Away in a Manger: A Complicated Birth

by | Dec 23, 2014 | Blogs


He was born in the hoard…

I come seeking the child and long to be the person I am when I hold him. I long to feel myself a father, an uncle, a distant cousin, by adoption or by chance, at this point, by any means necessary. I long to feel the bend in my arm and the warmth in my chest as I curl myself around him, as I cross my legs and round my shoulders making of myself a crib, a shelter. I need his reminder to be still, to be with someone in need, someone who must be held and fed and soothed, someone who reminds us of our need to hold and to feed and to soothe.

I come seeking the child.

The road has been long, at times lonesome, and I am tired. The world is too much for me now. The pain is too profound. This advent, this waiting, has been too long. I need the small things, the quiet moments, and the rest. I need to remember the strength in my hands, the warmth in my blood, the air in my lungs. In this moment of fear I need to be reminded that life is a precious gift of which we are miraculously made recipients. I need to remember that courage simply accepts responsibility. I need to know again that we are capable of tenderness and care, of sacrifice and love. I fiercely need to hold something fragile.

I come seeking the child and I find the birth is still in progress. I come seeking peace and I find struggle. I come seeking rest and I find a young woman long in labor. I see in her face the pains of childbirth. I see her body writhe with each contraction and know that there is more work to be done. I hear her strain and struggle. I hear water being poured into a basin. I smell sweat and blood. I hear her gasp for breath. In a moments pause in the pushing I hear her saying again and again, “Wait, wait. I can’t… I can’t… I can’t breathe.”

I hear someone helping her. “It’s okay, Mary. Just breathe. I am here. Breathe with me. One. Two. Three. Breathe.”

And then, I hear him cry. I hear him fill his lungs for the first time with air. I hear him cry and shortly thereafter he falls silent as he discovers the essential gifts of this life. He tastes for the first time the salt of her sweat and the sweetness of her milk. He is held to her breast, soft and warm, like bread rising. His eyes turn alert as suddenly he comes to know what we’ve forgotten — that we were born in suffering, that there was a struggle in our birthing and that this struggle gave us life. There was blood and water, salt and air, milk and love.


Mary and Joseph don’t want for our pity. They did what they had to do in courage. Away in a manger, in a place we look down upon they did what we’ve failed to do with our privilege and our pride. They suffered and sacrificed. They made love real. They gave birth to something miraculous and fragile under threat of death and deportation. We make this story something cute and quaint when it was something far more courageous. We domesticate these angels when what they had to say was both terrifying and, biblically speaking, awesome.

Perhaps the manger was the better place. Perhaps the hay was softer than the stone floor of the inn. Perhaps the water was warmed by the rough tongues of cattle and the blankets softened by the stiff brush of their coats. Perhaps the tools were there and sharpened, oiled and ready. Perhaps the manger was the better place but this story doesn’t stay in the manger; it overflows, it radiates, and if not, like the dream deferred, it explodes.

We would like Christmas to be all peace and pudding but we should remember that there were complications. Because of the census we know the bars and boarding houses were full. Even now we bemoan the crowds, the chaos, the riots and the mobs, but he was born there. He was born into this hoard.

There was water and blood. There was sweat and tears. There were cries in the night. There was hope and fear. There were dreams. There were rumors. There was scandal. There was humiliation. There was grace.

There were cousins, aunts, and uncles. There were gifts given, songs sung, and prayers recited. There were teenage mothers. There was breastfeeding in public. There were shepherds turned surgeons and carpenters turned midwifes. There were rough hands doing soft things. There were roles reversed. There was confusion. There was tenderness. There was courage. There were risks taken. There were beasts near the baby.

There were threats and conspiracies. There was terror. There were innocents murdered. There was exile. There was a conspiracy of grace, an underground railroad, a long walk to Egypt. There was freedom and slavery. There was darkness and there were stars.

I hate the hoard as much as the next guy but he was born there. Just over there, behind the Best Buy and the Olive Garden. He would come to make us call the blackest Fridays good. He was visited by seekers and pastors. He was loved and he was longed for. He was fed and he was feared.

I come seeking the child and would that he were born today. I come seeking the child and long for his justice and peace. I come seeking the child and if necessary to aid in his birth.

O come let us adore him, for if not here, where? And if not now, when?


The cover image, from Flickr user CliffMuller can be found here.


Brendan Busse, SJ   /   All posts by Brendan