Post Author: Ashley M. Wilcox
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. —Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)
In the birth story in Luke there isn’t much about the actual birth! We hear more about the decree to be registered and where Joseph is from than how it went for Mary when it was time for her to deliver the child. The text leaves it to us to fill in the details. Was Mary’s delivery long or short? Who was there with her? Just Joseph? Or others? How did she feel, giving birth so far away from home?
This is just one of the stories about mothers giving birth in the Bible. And it is reflected in the stories of God as a mother. When I was working on my book, The Women’s Lectionary, I became fascinated by the images of God as a mother in the Bible. God is an angry mother bear in Hosea, and Jesus describes himself as a protective mother hen. One image that has captured my imagination is the description of God giving birth in Isaiah: “Now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant” (42:14).
What if this was our creation story? We already have at least two stories of the creation: the orderly division in Genesis 1 and the messier, muddier version that follows. This is another creation, the God who cries out like a woman giving birth, “who created the heavens and stretched them out,” (42:5) like a body stretching to make room for new life.
Mary giving birth to Jesus is another creation story: a story set in the body of a woman.
One of the reasons the Christian story continues to speak to me is that it is embodied. At the center of our faith is a God who chose to become a person and experience life in a human body. God experienced birth—the stretching of Mary’s body as she gasped and she panted. God was there when Mary cried out and new life emerged.
Another reason the Christian story speaks to me is that it is one of ongoing creation. God created the heavens and the earth, and creation continues with each new birth, through the plants and the animals and our shifting and changing world. This new life is not limited to childbirth. It is present in all of the ways that we create. God breathes life into us, and we breathe it into each other, sharing the gifts of the creation.
In these short, dark days before and after Christmas, it can be easy for me to forget that joy of new creation. Here in my home in North Carolina, this is a time when the plants are quiet, and little is growing. And yet, we have this story of hope and a reason for joy. Mary has given birth to a baby, God’s own self here on earth.
Giving birth in a strange place, far from friends and family probably was not part of Mary’s birth plan! But she did it, embodying her own words from Luke 1:52, “God has lifted up the lowly.” God chose this young, unmarried woman from an oppressed minority group to carry and deliver the most important gift. And this painful birth leads to more change (and more pain!), more creation and life. God knows that giving birth to new life is painful, and that this ongoing creation brings the powerful down from their thrones.
We join the generations to call her blessed.
Ashley M. Wilcox is a Quaker minister and the author of The Women’s Lectionary: Preaching the Women of the Bible throughout the Year (available now from Westminster John Knox Press).
Image by: Ashley M. Wilcox
Used with permission