Friday, December 22, 2006

The Manger Story

This was Pope John Paul II's Christmas Card for 2004


Mary descends from the donkey – not an easy task when you’re due any minute. Joseph stopped looking for a place for them to stay partly because everyplace was full but also because his new wife was beginning to feel labor pains and they both knew it was almost time. Mary, helped by her husband, stands on wobbly legs. She tries to adjust her large body to be able to walk into their temporary home. Two would enter but three would emerge from the stable. Both parents knew the new addition to their little family was to be the world’s – and their – Messiah. But for right now they could only deal with the situation at hand. Joseph looks around to see how he would arrange the new accommodations. There are cows, goats, a couple of horses and camels with a few sheep loitering near the doorway. Joseph sees a pile of hay, a manger and a woolen blanket draped on a mail…but that’s all. He removes his cloak and covers the hay he has smoothed into a place for Mary to lie down upon. He helps her walk slowly and carefully to the makeshift bed, the throne upon which the Savior, the long awaited Messiah would emerge.
Mary felt momentary relief from the long donkey ride but the contractions began almost as soon as Joseph gently placed the woolen blanket over her distended body. Mary couldn’t help but wonder what her first-born would look like. So far it had all been normal –except for his conception of course. Mary had back pain, fatigue, cravings and now the intermittent spasms of pain. As one contraction relaxed she heard Joseph say he was going inside the inn to look for help. Mary tried to stay calm and glanced around. The cows and horses were stirring and making sounds she hadn’t expected to hear while her child was being delivered. They were confused by all the commotion and about their new resident companions. They must sense something, Mary thought.
Joseph returned with a maid from the inn who saw Mary and realized her delivery was imminent…Mary’s deliverance and ours.
A few moments later – between the maiden’s last words of encouragement, Mary’s groans, between the baas of the sheep and the bleats of the goats, and Joseph’s ‘oh my, oh my’
He arrived.
He: the King of Kings.
The Savior of the world.
The Redeemer and Messiah.
Arrived: came forth from Mary needing to be wiped clean and uttering tiny cries.
Maiden and father, who had been kneeling beside Mary, sat back on their legs and stared at the infant. Like us, the maiden did not recognize Jesus to be other than an innocent little newborn with good strong lungs. Joseph, however, was utterly amazed. His smiling face moved from Mary to the baby boy and back again. Mary was smiling too, finally, once she saw her baby.
The long awaited Messiah was cleaned up. Our King of Kings was wrapped in a blanket brought along on the long journey from Nazareth specifically for him. His grandmother made it for him while Mary was visiting her cousin Elizabeth. And now the Savior of the world was warm and quiet lying with Mary. The helpful maiden now slipped away from the family, promising to return later to check on them.
Alone now in a stable Mary and Joseph kissed and held their tiny son. The animals were quiet again so Joseph’s prayer over his new wife and foster son could be heard.
“O Holy God, I thank you for the good health of our new son. He is a beautiful son – a gift to Mary and me from You, the God of the universe. As You instructed his name will be Jesus and his mother and I will love him, protect him and care for him everyday of our lives. This is a miracle O God; my wife and I can barely utter this prayer of praise and thanks to You. But we want to please You in all ways. Our baby Jesus will get the best I can offer him. I will work hard to provide for him and for Mary. We pray Father God only for your continued blessings.” Joseph then reached over to hold the baby. Still on his knees, Joseph raised Jesus high in the air. Through this gesture he offered the child to His real Father. “Look at your Son! Bless him and us. Amen.”

Silent all this while, a single tear fell from Mary’s eye along the side of her face. “Amen” she said.

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