So, who’s having a baby today? Looks like we have plenty of women here who can help, you can lean on them as you crouch. I’ll be right underneath to catch the baby! Don’t be shy, now, if the baby’s coming, there’s no stopping him! I brought my birthing stool, it’s perfect for when you need a break to sit down. I have herbs to help with the pain, and I’ve got a nice big pot of water boiling on the fire, to help loosen you up.
I used to have a special amulet, but I don’t use those anymore. No, I’ve discovered a far more powerful source of safety. I’ll tell you about it, in between contractions.
Is it you? You? No you’re way too young. Where is she, then? Is she gone?
Well, I need to rest a minute before I head home, then. I walked a long way, just came down from Bethany right near Jerusalem, lovely family, their seventh baby, beautiful girl.
My home’s here in Bethlehem,but I haven’t met any of you! Are you here for Hanukkah? I love Hanukkah, the candles, the gifts, the stories. Oh, how we wish the Maccabees would return and deliver us from these awful Romans. But, I have something to tell you. A deliverer has been born, I know it for a fact. I was there, only a few months ago. Yes! It happened during Passover, a little lamb of a baby, so sweet, with such big eyes. Well, let me a get a drink, rest a bit, and I’ll tell you the tale.
It all began when I went to visit my cousin—she and her husband live in a little village outside Jerusalem. Her husband is a priest, yes, there in Herod’s golden temple. I love to visit, he tells me everything that’s happening in the holy city, and especially behind the scenes. So I call out, Elizabeth, I’m here, I’ve brought fresh bread and dates. Elizabeth loves dates! But she didn’t come to the door. Right away, I knew. Something is not right with Elizabeth, she would come to the door, especially for dates. so I went right in, it’s okay, she’s my cousin.
Elizabeth, you aren’t well?
I’m staying in, she said.
Yes, she said, I don’t feel well, and I think it’s more than a cold.
Well, luckily, my family had sent me to Rome, we have a little money, and I am trained in the healing arts. I always carry my basket with me, herbs for the stomach, for aches and chills, infusions for the head, ointments for many ailments. I have all kinds of unguents and potions. So, I asked her. What is it?
It’s Zechariah, she said. An angel came to him, and told him we would be having a baby, a son.
Elizabeth and I were among the few women in Bethlehem who had never had children. I know, I know! We are both very old, the age of grandmothers, still strong, still able, but long past the age of child-bearing. Me, I can understand. I was never too religious. But Elizabeth! She always observed all the Lord’s commands and decrees, may His name be praised. She is one righteous lady. Her and her husband both, him being a priest. Yet, Almighty God, may His name be praised, never blessed her with sons or daughters. We both had moved on to other occupations, I to midwifery, Elizabeth to teaching the young wives.
Anyway, Zechariah had come home unable to speak. He had to write it all down, everything that happened. He had been chosen to burn the incense in the Holy place, a once-in-a-lifetime honor. Filled with reverence and fear, with trembling hands Zechariah had begun to sprinkle the incense, and say the prayers of the people, who were all outside, counting on him to do this well.
All of a sudden,
an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
[He should have known better than to say that! Him a priest and all. He knew full well about the birth of Isaac. Tsk]
The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
When his time of service was completed, he returned home.
Luke 1:11-23 (NIV)
When did this happen, I asked? Four months ago, she said. Ooooh. Well, that explains why Zechariah’s been so quiet, recently! Who knew? She showed me her stomach, and sure enough, I have a practiced eye, that was definitely a baby bump.
So, of course I took care of her. Bed rest, Elizabeth, I said to her. You have to stay in seclusion. You are too old for this. The women of your village, they will take care of you, I know them all, I’ve delivered their babies.
And I came every week, no matter what, no matter who was having a baby, I came.
And not two months later, I’m coming up the road and I see this young woman, coming up to Elizabeth’s door. Oh, she looked just like the older version of our little cousin Mary, such a sweet girl she was. So, I come closer and it is Mary! Then I rush up, calling to her, Mary, Mary, wait for me!
When we both got to the door, Mary called out, Elizabeth, greetings! Your cousins have come to see you. And right away inside we hear Elizabeth cry out, Ooof!
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Luke 1:41-45 (NIV)
She was in her 6th month, and remember, an old woman. Elizabeth, I told her, get back in bed, what are you doing?! And what is this about Mary being pregnant? Come now, you can see she isn’t even married, only betrothed. Where is her marriage veil? She only has a ring. Elizabeth! Come now, don’t scandalize the girl.
But, Elizabeth had been right. The Lord, may His name be praised, was keeping his archangel busy! He had come to Mary, too, as she told us both that day,
God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
[Better answer! Such a good answer.]
Then the angel left her.
Luke 1:28-38 (NIV)
I felt bad for the girl. She had made up quite a story, but godly Elizabeth believed her. Stay, I said to Mary. You stay and help with Elizabeth, these last three months will be hard.
You women know this to be true. The last trimester is just terrible. Even worse when you are a very old lady! So, she did, and I explained everything to her, what to expect, how to keep the baby healthy, and her healthy. I gave her all the herbs she needed, and more for when she would return home. She would surely be rejected, even in Nazareth, so far from Jerusalem. Turned away by her family, and her betrothed, if she lived at all and wasn’t stoned to death. Poor little lamb, I charged no fee for my services.
Then the day came, it was Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, such a joyful festival, really our favorite, with the booths made of branches and vines and flowers, oh and the feasting and laughing and carrying on. And Elizabeth went into labor. Come, Mary, I called. Get the women of the village. We surrounded Elizabeth, I put steaming water under her to help soften the muscles, Mary held her on one side, on the other side a good friend. I rubbed her with warm olive oil,
press your breath, Elizabeth, yes, like that, move with the contraction, relax into it.
I brought out my amulet, no images of course, not like the Egyptians with their frogs and cats. No, because no Hebrew woman would accept that. No graven images, you know. But, I had an incantation! Yes, it was written with a magic formula for a safe birth.
No, Elizabeth said. No! You pray! You pray to the Lord, may His name be praised, only prayer for my son.
I shook my head. Okay. I was skeptical. But, you know how they are when they’re in labor. And with her husband a priest. Okay. I prayed, but I didn’t hold out much hope without my amulet. She was old! And this was her first baby.
But here he came. The baby was beautiful! And his name? John! Of all things. There is no John anywhere in Zechariah’s family, or Elizabeth’s. But the angel, that angel, he said John, so John it was. I just shook my head. It was a healthy birth, and for such an old woman, it was truly a miracle. Even I thought so.
Mary, I said a few days later, Maybe you should stay here. Your baby is starting to show. But no, Mary wouldn’t stay.
I will come to Nazareth, then, and help you when the baby comes.
Maybe I could protect her, some. I hoped she would live to see the baby come to term. But, no, she shook her head again. It is too far.
The Lord, may His name be praised, He will provide, she said to me.
Again I shook my head, as I watched her start her walk home, with a few others heading down to Nazareth. What sort of empty talking was that, the Lord will provide? May His name be praised. I thought I might never see her again.
Months passed, little John grew, a weird little boy, but what a delight he was, too. We celebrated Hanukkah, yes, just a year ago, then Purim, and soon we were readying for Passover, when
Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) [Count on the Romans to make a bad situation worse. Tsk] And everyone went to their own town to register.
Luke 2:1-3 (NIV)
Oh my, it was already such a throng of people flooding into our village, just six miles from Jerusalem, to be in the holy city for Passover. The Lord, may His name be praised, commands every male to come, and of course many men bring their families as well. But this!
So, we all cleaned out our upper rooms, and prepared as many beds as we could for you never turn family away, not ever. And they came! Who knew our family tree had so many branches and leaves!
To my amazement, one afternoon, I saw a sweet little family, the young wife so very heavy with child, on a donkey, and her man beside her, and, I squinted my old eyes, it was Mary! Yes! I ran out, crying Mary, and who is this? Joseph, yes, a cousin, a distant one, House of David, yes? Come in, come in. Our guest room is full, but there’s a little cot you could use, just a sliver of space, but you’re family, you come, I’ll take out the donkey with the animals, in the back.
But that night, as I lay awake, I could hear a soft crying, and then moaning. I knew, I knew right away, it’s time. I went up the stairs, to our guest room and called to her, Mary, there’s no room up here to have a baby. Everybody else in there agreed, there’s no room for that up here! Come downstairs, to the back of the house, clean straw and room, the animals will make space. So I helped her down, Joseph trailing behind us.
Go, I told him. Go wake my husband, get some water boiling, get some clean cloths, he knows what to do, you help him.
Our house was full! Full of wise women who’d given birth before,
Shalom, Sarah, get my birthing chair.
Hannah, I need the oil and herbs.
Leah, go up to our cousin Elizabeth, yes. I know she’s old! I know she has a baby! She’ll want to come, you go now, the village just over from here, she will want to come.
A first baby is terrifying! Who knows how it will go? But I am skilled in midwifery, and the healing arts. I was ready. Compress your breathing, lean into it. You will have a beautiful baby soon.
In between contractions she said, I wrote a song for Him. Would you like to hear? A song? Do I want to hear a song while we’re trying to bring a baby into the world? But I said, yes of course, little lamb, sing your song for me. Breath, relax into the pain, and sing your song, there now.
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.
Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)
Where had that come from? She was so young, and her song was so old, so wise, like the song of Samuel’s mother Hannah. The mother of a prophet! Well, now.
Then, as Mary sang, something began to happen in my heart that I had never felt before, even with Elizabeth as my cousin, and her husband a priest. I felt a stirring, a something. Had it really been the Spirit of the Lord, may His name be praised, Who had moved Elizabeth and her unborn son, that weird but truly delightful baby John? Was our sweet Mary giving birth to the promised deliverer, the anointed one, Messiah? Here? Tonight? In our home, with the animals all around?
And then it happened.
I see His crown, I cried.
But now—and this never happens!—I really did cry. Out He came, and I caught Him in my arms. Mary was ragged, she collapsed on the stool. Elizabeth, by this time, had come, with her little John straddled on her side.
I am a midwife, and I know better. But I swear to you, I looked into that sweet newborn’s dark eyes and I saw eternity. I saw glory and light. I saw wisdom and favor from Almighty God. Oh, may His name be praised. As I washed him off, and handed Him to Mary, I tell you, I knew. I just knew. He is the Deliverer.
She was exhausted, poor little lamb. You did well, I told her, you did beautifully. Joseph took the baby, and I showed him how to wrap his little son all up in swaddling, then we laid him in the sheep’s trough, freshly filled with sweet hay. There, I said, let him sleep, he’ll be hungry soon enough, then you bring him to your Mary, and I will show her how to feed him. What a lovely man, that Joseph.
Oh, and then it was pandemonium! Shepherds everywhere. Oh! With their dirt, and their sheep smell. Are you kidding me? I just cleaned in here, it’s Passover! But there was dear Miriam the shepherd’s wife running up to see Mary and the baby. Okay. Fine. All of you, just come in, I said. Come see the baby. More angels, they all told us, more angels than you could count, with an archangel no less. Tsk. Poor thing got no rest with his heavenly chores. All over the sky, they were, singing praises to the Lord, may His name be praised, promising Shalom between heaven and earth.
That night, I broke my amulet with its magic incantation. I broke it, then I crushed it under my heel. There is something, there is someone, so much more powerful than a little sherd with writing on it. For the Lord, may His name be praised, has come to earth to be among us, and to deliver us, to make us His own for all eternity. He is bringing light into dark places, He is bringing glory and Shalom. He comes to the humble, to the hurting, to the ones in need. He is the true Healer.
Whatever you have been relying on or hoping for, it isn’t as powerful and good as the deliverer, only a few months old now, but one day grown to be a man, and yet also God Most High. He will be the king of all kings, the Lord of all lords, and He will be the one who sets you and me free. I know it, I just do.
So, I’ve had my drink, and my rest. Has that young woman in labor showed up yet? No? Well she’ll need me soon, I’m just down the road, you come get me as soon as she’s ready. And I will pray for her as she brings forth her little one. Let me tell you, this is holy work.
[The midwife | Free Bible Images, http://www.freebibleimages.org/ The Lumo Project]