The time of Mary’s childbirth
St Luke’s Christmas gospel speaks about rather ordinary matters, familiar things. Joseph went to Bethlehem, “with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver….”
We modern humans can calculate the days more precisely than Mary and Joseph could. What is the expected day of your baby’s arrival? And today, even men have learned to understand the various stages of pregnancy.
We do not know much about Joseph’s fathering skills. According to St Matthew, Joseph was a rather shy man. He became embarrassed when he noticed that his fiancée was expecting a baby. “Before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
That was reason enough to be amazed! Surely they were wondering where all this got its start.
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Martin Luther considered that the days of Mary’s childbirth guided the history of humankind almost from the beginning. Humankind began to await “woman’s offspring” right after the Fall. God said to the Serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head.” (Genesis 3: 15)
Luther claims that when the Serpent, that is, Satan, heard this threat he began to fear all the young women in the world. Whose offspring, which woman would bear the man who would strike the head of the devil? Our enemy now had to remain wary regarding all women. Nervously, he had to observe everyone who became pregnant, suspiciously regarding “the time for her to deliver”. Of whom would the Christ be born?
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For Christians, the days of May’s childbirth are the beginning of the period of grace. In this time of grace, there are two miraculous but joyous aspects.
First, no one could have known beforehand when the time of grace would begin. By contrast, at least to some extent we can plan and calculate the birth of our own children. Yet, the Son of God was born into this world when God so desired. Christ is born in our hearts when God so wills. Human beings cannot direct the times of God. Grace is not within the grasp of humankind. Grace is purely a gift.
Secondly, although the time of grace is beyond our comprehension, it is a time for rejoicing. Satan fears this time of grace. But humankind rejoices in the expectation of the era of grace. For Satan, the beginning of the period of grace is the end of everything, for human beings the beginning. It is precisely this difference that makes the moment of Mary’s childbirth joyful. Evil receives its reward; its “head is struck”. Human beings are delivered from their hardships; joy rings out.
So, the days of Mary’s childbirth are the beginning of a joyful time. The devil is put out of office. And although he still writhes about and tempts us, God himself has come in our midst.
Thus there is every reason for men as well to join heartily in the Christmas celebrations, as well as to honour Mary and other women. Wondrous things have come about through these women.
Wishing You a Joyous Christmas
Bishop of Helsinki