by Joe Leavell
If you have ever seen a movie where a woman gives birth, you would get the impression that delivering a baby requires maybe two minutes of painful cries, several intense deep breaths, and sometimes maybe even some sweating. Within mere moments however, a baby’s small cry can be heard and immediately all of the pain and exhaustion of a whole 120 seconds of labor simply evaporate from the woman’s face as she beholds her newborn child.
I don’t mean to shock anyone here, but as a father of four, I can quite certainly assure you that the depiction of childbirth in the movies is not precisely what labor looks like in real life. I know this is a surprise to some of you, but the movies do not always portray life accurately. In one way I am thankful. Does anyone really want to sit through the whole eight hours of a woman in labor in the middle of their movie or at the least see a realistic description of the pain that a woman really has to endure? I suppose it would tend to slow down the plot arch of a movie and drain the entertainment value.
When considering the birth of Jesus, I sometimes think when we think of Mary giving birth, we tend to easily gloss over the fact that she actually had to endure the hardships of labor. Surely, because she was giving birth to the Savior of the world, God would give her a pass on the pain associated with childbirth, right? Now, to be sure, the text does not give us a whole lot of clues as to how the delivery went one way or the other. It simply informs us that, “she gave birth to her firstborn son.” Nowhere however does it say that because this was the birth of the Christ that Mary was given a pass on the pains of childbirth. An average length of childbirth for a first time mom is eight hours, with an hour to two hours of active pushing. We have no reason to believe that Mary was any different with the delivery of Jesus.
The pain of childbirth was not the only pain Mary had to endure in giving birth to the Savior. She also had to endure the criticism of those who did not believe that she was truly giving birth as a virgin. Yet Mary’s suffering was not brought on by something she did wrong. Rather, it was because she found favor in God’s sight, and was blessed to give birth to the Savior of the world. She endured pain for her obedience to God, not for her disobedience. Think about that for a moment. In order for God’s purposes for redemption to be accomplished, Mary had to endure real physical pain. Mary had to endure real physical suffering so that God’s purposes to one day end all suffering and pain could come to pass.
This is so encouraging because Mary’s labor is a powerful reminder that not all suffering and pain is the result of personal sin. Sometimes people suffer because they are doing something right and God is allowing them to be a part of something much bigger that He is doing, even when we do not see it or understand it. As God did with Mary, God is able to bless us by being a part of His purposes even if those purposes are only accomplished through suffering. I would think that if you asked Mary during labor if she still looked at giving birth to the Messiah as a blessing she might struggle to say “yes” and might even have a choice few words directed towards the one asking the question. Similarly, it is hard for those who are suffering to look at their pain through the lens that God is doing a work much larger than they can even understand.
If this Christmas is a hard one for you today because of going through difficult circumstance, it may be because you are reaping the consequences of your poor choices and your own sin. If that is the case, I invite you to turn from your sin and turn in faith and obedience towards Christ. However, if your suffering is not the result of personal sin then understand that there may be something much larger going on. If Mary had simply focused on the pain of labor, it would have been difficult to see the goodness of God. But in simple trust, she gave birth to the One who would rescue us from our sins. Similarly, when we focus on our pain and zero in on just the specific suffering that we are enduring, it is difficult to make any sense of it. But when zoom out and look to our God and His character, we are able to simply trust Him because He is sovereign and He is good. Mary trusted in God. Her soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior, even when the specifics of what she was going to have to endure did not make total sense. Do you believe that this Christmas?
Merry Christmas from all of us at BCA to you and your families!