It is dark, the interior lit only by the lamp hanging in the corner. Joseph leans over Mary’s exhausted body to tie off the cord connecting mother and son. Then, carefully wiping his much-used knife on the edge of his cloak, he severs it. Tenderly, he kisses her forehead, in awe at the strength and utter gentleness of her body. What a picture she makes. Cheeks flushed, brow glistening with drops of sweat, eyes wet with tears. The hay has become tangled in her hair, and with his rough, carpenters fingers he does his best to pick it out.
Head bent over this small task, he is suddenly captivated by the smell of the infant crying in her arms. Earthy and strong, but somehow sweet. Using the same cloak that wiped the knife, he ever so softly wipes the skin of the newborn, until the tiny, wrinkled face is clean. And as he runs the coarse fabric over the rise of a small, round nose, and across lashes and cheeks, it occurs to him that he will never be the same. Suddenly, he would fight to the death for this infant. He would sell off every meager possession he had just to provide for him. He would give up everything for this baby boy. In this moment, overwhelmed and awed, he can’t begin to understand the paradox that this boy will grow up to be the man who will give up everything for him.
Mary lies with eyes closed, half resting, half praying. An experience so completely human, and yet for her, so completely divine. She traces the lines of his face, counts his fingers curled around hers. Reaches down to count his toes. She looks up at her husband, who so faithfully walked beside her in this journey, and realizes how much she loves him. With only instinct to guide her, she lifts her newborn son to her breast, and feels the tug of his greedy lips. How does one suckle the Son of God? Shifting on the hay, she is oblivious to the crude surroundings, totally engrossed in the tiny Life she has borne. Was it really true? Was this little wrinkled, fragile life really the promise of the angel? As he nurses, and she rubs her cheek against the soft, downy hair on his head, fear begins to tickle her spine. Every insecurity, every flaw of circumstance and character, every doubt of ability… they all lay siege to her heart. But then the most amazing thing happens. From his place at her breast, the baby’s eyes find her face. And he uncurls his delicate fingers from her dress to move them shakily to her cheek. And the promise of the angel bursts into her mind, removing the doubt and fear. “Mary, do not be afraid. You have found favor with God.”
Who can presume to know the thoughts of God watching this birth? Who could count the myriad of angels, brandishing flaming swords, surrounding that stable in the middle of the night – ready to do battle against any things natural or unnatural that would threaten the life of mother and child? Who can imagine the shudder that ran through the core of creation to feel it’s Makers’ flesh after so long? Not since the Garden have the feet of God graced the earth. And now here they are, tiny and unused. “Did the grass sing? Did the earth rejoice to feel you again?”
A mother’s sweat. A father’s awe. The painful, tearing of body from body. A baby’s cry. O, Holy night. Universal among women, unique to Mary. The gift of God for one woman, exhausted and amazed, leaning back onto the rocky wall of a hillside cave. The gift of God for every person who would ever draw breath. O, Holy Night, indeed.