It would have been on a stable floor, dampened by blood tinged liquor, that Jesus took his first
breath of air. Had he remained on the floor unattended, hypothermia would have set in.
But someone lifted him up from between his mother’s thighs and placed him in the safety of her
Mary may have done this herself, or it might have been a kind woman of Bethlehem, or it might
even have been Joseph, forced by circumstance into a world normally reserved for women. Not
surprisingly Matthew and Luke do not tell us these details, but Luke does say that Jesus was
wrapped in swaddling cloths. This is an undoubted sign that some normal procedures were
available, even if a manger was not the right place for a newborn. Swaddling cloths are also a sign
that the baby was loved, cherished and accepted by his parents. We do not know whether the cloths
were obtained locally, or were carried to Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph.
Childbirth was very much women’s business and normally the labouring mother would have close
friends and family with her to encourage and physically support her through her pains. They would
continue to help with the actual birth and the immediate care of the baby. If all this were done by
Joseph, as we often imagine, then The Holy Family was shamefully abandoned.
Mary and Joseph were strangers to Bethlehem as were many others arriving for the census, so life in
town must have been pretty chaotic. However I think it likely that one or two women deserted their
lucrative kitchens to help the young girl in her need.
Mary had said ‘yes’ to the conception, but from that moment on the normal physiological processes
of pregnancy and birth would have taken over without the need for any further conscious decisions
on her part. Until that moment when Jesus lay on the stable floor. We do not know who lifted him
up to warmth and safety, but it was the first conscious act of kindness that he received on earth.
God was so vulnerable and empty of power that his very life was dependent upon someone lifting
him to the warmth of his mother’s breast.
We do not know who it was, but I am sure that when Mary told the young Jesus how he came to be
born in Bethlehem, she would have lovingly remembered the names of those who helped her.
Many years later at his arrest, Jesus once again made his life totally dependent upon the decisions of
others. (John 18.5.6.) At the moment he declared this, his captors stepped back and fell to the
ground in awe, for they must have seen the Glory of God in his face as he stood before them. So his
helplessness as a baby was not an unfortunate aberration to be left behind as soon as possible, as
his adult moment of vulnerability and total dependence on others had revealed God’s Glory.
We hate being helpless and vulnerable, and we spend much energy, time and money on building up
our defences, even though we know that the Blessings are given to people poor in spirit and meek,
to people who are mourners and peacemakers.
Jesus shows us that to be defenceless and vulnerable is not shameful but is a situation where we can
unexpectedly glimpse God’s Glory.
I marvel that the Creator of the universe can owe his earthly life to being lifted up by an ordinary
pair of hands. It is a great responsibility.
Contributed by APF Member, Jonathan Hartfield – I Grew up in Hastings UK. Trained at St.Georges Hospital. Had an exciting and turbulent time in Nigeria in 60s. Moved to NZ in 1971. Worked as specialist in Obst &Gyn and later in palliative care in a Hospice. Retired from medicine in 2013. Ordained priest in 1986. I have 4 children 9 grand children. I am an enthusiastic gardener and a choir singer.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended to provide a space for people associated with APF to express their own personal views and opinions in order to promote discussion of issues relating to peacemaking and pacifism It is not necessarily a place where the official views of APF are expressed.