Opening Prayer. Oh Emmanuel. Be the God with us — the God in me. Let it be with me just as you say. Amen.
Scripture. Luke 1: 35-38.
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even [Elisheva] your relative is going to have a child in her old age…For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Mary – A Doula’s Midrash. From Kelsey Kreider Starrs.
You have seen images of this birth. I, Maryam, always glowing, transcendent, clean. The animals circle in formation and the men look perfectly at home…and there is no blood in sight.
These images do me no justice. They do no justice to the work of birth, the work of a woman, the work of a humansojourning to the edge of death to gather the bones of creation and claw your way back to life.
Through bloody, magnificent, messy, divine, grueling, female, immanent, and altogether human birth the Light comes. There can be no other way.
Nothing prepared me for the pains that rip through my body. They began slowly, just as the midwife said they would, mild discomfort low in my belly. But now they wrack my entire being, overpowering time and space, sending me into another dimension deep inside myself.
I have waited for these pains for 41 long weeks, listened to my mother’s and aunties’ stories of travail, pondered in my heart the agony and ecstasy they tell me this divine birthing will bring. Now that it is here and they are not, I have never felt so human, so alone, and so unprepared.
I cry out to Joseph to find me a place, any place, for my travail. Joseph, so far out of his element in this unfamiliar city and the unfamiliar land of women’s work, leaves my side frantic to find a room. At last he rushes back and tells me he has found a place.
The stench of animal living assaults my heightened sense of smell, and the cattle low and chickens cluck in protest to these human intruders in their stable. My tunnel vision hones in on a milking stool in the corner; it is not the birthing stool the women in my family have used for generations, but it will have to do.
Joseph reticently whispers, “Shall I go now?” His question snaps me into a brief moment of lucidity and I consider the offer. We have never heard of a man attending the birth of a child. In many ways, these barn animals would make better midwives. We both get our answer when another surge overtakes my body and I seize his hand with a primal howl.
The pains come quicker and longer now, and I can barely catch my breath between them. I shift from the stool to standing to squatting and back again. Sweat pours down my face and my disheveled hair clings to my skin. My mind flashes to holding Elisheva on the bricks as she brought forth John; how I long for my sisters now.
I wonder for the first time whether I will make it out of this travail alive. The smells of iron and hay and waste hang heavy in the air, and I think this might just be where I lay down to die. Of all the ways the Messiah could come, why – why???? – would Yahweh choose this?
“I can’t do it!” I cry to my husband, wild-eyed.
He searches my face and his soul for something, anything,to help me. Over his shoulder, I suddenly catch a glimpse of the star that has illuminated the sky every night for 41 weeks. It glows yellow and fierce, piercing the darkness as though to say, “The people in darkness have seen a great light!”
The pulsating gleam syncs with the Divine inside of me, and that’s when I remember: the angel, the promise, my response. “Nothing is impossible with God,” the angel said to me.
“Let it be with me just as you say,” I said back.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Let it be agony.
Let it be gutting and shattering and bloody and fetid.
Let my hips crack, just as every mother before me back to Eve herself has cracked open to bring forth the new life of creation.
Let my velvet blood flow so that his blood may flow as I give him life so that He may give Life and Life to the fullest.
I lock my eyes on that star and don’t let go. Joseph braces my body from behind as I bear down, my flesh burning, feeling him descend. I touch his matted hair as he crowns, my body the first of many crowns he will wear.
Relief is instantaneous as his head emerges and is followed quickly by his slippery body. For a moment, all is silent. The whole world holds its breath.
Then a newborn’s cry lances the night, and I exhale as all becomes well.
I take him into my arms, this vernix-covered boy, this King of Kings. He, whom I have carried for 41 weeks; he, whom I have dreamt of and yearned for; He, who the prophets say will make all things right. He who just a moment ago was inside of me.
I collapse back in the snarled hay, my soiled and discarded robes forming a pillow beneath my head.
We look into each other’s eyes, this child and I. We have toiled toward life together. We have gone to the edge of Sheol and fought our way back, together. I understand now.
I understand why Yahweh chose birth.
“Welcome, little Emmanuel,” I whisper. “I am so glad you are here.”
Questions for Consideration.
Closing Prayer.Oh Emmanuel, in the midst of the pain, in the midst of my humanity, meet me this advent and birth in me the work that you wish so that your love and life might make true your promises. Amen.