Advent is a time of preparation not only for the Lord’s coming but for all our relatives’ coming. Family gatherings are an important ingredient of any holiday celebration.
As our family grew and as my brothers and I brought spouses into the mix, my single brother Richard often found there was “no room for him at the inn.” At family gatherings over the 4th of July, for example, my husband and I would enjoy the guest room at my parents’ home. Another brother and his wife occupied the screened-in porch. But Richard? With no space left inside the house, he would find himself assigned to a small cot in the garage. Old bicycle tires and fishing poles hung from the rafters. Piles of tools lined the walls. Mosquitoes buzzed during the night. Moths fluttered around the bare light bulb. The atmosphere was less than homey. I am grateful for Richard’s patience and flexibility in accepting our family’s equivalent of the “stable.”
When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, they too found the family homestead packed with relatives. The Jewish culture, after all, values hospitality. The guest room was already occupied by Joseph’s more senior relatives, and the young mother found herself occupying the lower levels of the home where the animals hung out. Her husband’s family was nearby, but as she faced those final days of her first pregnancy, Mary must have longed for the comforting presence of her own mother. Worse, Mary’s womb began to contract, indicating that she was moving into labor. Not here! Not now! But, yes, she was going to deliver that baby there and then.
With less than perfect accommodations, Mary felt…vulnerable.
Childbirth in ancient times was fraught with danger. Almost a third of all infants died at birth or shortly thereafter. The maternal mortality rate was also high due to lack of sanitation and the likelihood of infection. And in addition to those factors, Mary faced a high-risk pregnancy: Satan was ready to do anything to keep this child from being born.
When do we feel most vulnerable? When we are far from our comfort zone. When we are in exhausted or in pain. When we are alone. When things are beyond our control. That is the time when we need to reread Matthew 8:23-27 and remember that, “Even the winds and waves obey Him!” No matter what storm we face, our God is still in control.