Luke 2: 1-7
“And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.”
Perhaps Mary’s labor has already started—we are just hours away now. And that means Joseph is worried. So much can go wrong.
In ancient cultures, nervous fathers-to-be had rituals to perform during pregnancy and labor. In one old Greek custom, the young man would lie down and imitate the crying and writhing of a woman giving birth. In Papua New Guinea, the father builds a hut on the edge of the village and mimics the pain of labor until the child is born. Mythologist and storyteller Michael Meade writes, “Women pray while breathing through labor. A father-to-be rhythmically wraps and unwraps a strip of cloth or string.” His unwinding is his prayer that nothing will be tangled up, the infant will not be bound up in the womb.
Even when they are present, men are bodily removed from labor. They need some way to participate. We can imagine Joseph tearing an old garment into ribbons for swaddling the newborn, then hearing Mary groan and winding and unwinding that strip around his palm, waiting between contractions, praying with his hands, which is often the only way men can pray. His life, Mary’s life have been twisted and tangled, and yet the One who promised a son had not finally abandoned them. Childbirth is always precarious, and precarious is an old word meaning “full of prayer.” So Joseph wraps and unwraps, paces and prays.
May our Advent be precarious, a plea now for a Second Birth, for us.
Prayer: In the spirit of Joseph, Lord, let the Spirit pray within us, unbinding the knots we have twisted ourselves into, freeing us for new birth. Amen.