The strange thing God did at Bethlehem (and in my family) when everything seemed to go wrong
December 24, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — My work with farm animals has taught me that a stable is no place for a baby to be born. The stalls are littered with animal dung. Urine soaks the hay on the floor. The walls are covered in dusty cobwebs. Germ-carrying flies buzz hither and thither. The occasional tiny critter can be seen scurrying amongst the dirty hay. The characteristic farm odor that comes from a number of animals being crowded in a small space pervades the air.
The birth of Jesus was surely no sentimental event. Nothing worked out for Mary and Joseph the way they likely would have wanted it to. No parent would ever want to deliver a baby in the conditions they faced.
Imagine their difficulties. Mary, far along in her pregnancy, was forced to leave her comfortable home and travel more than 80 miles (111 km) — likely on foot — to fulfill the requirements of the census. It couldn’t have been worse timing for her. How was a pregnant woman quickly approaching her due date supposed to make such a long and difficult journey through hilly country occupied by a people known to be hostile to travelers?
If my wife and I had kicked and screamed to make the birth of our son happen the way we wanted, I’m sure our little Nathaniel would not be with us now.
But Mary trusted God was somehow working behind the scenes. She trusted that the almighty God who had already “done great things” for her (Lk. 1:46) would continue to watch after her and her needs. She did not complain. She accepted the path that was laid before her and walked on.
Then, when the couple finally arrived in Bethlehem, all dusty and tired from the weeklong trip, they discovered that they were too late. All the inns were packed. Joseph could find no place to house his wife. He must’ve struggled with the thought that he was a complete failure in not being able to provide any shelter or protection for his wife in her most vulnerable time. He likely wondered what on earth God was doing.
But the words “have no fear” (Mt. 1:20) that the angel had spoken to him continued to resound in his heart. The words helped him trust that God was somehow behind these events and had a plan that would unveil itself in due course. He did not complain. He trusted and accepted the path that was laid before him. He walked on, one step at a time.
Mary and Joseph had every right to groan and complain when they realized that an unsanitary place where animals were kept was the location where the mysterious baby was to be born. Couldn’t God have done better than this for his Son? Was this how God treated people who tried to follow his will? If this is how he treated his friends, no wonder he had so few.
But they didn’t complain. They trusted that God was behind these events in some incomprehensible way. They trusted God was with them, working something profound, something wonderful, something hidden. They accepted the situation, moving forward, one step at a time …
Two months ago, my wife Erin and I had an occasion in which we had to let go of our preconceived plans of what we wanted and just allow God to work in a way that was rather difficult to follow but turned out to be the best way.
We had planned to have a quiet home birth for our son with the help of midwives. We had a birthing pool. We had help lined up to watch our six kids during the time my wife would be in labor. We had everything laid out and ready to go for our home birth. But God had different plans.
When everything seems to be falling apart and nothing is going the way I want it to, I’m beginning to wonder if this just might be the time when God is moving quietly behind the scenes, doing some great, but hidden work.
My wife was five days past her due date and her blood pressure had begun to rise dangerously high. She had constant headaches. The midwives set up an appointment to have some blood work done and her blood pressure monitored in a hospital about an hour away.
She was examined and appeared to be doing well enough to return home. And that’s when the contractions started.
A nurse feeling the baby’s position was surprised to discover that he was horizontal. He had inexplicably flipped sideways since the last check by the midwives. His head was nowhere near the birth canal, making it impossible for him to be born. And then my wife’s contractions began to intensify.
We were told that we could either travel to a hospital two hours away where specialized doctors could try to flip the baby into the right position, or we could stay where we were and have a C-section.
The last thing we wanted was a C-section. The baby in not passing through the birth canal would lose out on receiving all the microorganisms necessary for healthy gut flora, making him more prone to sickness. The sliced open belly had risks of becoming infected. And with my wife being a slow healer, the procedure would take her out of action from our busy family for weeks while she recuperated.
We were about to make up our minds to risk the two-hour trip to the other hospital when a look out the hospital window revealed a rare October blizzard raging outside. Snow was swirling everywhere. The roads would be terrible.
We saw our dream of a natural birth slipping away from our grasp. We inwardly felt like groaning and complaining, but we wondered if God was doing something bigger here than we could understand. We prayed and offered the situation up to him. We felt a deep peace as we decided to trustingly move forward, one step at a time, and go ahead with the C-section.
It turns out the decision saved our baby’s life.
Moments after Erin had been wheeled into the operating room, her water unexpectedly broke and the baby’s umbilical cord popped out, pinching off his life-giving supply line. The baby’s life now hung in the balance. It would only be a matter of moments before his oxygen-starved brain would begin to shut down. Death would follow imminently.
But the medical team was not going to let that happen. Kicking into high gear they quickly made a 5 inch incision at the very bottom of my wife’s belly. They pulled out a leg, then another leg, an arm, then another arm. Finally the whole baby was out.
He sputtered, coughed, and then inhaled that beautiful first breath. Everyone in the room cheered. We were later told that his delivery had been done in what might have been the hospital’s best time.
Looking back, we see how the hand of God directed us on a path that preserved the life of our son: The fact that my wife’s high blood pressure brought us to a hospital where our baby was discovered to be in the wrong position to be born; the fact that the snow prevented us from taking the long trip to the other hospital in the car where my wife’s waters would have broken half an hour before arrival, hopelessly pinching off the baby’s supply line; the fact that there were two doctors in the surgery room that night, making the delivery twice as fast as usual.
The ordeal has made me realize that I need to trust more in God’s plan for my family. When everything seems to be falling apart and nothing is going the way I want it to, I’m beginning to wonder if this just might be the time when God is moving quietly behind the scenes, doing some great, but hidden work.
Mary and Joseph may not have known it at the time, but by Jesus being born in the most lowly of settings, God was showing the extent to which he was willing to empty himself (Phil. 2:7) in order to draw all men to himself (Jn. 12:32). He was showing to what extent he was willing to go to bring peace on earth, moving even beyond the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross.
If Mary and Joseph had kicked and screamed when everything went wrong for them, they might have inadvertently foiled God’s masterful plan. Instead, trusting that God was working, they took all these things that had apparently gone wrong, looked for the hand of God in them, and finding his hand, were able to treasure them in their hearts. (Lk. 2:19).
If my wife and I had kicked and screamed to make the birth of our son happen the way we wanted, I’m sure our little Nathaniel would not be with us now. But we listened for the voice of God in our circumstances, and finding it, we are now able to treasure his wonderful goodness and mercy in our hearts.
May each of us learn this Christmas to trust more fully in the great goodness of our God who, as our Heavenly Father, loves each one of us as his own son or daughter more than we could ever imagine and desires nothing more than our complete happiness and joy.
May we learn to trust and accept the path that he has laid before us, walking that path, one step at a time, knowing that all things — that situation we cannot control, that crippling sickness, that seemingly impossible-to-overcome addiction, that heart broken by betrayal, that consuming loneliness, that sense of being worthless and unlovable — yes, all these things work to good for those who love God (Rm. 8:28). May we, like the shepherds, learn to glorify and praise God after seeing and tasting the wonders of his goodness. Merry Christmas!