In a year pregnant with despair, how do we give birth to hope?
When everything seems to be going wrong, perhaps that’s when it’s actually being set to rights.
Expecting soon and exhausted already, she went just so far and then refused to go any further. Belly extended, she lowered her head as she gazed at the straw with eyes dulled by birth pangs and planted her legs.
All four of them.
Joseph tried to get her to budge. Nothing doing. The director came out and pulled on her lead rope. Resistance. Her handler appeared from the back and pushed from behind. The audience snickered. Ever defiant, the pregnant donkey lifted her tail and expressed a stream of displeasure. Guests perched close to the Nativity tableau scrambled to avoid the spreading puddle.
Seated on a hay bale on the other side, I suppressed a smile. Everything was going awry. The sound system was squawking, the sheep didn’t want to cooperate any more than the donkey did, and when the beast was finally coerced close to the manger, Mary snatched the baby up when the donkey tried to nip Jesus' head.
This past Saturday night in a barn in Canton in the state of North Carolina, nothing went exactly as planned.
Two thousand years ago in a stable in Bethlehem in the land of Israel, nothing went as planned either. What kind of place was that to bring a child into the world?
In this month of December in your part of the world, how are things going? As winter cloaks the earth and darkness descends earlier each day, are the plans you made for this year working out as you envisioned them?
Your family reunion. The wedding or funeral you desperately wanted to attend. Your weekly church services, shopping trips, vacation. Maybe even the job you commuted to daily. How many were stamped CANCELLED in the last nine months of 2020?
In a year of pandemic pregnant with despair, what gives birth to hope?
In early December of 1991, I spent three days listening and scribbling down what I heard. Threw on a blue dress. Went to a small church in a small town a week later and read the words I’d been given.
The next December, it was four churches. The following year, six or seven. Leave the script at home, came the command. Just tell the story as I have given it to you.
And so it was. And so it has been, until now. For nearly 30 years, I traveled to hundreds of places over the course of that many Decembers, the humbler the venue the better, to tell the story of a young Jewish teenager pregnant with the hope of the world.
What will it take to end this ministry, I often wondered? How will I know when I am finished, when I’m done telling Mary’s story? At 40 I thought I was too old. At 65, surely so. But last December it was a flight across the country once again, a new platform, an old telling.
And then came this year. The Pandemic that Cancelled Everything.
Ah, I think with wistfulness. It was not my age after all that has ended my telling of the glorious mystery of the Incarnation. The plague did it. Who could have thought?
And then, a message on Sunday afternoon from a young woman in New England. I had shared the words etched in my brain with her pastor-father, and he gave them to her.
“I just wanted to say thank you for letting me use your Mary script for the service today! It really helped me figure out how I wanted to portray her and it was very inspiring.”
And then a note came from her mother, wife to the pastor.
“Thanks for letting [my daughter] use what you have written to touch lives today. It was very powerful and real. It brought to life God’s Word. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place. Many people came up after and said they had never experienced the highs and lows of emotions in that type of setting before.
“I thought I was crying hard because she is my kid, but many said they couldn’t control it either. Thank you for allowing your gift to be used by someone else.”
Not a dry eye in the place? Not in this house either.
When we think we’ve come to an ending, there is also a beginning. It may arrive only when we release that which we’ve always thought belonged to us. It may not involve us at all.
It was always His before it was ever ours.
And that Nativity tableau in the North Carolina stable the other night? The one where the donkey balked and peed and the sheep bleated and the sound system was stubborn and nothing went exactly as planned?
It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Exactly what God had planned.
Just like that First Night 2000 years ago.
- copyright 2020, Maggie Wallem Rowe
Maggie's first book, This Life We Share, released this year from NavPress.
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