Traditionally we think of today, December 26th as the day after Christ was born. Today, Jesus would be one day old. Of course, we do not know the exact day He was born, but we know the time period because of the historical context surrounding His birth.
Artists depict Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus looking calm and beatific, cast in soft light, and surrounded by gentle, young farm animals, and bowing shepherds. It’s a lovely picture, and makes for sweet, quaint poses by small children dressed in bathrobes. “All is calm, all is bright.”
But, Jesus came to earth in human form in every way all other humans do, except for His conception. His earthly parents were fully human. So, I doubt the scene that birth night and the next day were nearly as calm and bright as we imagine. And, to me, that makes the story even more compelling.
We know that Mary and Joseph had traveled about 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Traveling on foot or donkeyback, that trip would have likely taken at least a week with a heavily pregnant woman and traveling provisions. We don’t know how long they stayed in the stable, but it was probably several days, if not weeks. Then came the frightening experience of labor in a strange city. This was Mary’s first child. She is estimated to have been in her teens. Most women had their mother or a midwife with them when they gave birth. Did Joseph run through the crowded town looking for a midwife? Could he afford to pay one? Would she come to a barn to deliver a baby for a stranger?
Joseph was a carpenter by trade; not a shepherd or a farmer. Had he ever even seen an animal born, much less a human baby?
Giving birth is messy, bloody, and exhausting. And amazing. I’m sure there were tears of both fear and joy shed by both parents.
After gazing in awe at their perfect child, swaddling Him in a shawl or cloak, and laying Him gently in a straw-lined feeding trough, Mary and Joseph probably sank into a fitful sleep also on a bed of straw. A few hours later, that Holy baby, fully God and fully human, woke up hungry and crying. Perhaps also wet and soiled. Again, Mary had no experienced mother with her to help her learn the fine art of nursing. This wasn’t something Joseph could help with either.
At some point within those first few days, a group of shepherds showed up to see this newborn King. The story they related to Mary and Joseph of angels appearing over their pasture was spell-binding indeed. Mystifying. They must have trembled once more as the reality of their Son’s significance and holiness sunk in.
At the same time, the shepherds were dirty, the farm animals were smelly, the straw was damp, and they all needed a bath and a meal.
I expect there was a lot of praying going on in that small stable.
And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:5)