasps, Havah knelt in front of her. “We’re getting close,” she said, “this next part will be hard. Hold on to us, we’ve got you. Now breathe, my child, breathe.”
Mary screamed in pain as another powerful contraction battered her. The pain was overwhelming, and she closed her eyes, sobbing. As the pain lessened momentarily, she opened her eyes. Havah sat, her face inches away from Mary’s. “Breathe, child, breathe,” she was saying, over and over. Mary’s eyes locked onto hers, willing herself to do as she was told–breathe, breathe.
As the next contraction swelled, Mary moaned in pain, and kept her eyes locked on Havah’s. “That’s it, child,” Havah said, “we’re almost there.”
Deftly reaching her hand into Mary to check her progress, Havah turned to Rebecca and said, “she’s ready.” Rebecca nodded, and signaled for the other woman to draw closer.
“Mary,” Havah said quickly, “when the next contraction comes, you need to push. Are you ready?”
Mary barely had time to nod before the next contraction pulsed through her.
“Push, Mary, push now,” Havah ordered.
Mary bore down, pushing as she screamed in pain.
“Yes, child, yes,” Havah said as she bent low in front of Mary, “again. Push!”
Mary pushed, feeling as though she was ripping in half. She screamed, Havah’s voice floating toward her on a sea of pain, “His head is out, one more push and it’s over. Here we go, now…Push!”
With a gush of blood and water, Mary’s son entered the world, falling into Havah’s waiting arms.
Ruth, Hannah, and Sarah lifted Mary off the birthing stool as Deborah pulled it away. Slowly the women lowered her to the bed of waiting blankets as Yael stepped forward to deftly cut the umbilical cord. Havah held the screaming baby in her arms, gently wiping away the blood with the hem of her dress.
Once Mary was settled on the bed of blankets, Havah leaned in and laid the newborn on Mary’s naked breast. “He’ll want to nurse, it will hurt at first,” she said tenderly.
Rebecca moved closer and began to massage Mary’s stomach, helping her expel the placenta. The other women drifted around, helping clean up after the birth and offering gentle words of encouragement and praise for the new mother.
As they finished their tasks, the women slowly made their way back into the family room. Rebecca smiled and told Mary she’d be back with Joseph soon. Havah, too, turned to go. But Mary reached out and grasped the hem of her dress, “Wait, please” she said, “sit with me until Joseph comes.” she said.
Havah smiled, and sunk down beside the young woman and her son. Reaching out, she stroked the baby’s soft skin. “What will you name him?” she asked.
“Yeshua,” Mary whispered, “his name is Yeshua.”
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
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