A CHRISTMAS CARD

from David Sisler

One of the best things about the Christmas season is receiving Christmas cards. I have a card for you, the same one I'm sending personally to tens of thousands of other people. Nevertheless, it is just for you. This card has no gold foil and no Holy Family with cherubic smiles or polished halos. Instead, the picture on the front is of a teen-aged girl, pregnant before marriage, drenched in sweat. She has just pushed her first child into the cold night air of an unheated, smelly barn, and the baby is still covered with afterbirth and blood.

Almost 20 ago, we were living in another state, and my wife, Bonnie, was teaching in a middle school. One afternoon, late in the school year, she asked a group of eighth graders their plans for high school and beyond. One girl, thirteen years old, said the current year would be her last year of formal education.

When Bonnie asked why, the teen-ager replied, "I'm going to have a baby, and live on welfare like my mother and my grandmother."

In a day when hundreds of thousands of teen-agers become pregnant outside of marriage, that middle-schooler's comments scarcely raise an eyebrow. Two thousand years ago, the discovery of Mary's pregnancy would have been the scandal of the town. Indeed, it would have been enough to have caused Mary's execution to be engaged, and to be found pregnant with another man's child drew the death penalty.

Joseph, who was more than a fiancee, but less than a husband, could have demanded that Mary, an obvious adulteress, be stoned to death. Instead, he planned to hush up the whole incident to protect Mary if he could. Then an angel told Joseph that God was the baby's father. The good citizens of Nazareth may have declared the story preposterous, but Joseph believed it.

An outcast, a social pariah, Mary went to the one person she thought might understand her embarrassment, her cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant under circumstances which were obviously miraculous. But while everyone rejoiced with Elizabeth, they cast long looks of anger and disgust at Mary.

The disparity continued into the births of the two boys: John was born at the parsonage, into the joy of a minister's home; Jesus entered the world far from his parent's home, an outcast with only his mother and his step-father to welcome his birth.

The Roman government had ordered a census. As the head of the house, Joseph could have gone by himself and registered his small family. But although she was almost nine months pregnant, Joseph took Mary with him, to protect her from the small-minded and the gossip mongers. When his step-son was born, Joseph had to help Mary with her delivery; there was no mid-wife. If he had been in Bethlehem and Mary had been alone in Nazareth, her life and the life of her son might have been in jeopardy.

Nine months earlier an angel had shown up, uninvited, and unannounced, in Mary's living room. Gabriel had scared the little Jewish girl half out of her wits. She was so afraid that before Gabriel could give her God's message, he had to calm her young heart which threatened to beat right out of her chest. Then the angel spoke beautiful, powerful, indeed, over-powering words about God's plan of salvation.

"God is pleased with you, Mary," the angel said, "and you will become pregnant."

Mary heard the rest of the message, but it was the "P" word that stuck in her mind.

Debate the Greek, discuss the Hebrew all you wish, but Mary settled the dispute: "How can this happen?" she demanded. "I am a virgin! I have never had sex with a man!"

Then her periods stopped, she got morning sickness, her clothes no longer fit, and her stomach started to swell. Somewhere on a dusty Judean road, the birth contractions started. Somewhere in a strange city, with the "No Vacancy" sign hung out all over town, her water broke. And from somewhere deep inside of him, Joseph summoned one more tremendous act of courage and convinced a beleaguered inn keeper, overwhelmed by the crush of people swarming to town for the census, to at least allow his young wife to have her baby in the barn and not out on a Bethlehem street.

"You will give birth to God's Son," Gabriel had said.

"Push!" Joseph urged.

"The Messiah. Christ the Lord. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior."

"Push!"

That night an angel chorus sang to shepherds, but their notes were drowned out by the screams of a young woman, a little girl, a baby who was having a baby.

The Savior of the world? God's Son?

"Come on, Mary. I can see the head. Just one more push!"

And somewhere in the darkness, Joseph held his son, God's Son, by the heels and swatted the baby's backside and Jesus communicated with sinful mankind for the first time. Just like babies have always done, he cried out. The fluid cleared from his lungs and the coda to the angel's chorus was a healthy wail.

Then Mary cleaned her bloody son for the first time and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.

Thirty-three years later, Joseph of Aramathea, another Joseph, cleaned off the bloody body of Mary's son for the last time wrapped him in burial clothes and laid him in a tomb.

But death could hold him for only three days because he really was, really is the Savior who is Christ, the Lord!

Merry Christmas!

And better still, Happy Easter!

-30-

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 12/25/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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