Can you imagine the plight of a young, pregnant, unwed mother coming into a town in America during winter, claiming she’s a virgin and is carrying God’s child? If that happened today in most towns and cities in America, she might be ridiculed, gossiped about or taken to the nearest mental health clinic. It’s doubtful that anyone would want to take her in, let alone her unemployed significant other, at any time of year, and most especially during tax time in an especially cold winter month and during a recession. But nevertheless 2000 years ago, give or take, that’s exactly what happened, and likely to the same responses. For although we have come a long way in our history and knowledge since that time, there are some basic human reactions and interactions that haven’t changed much, and that might increase in a recession.
Back to that pregnant woman 2000 years ago. There wasn’t much choice in her world at that time about whether or not she would continue her pregnancy. In many U.S. cities of today, however, that modern expectant mother, her questionable mental status, her age, the status of her pregnancy and her claims about the child’s paternity, would cause considerable concern..
At the time the baby Jesus was born many years ago, the town of Bethlehem was about as filled up with travelers and local people as the time of the Christmas festivals that ordinarily take place in small towns that are oriented toward tourism like Natchitoches. In modern America today our contemporary young, pregnant, unwed mother and her male friend would find no hotel, bed and breakfast, or local family that would have a place for them to stay at the height of the tourist season, especially when it’s cold, and they have no money. Many of the homeless shelters would be filled. It isn’t likely anyway that most townsfolk would be encouraged to take in a couple of strangers at any time. Maybe a few religious leaders or laity would give the little family some food and directions on how to get to a less crowded place where the couple could get help. Folks would also be concerned about the obvious fact that the baby was due any minute. There would be questions about Mary’s condition and the legality and morality of the union of the mother and her male companion. But let’s assume that our little family finally could find some place, not too comfortable, in some barn in back of a the home of some sympathetic stranger, waiting for the baby to come.
Now our modern Mary and Joseph would have to knock on a lot of doors to find a room, but let’s suppose they do and finally settled in. Farmers in rural America are sometimes out late at night taking care of their animals. One of them might say that he’d dreamed about a baby being born who was going to grow up to be pretty special. He would be worried about telling his friends about this, but let’s suppose that his buddies said they’d had the same dream, so they decide to check out the situation. In winter it would be dark out in the country so that they would literally have to use the stars like heavenly lights to find their way to where Mary, Joseph and the baby might be found. Let’s also consider that some rather eccentric but wealthy gentlemen were out on the road too, trying to find their way to some place they’d read about, quite similar to where the farmers were going, and for the same reasons. They would have used those same starry skies for the trip, and would likely be rather smart since they would have to plan well for the journey, especially since maps can be inaccurate at times, especially in rural areas.
Now let’s follow these folks to the barn, the farmers, the three wise, professorial types, the couple and their baby. These would be crowded, not very clean, cold, poorly lit conditions, and would likely still smell like some animals that might also still be around, just as they had been during the time of Jesus’ birth. Today, as then, the event would create quite a scene. There wouldn’t be much anybody could talk about with each other, since they wouldn’t have a lot in common, especially the farmers and the intellectuals. Mary would be all worn out from having a baby; her husband tired from helping her along. It wouldn’t be easy for either of them after traveling and looking for a place to settle. And if our modern Mary has a bunch of strangers hanging around her bed, talking about how they’ve all come to visit her and her baby, right after a highly personal event, if she was like the Mary, the Mother of Jesus, she would be happy about it since she believes her baby is quite wonderful and appreciates that there might be other people who would think so too. And she would hope that she had found a nice town to settle down for awhile, for her husband to get some carpentry work, and where she can raise her child. But would that work out?
Lots of problems would come up surrounding the baby’s birth these days. Those problems would begin almost immediately when the fireman, policeman or some compassionate stranger would arrive to help with the birth since the mother might not get to the hospital fast enough with contractions so close together. Shortly after the birth, however; Mary would be transported to the nearest medical facility. First would be the forms, then the medical bills and then the question about who will be able to pay them since Joseph is unemployed, and the mill in the town where he worked before their travels had laid off a bunch of workers, so the little family has no health insurance. Besides Mary and Joseph have been living together and haven’t formally married, so there would be questions anyway about financial responsibility. A hospital stay to care for Mary and her baby would be expensive, especially since a birth in a barn might have subjected the child to infections and the mother to complications. The medical staff, however, would also be very concerned about Mary’s state of mind because of her claims about giving birth to God’s child.
Despite all the problems about the birth, there would be folks who would get suspicious, and maybe jealous, after hearing about the baby’s birth. Wise men sometimes like to brag about what they know and perhaps would observe that they had found a very special, precocious child. On the other hand, they would be strangers and what would they know? Besides anyone drifting incense around would likely be considered to be some 1960’s ex-hippie freak. Rural farmers would certainly be excited to be around when a baby is born and then learn that some day that child might take over and solve the problems of poverty. Still they too would be concerned about Mary’s mental state, the hapless circumstances of her little family; and they wouldn’t want some people to be shifty, lazy, and dependent on the system. The wealthy, well connected, some ministers and politicians would be gossiping about the event, especially the notion that a bunch of radicals had entered the town and were talking about a potential leader down the road who might remove them from their posts of power and prestige. They would probably decide to get together at some early date to make sure that this never happened.
Mary and Joseph would have trouble under these circumstances deciding whether to stay or leave town after Mary gave birth, because they would want what all parents do: to give their child a happy, successful and healthy life. Joseph would need a job, and the couple would need friends to help. Besides it would be difficult to remain anywhere their baby had caused jealousies and factions among prominent people who might negatively interfere with the child’s future. Finally Mary and Joseph would wonder if their child would be able to realize his fullest potential in the town of his birth, or if he would have to travel elsewhere to find it
At Christmas all over America people are now preparing to celebrate again the birth of baby Jesus that happened so many years ago in Bethlehem. How would another baby fare if he were born to some homeless, unwed mother in your town today? Would you love and accept him, give him food and medical care, not condemn his parents, and help the family to be self sufficient? Or would he and his family have to leave because our hearts aren’t in our polite manners and public prayers?
Anytime we might face that choice of providing shelter and home for a little family who comes to us in the midst of crisis, just as surely as it was the choice of the people of Bethlehem so many years ago. For Jesus told us that whatever we do for the least among us, we have done to Him. So let’s make a miracle if someone comes seeking our help, such as the homeless baby and his parents, welcome and embrace them as we come together to celebrate for all time the love of one another at Christmas.