Our daughter was born last week, a brave and beautiful girl who made an unplanned earlier-than-expected home appearance into her father’s arms. It was in many ways a beautiful experience – surprisingly so, given the stress of the situation, and the paramedics rushing in within five minutes of her birth. The Lord was with us, and His brushstrokes of beauty painted the event for us in ways we couldn’t have guessed.
The birth reminded me of Mary’s – who one imagines ( as I’ve written about before) may have thought to herself as labor progressed: “Really, God? This is where this we’re going to be doing this, this stable? Not quite what I envisioned.” Did she have anyone with her more experienced at delivering the baby than Joseph, I wonder? Was he the one to tie off the cord, like my husband did? Poor Joseph… his first “intimate” experience with his wife being of this ilk. Uncharted, bloody, a bit frightening. And yet, as our own experience last week testified, God must have made it beautiful.
The timing of our baby’s birth stands in odd contrast to Holy Week this week, and the anticipation of Easter. We celebrate the new life God has brought to our household, just as God’s people prepare to remember the willing death of Jesus on our behalf. Our Father brought a new life into our family, just at the time we commemorate the life our Savior willingly laid down for us… And was resurrected into new life, paving the way for our own rebirths. Experiences of birth and death again come together for us this week, co-mingling, as we so often see in the mysterious life of faith.
A favorite poem of mine is T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” and its theme and words fit my musings and have been ringing in my ears this week. It’s about the wise men on their journey to visit Jesus at the time of his birth, and yet everything about their journey speaks to them about death – His death and, in a way, their own. “Were we lead all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly; we had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death but thought they were different; this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us; like Death, our death.”
As we praise God for our sweet new girl, we praise Him too that He’s Lord of life and death – one not more than the other. He’s sovereign over both, and both fit mysteriously yet perfectly into His plan.
JOURNEY OF THE MAGI, T. S. Eliot A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of the year For a journey, and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter. And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory, Lying down in the melting snow. There were times when we regretted The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces, And the silken girls bringing sherbet. Then the camel men cursing and grumbling And running away, and wanting their liquor and women, And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters, And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly And the villages dirty and charging high prices: A hard time we had of it. At the end we preferred to travel all night, Sleeping in snatches, With the voices singing in our ears, saying That this was all folly. Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley, Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation; With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness, And three trees on the low sky, And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow. Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel, Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver, And feet kicking the empty wineskins. But there was no information, and so we continued And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory. All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.