I look into the face of God’s son…of my son, lying quietly in the crook of my arms. His face is creased in consternation, his dark eyes squinting intently at my face. I let my finger trace his tiny, perfectly formed lips and upturned nose before laying my hand on the downy black covering of his head.
“Jesus,” I say softly, for it is what the angel had called him on the day he announced his birth. God saves. The name seems too weighty for such a little, helpless one.
“Immanuel.” Beside me, Joseph speaks my son’s other name. He reaches out for the tiny hand and laughs as the baby grips his finger.
Immanuel. God is with us. Yes, the truth of this name sings inside me, for hadn’t I known on the day the Most High overshadowed me, that what grew inside me was his?
That day I had been kneeling in prayer when I sensed I was not alone. I looked up, but there was no-one there. Still, a tangible presence filled every corner of the room—every fibre of me—with such power that I felt it might press the very breath from my body. Even as the fear roiled up inside me, something far greater, far gentler, quieted my soul. Love, beyond anything I’d ever known, enfolded and filled me. How could I, Mary, be treasured by One so great?
I do not know how long I knelt there in the all-encompassing shadow of the Most High. I only know that when I finally arose, I was changed. The room no longer pulsated with God’s power and love, but from that moment on I carried his presence deep inside me. Yes, Immanuel was with me.
And now he lies quietly in my arms.
A bleating draws me back from my memories, and the whiff of animals reminds me that I am in a stable in Bethlehem. Joseph has risen to his feet and is moving to the entrance of the cave.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Shepherds, I think.” He stares out into the darkness, and I can just see past him to the moving shadows coming our way.
“Will they want us to leave their shelter?” I can’t hide the dismay in my voice as I place my baby in the manger that Joseph has filled with fresh straw. Labouring most of the afternoon and into the night has left me feeling as limp as a young sapling in the heat of the day. “Will you tell them that…”
But Joseph has stepped from the cave. The low murmur of his voice is soon drowned out by a chorus of other animated voices. I catch snippets of what they are saying.
“…and it was suddenly as bright as daylight…”
“…covered my eyes, but the light burned through my eyelids until…” “…born today, he said! Right here in Bethlehem!”
“…the whole sky filled with angels, singing!”
Then there are men thronging at the entrance, and momentarily Joseph’s raised voice breaks through, “Wait a moment! Let me see if my wife…”
One older man pushes past him, however, his eyes on my baby. “Look!” he cries. “It is just as he said. Wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. We have found him!”
His eyes are filled with such awe as he draws closer to me that a wave of wonder prickles over me. How can these men know? How can they know that my child is far from ordinary?
Joseph has stepped aside and, unhindered, more shepherds move towards the manger. One has tears streaming down his face. Two others drop to their knees before the humble crib.
Another looks at me as he says, “The angel told us that he is the Messiah. Come to save us all.”
An angel! That is how they know. ” I nod. “An angel told me that too. He said we must name him Jesus.”
“God saves.” The man smiles wistfully as he looks down at my child, and at the hope shining in his eyes my heart stirs to see the truth. This child is both Immanuel and Jesus. God with us and the God who saves.
For a while he had been just mine, growing secretly inside me. But now, as these simple shepherds crowd around him, I realise with a pang of both regret and amazement, that my son—God’s son—has come for everyone. And as surely as I know this, I know too that one day he will be the one to save. Us all.
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,” I whisper into the cool night air of Bethlehem’s stable, and around me shepherds murmur their agreement and wonder. Once before, at the mere knowledge of what grew in my womb, these words of praise had poured from my lips.
But now God’s promised son is here!
And the words ring as true as a clarion call.
As true as hope in our faithful God of salvation.
This story is based on:
Luke 1: 26-37 (The angel visits Mary)
Luke 1: 46 (The opening line of Mary’s song, the Magnificat) Luke 2: 1-20 (Jesus’ birth and the visit of the shepherds)
Luke 2: 1-20 (Jesus’ birth and the visit of the shepherds)