With Christmas approaching I have been pondering the concept of “humble birth.” We speak of Christ’s birth as being under humble circumstances. In fact one popular hymn begins, “Jesus once of humble birth” (Jesus, Once of Humble Birth, Hymns, 196). One of the primary’s songs describes his birth this way:
This is the stable, shelter so bare;
Cattle and oxen first welcomed him there.
For Mary this experience had to be humbling, “Although Elohim must have lovingly observed the birth from a heavenly vantage point, even Mary’s extraordinary travail increased the irony. The tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem when she was great with child, the exclusion from the inn, the natural anxiety of bearing a first child, and Mary’s isolation from her own family must have weighed heavily upon her soul” (Gary L. Bunker, “The Ultimate Paradox“). We do not know the exact circumstances of Christ’s birth but Martin Luther remarked,
No one noticed that in a strange place she had not the very least thing needful in childbirth. There she was without preparation: no light, no fire, in the dead of night, in thick darkness. . . . And now think what she could use for swaddling clothes—some garment she could spare, perhaps her veil. . . .
Think, . . . there was no one there to bathe the Baby. . . . The mother was herself midwife and the maid. (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther [New York: Mentor, 1950], p. 173).
But Mary had accepted this fate when she said to the angel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38).
As I have pondered Mary’s willingness to accept the circumstances that came upon her, I can only respect her humility. The Guide to Scriptures defines it as,”To make meek and teachable, or the condition of being meek and teachable. Humility includes recognizing our dependence upon God and desiring to submit to his will” (source). Humility is not cowering. It is much more powerful than that. It is accessing the power of God through submission to Him.
So what does this mean for us? Sometimes we are given circumstances with a pregnancy or birth (and life) that is not what we wanted. Last May I was asked to give doula support for a hospital birth to a couple who had previously had all of their babies at home with the assistance of midwives. This birth could not be at home this time for a valid medical reason. It was difficult for the mother to choose a birth in the hospital but she did. This was to me “humble birth.” They had to accept the challenges that this birth would bring under circumstances that they did not want. They asked a lot of questions and made the best of their situation. Their little baby is seven months old now and continues to grow healthy because his parents with meekness accepted the circumstance they were dealt. Many couples humbly choose a homebirth after much reflection too. Humble birth isn’t about where the act took place so much as it is about the attitude we take towards the event. Do we reverence the divinity with which the gift of giving life was appointed? Do we seek God’s will throughout the process? Are we partakers of humble birth? I love the Nativity story. I can relate to Joseph Fielding Smith when he said,
There is no story quite as beautiful, or which can stir the soul of the humble quite to the depths, as this glorious story can of the birth of our Redeemer. No words that man may utter can embellish or improve or add to the eloquence of its humble simplicity. It never grows old no matter how often told, and the telling of it is by far too infrequent in the homes of men. Let us repeat this wondrous story (Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith, 310-318).
I never tire of hearing the story of our Savior’s birth. Last week our Primary children performed a humble version of the Nativity at our ward Christmas party. It was perfect in its simplicity. May you also rejoice in the humility of our Savior’s birth. Wishing you a Christmas season filled with love and light.