“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & truth were trampled to scorn—
Yet here did the Savior make His home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
“The Risk of Birth,” by Madeleine L’Engle
“The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep
She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep
She filled my life with color, canceled plans, and trashed my car
But none of that was ever who we are.”
Two years into parenting and I’m still adjusting to the cataclysm of acquiring the title of “dad.” My free time, social capacity, and general autonomy have all been significantly reduced, and those changes are worthy of partial grief (at least my therapist says so). Though some of my former freedom have diminished, my heart has grown immeasurably. Despite the challenges, the affection I have for my daughter is beyond what I once knew I was capable of, a paradox of parenthood that Brandi Carlile articulates powerfully in her lyrics so potent that I have yet to get through a listen without tearing up.
Brandi and I now share some understanding of the hefty sacrifices asked of caregivers tasked with helping tiny humans grow and thrive, but frankly, we could have it a lot worse. Thanks to many layers of intersecting privilege, I’ve never had to worry about my community’s moral judgment of my status as a parent, and I’ve certainly never had to pack up my possessions and family to seek safety in a foreign land.
But Mary did. Not only did the young mother have to navigate a patriarchal culture scrutinizing her assumed adultery, she also had to flee her home country on foot to escape tragedy at the hands of a paranoid tyrant. These trials Mary endured make my struggles in parenthood seem luxurious.
In her poem “The Risk of Birth,” Madeleine L’Engle points out that weary Mary gave birth to the Messiah in a particularly challenging era, as oppressive occupation from a powerful empire is generally not an ideal setting for comfortable parenthood. L’Engle bridges a few millennia to reveal that modern times aren’t exactly ideal for producing babies either. And she’s not wrong. In an age of volatile white supremacy, overbearing capitalism, and the looming threat of a dying planet, I won’t fault anyone for feeling apprehensive about bringing new life into this environment.
But despite innumerable risks, people keep having babies for some reason, both now and back then. That includes Mary. By delivering new life into a hostile world, the mother of Jesus did one of the most radical things possible: she showed up. In hopes that hatreds would cease, in the hope that the powerful and the lowly would all be given what they deserve, in the hope that a downtrodden people might still have a purpose, that they were still here for a reason.
Few things are more rebellious and courageous in the face of terror and violence than existing with purpose. Mary carried hope both literally and figuratively in her body, enduring unending sacrifice as she bore witness to God’s presence on Earth. May we who worship that child find joy in the sacrifices it takes to carry God’s presence into the face of terror and violence as well.
Michael Mirza is the Director of Worship at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, the father of a sweet and spunky toddler, an avid consumer of music, and an Ennegram-7 with far more hobbies than he needs.