In at the deep end with Mary and Joseph

By Moira Billinge

When a newly born baby is held in the arms of its parents, not only do they experience a profound and unconditional love for the infant, but also an overwhelmingly strong sense of responsibility for this tiny new life which is so utterly dependent on them.

I often think that, though an undoubtedly pleasing image, the romanticised depiction of Our Lady and Saint Joseph kneeling in blissful adoration at the side of the manger containing the infant Jesus is the complete opposite of how it actually was. To give birth in a stable in Bethlehem would have been onerous enough, but the best imagination in the world would not be able to appreciate fully the enormity of holding the child which the Angel Gabriel had revealed would be no less than the Son of God.

Nor would St Joseph have been in the calmest frame of mind having been inadvertently landed with the responsibility of caring for them both. The situation in which he found himself, as the foster father of Jesus, was not one he would have previously envisaged when he was a young and carefree carpenter. Nothing, except their trust in God, could have even remotely prepared Joseph and Mary for the enormity of the task which they had accepted, in faith. The birth of Jesus in a stable must have been one of the biggest clues that there were no perks to be had in this new role.

Our Lady would have been totally exhausted by the time she gave birth, and as deeply concerned for her baby's welfare as any mother. The Christmas carol which states "the little Lord Jesus, no crying he made" was probably very far from the truth; he would have cried as much as any other new-born. Although she was sinless, this did not protect Our Lady from sleeplessness or the frazzled patience caused by all the usual trials of motherhood.

Being the Mother of God conferred no special insights into what to do next for her child when he would not settle. Knowing her luck, if cattle surrounded the Holy Family in the stable, then the moment Mary got Jesus off to sleep, one of the animals would have woken him. Nothing was ever destined to be easy for her and even the visit of the Magi might have been awkward and inconvenient. Picture the scene: three monarchs, and possibly their entourage, paying homage to a squawking child that needed feeding and changing while a confused, bemused, tired Mary and Joseph probably tried to be polite and look interested in the gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Even if they appreciated the symbolism, they would perhaps have preferred to be left in peace to catch up on their sleep – and maybe even secretly hoped for cloud cover over the star that the three kings had followed to prevent further unexpected guests!

Our Lady, by agreeing to become the Mother of God, would later confront the ultimate anguish of watching her innocent son suffer so grievously on our behalf – and I firmly believe her painful memories of his torment would have stayed with her to the very end of her earthly tenure. Just as she would forever remember his birth, so she would remember his death and all that led up to it. On Christmas Day, and every day, we can truly say: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.