Here she is, only a day into motherhood. Her hands trying to figure out how to feed her crying newborn, human as he is. Maybe she has help from midwives who took pity on a poor girl far from home, no kinswoman of her own to care for her. Or maybe she feels so alone that her heart aches for her mother or cousin, sisters or friends, anyone who could guide her learning to nurse this baby, bring soft clothes to diaper him, serve her warm food for strength, help tend her healing body.
Here he is, only a day into fatherhood. His head still reeling from the panicked fear of not finding her a place in time, his face flushed from the shame of not being able to provide. He never dreamed any of this: witnessing labor only women do, caring for a wife he had never touched, staring while strangers showed up to a filthy stable to say they saw some sign of hope. And having to hold her in that darkest hour, the moment when the world split open between life and death and everything hung in the barren breathless balance of will the baby cry?
Here they are, only a day from the strangest night. Angels and shepherds and songs and strangers – everything foreign and far from what their familiar lives had known as truth. Here they are, together and alone. Starting parenthood smack dab in the middle of salvation history.
. . .
They hang in my mind today. As I nurse the baby in new Christmas pajamas, vacuum shreds of gift wrap from the carpet, scrub chocolate smears from holiday platters, haul cardboard boxes to the cold garage.
I wonder what they might have felt, worried, dreamed, laughed, cried. That first morning after.
It is dangerous to imagine ourselves into their shoes and stories. I know this. We call it isogesis. A technical theological term for that thorny tendency to read into the text with our own biases, agendas, presuppositions.
Safer and wiser to exegete. To keep a safe distance from the sentiment of the story, to let the author and the audience and the ancient context tell their own intended tale.
But it can be just as dangerous not to imagine. If we don’t let them come to life – messy, muddling, realest reality of life – then these far-off figures stay story characters, pastel pictures in soft light on smooth pages of children’s books. One-dimensional. Archaic. Dusty history.
If we don’t let her sweat as a hard-working mother, then Mary is only pictured in pious pose, swooning over the sleeping Christ child. If we don’t let him wrestle with fatherhood on terms he never would have chosen, then Joseph remains only the silent stalwart standing behind her in stained glass scenes.
If we do not let their stories leap to life with the dreaming minds God gave us, then their lives cannot become real to our faith. They do not struggle, stumble, wonder, wait, learn, love, forget, forgive. They do not grow into the people God asked them to become.
Her fiat changed the world. His faith did the same. What might ours do?
Here we are, only a day into a new Christmastide. How will we let ourselves be changed?