I don’t know what possessed me to watch the documentary “The Business of Being Born.” Several women give birth at home in this movie, and you see every detail of how it happens. I wondered– very theoretically since I currently am in no danger of giving birth– whether labor is more like getting a root canal, or more like mourning. Is it pain that is bearable, or worth feeling?
Then the Advent reading about the angel coming to Mary struck me differently. She was going to have a baby. Probably without an epidural. And childbirth back then was Russian roulette. Many women died. Giving birth might even be scarier than thinking your baby was a God/human hybrid. Who knows?
We obsess about the “virgin” angle, which, if it’s even accurate from a storytelling perspective, doesn’t necessarily have much to do with sex. It just makes good use of the ancient “oops, it must have been [a] god who impregnated me” narrative. Knowing that creation can come from an individual plus God, rather than the community, is a new idea.
Around Jesus’ time, there is a new individualism in the religious movements. You are more than your place in the group. Mary is about to become a singular celebrity. You can see all the glory and tenderness of individualism, and all the disconnected brokenness are just around the corner. You can do it! You can make things that express all the wonders of your talent and your experience! On the other hand, you can’t be your tribe, or whose son you are. You will have to make your own way.
Christmas isn’t Easter. The secular parts of Christmas are so awesome that the religious parts struggle to compete, even for us religious types. And the theological significance, compared to Easter, is thin. Jesus was born. Good for him.
The religious sentiment I have at Christmas is about God being in the love of small, vulnerable things. Christmas is the church holiday that’s about babies. It is so dangerous to love the vulnerable. Yet people love children, especially, at Christmas, and sometimes they even love their own desire to help, and their own soft, optimistic natures. Watching people create and give, even when they are afraid or in pain, is all that gets us through dark winter.