Nativity of the Lord

December 25, 2016

December 25, 2016


December 25, 2016

Nativity of the Lord



Schenk, C.S.J.

Schenk, C.S.J.

"While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son.  She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Because there was no room for them at the inn." Luke 2:6-7

In reflecting on this much beloved Christmas story, two things stand out for me.

The first is the reality that the pregnant Mary and her husband, Joseph, had very little power or control over their own circumstances.  What expectant parents would ever travel to a distant village, away from family and friends when their first-born child was due at any moment?  

Only a family that had no choice but to comply with the demands of an oppressive, occupying government, and a complicit religious leadership, both demanding exorbitant civil and temple taxes -- despite the subsistence level standard of living for most in Palestine.

And then there is the matter of accommodations.  No Holiday Inn here. No welcoming concierge.  No room service  -- only a shelter for animals, only socially unacceptable shepherds -- socially unacceptable because they smelled like the sheep they tended – possibly sheep the temple priests used for sacrifice.

The picture Luke paints is that of a low-income family, on the margins of society, desperately seeking shelter so that Mary could labor and give birth protected from the elements.  

I wonder how many refugee families from Syria, Iraq, Nigeria or Yeman find themselves in similarly desperate circumstances this very night.

The second thing that stands out for me is how easily the Lukan author glides over the messy realities of labor and birth.  We hear a lot about the politics requiring Joseph to register in his home-town, about the shepherds keeping watch, and about heavenly hosts of angels celebrating. All the good stuff.  Of the actual birth we learn only the basics:  It was time. The baby was born.  We wrapped the baby in blankets.  And that's pretty much it, folks.  

If ever you wondered about who wrote Luke's gospel, I think we can be pretty sure of one thing at least –this gospel has to have been written by a man.  

So tonight, since I'm the one who gets to reflect on this story, I want to fill in the picture and include some things a woman might remember if she were the one telling the story about a birth that changed the course of history.

As a nurse midwife myself, I've always been a little upset that no one ever includes the midwife in our Nativity scenes.  We always find Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, angels and royal wisdom figures — we find donkeys, cows, sheep, sometimes Santa Claus and every so often a little drummer boy, --  but  do we ever find a midwife?  No!  Why not?

No one seriously thinks that Joseph, as devoted as he was, actually delivered this baby do we?  

In first century Palestine, it would have been inconceivable for a woman to give birth without the care and comfort of other women, and in particular the care of women the French call, sages-femmes -- wise women, -- the French word for midwives.  

Even though Mary and Joseph were far from home, hospitality was pretty much the prime directive for the peoples of Palestine who were not far removed from their own desert wondering days.  So I'm guessing the innkeeper, or more probably his wife, saw Mary's plight and sent for the wise women of Bethlehem to come and tend to her.

As a first time mom there were no guarantees that Mary would emerge from her ordeal alive.  Scholars estimate that maternal mortality rates were as high as 35 % in the first century.  Everyone would have known cousins, wives, sisters, aunties and neighbors who had died in childbirth.  

And while Mary and Joseph may have been more optimistic than most -- given biblical accounts of the reassuring mystical experiences surrounding Mary's pregnancy -- this would still have been a very scary time for both of them.

As a midwife telling the story, I'd surmise that Mary's labor probably began enroute to Bethlehem.  For first pregnancies, pre labor with irregular contractions can easily last several days with the regular contractions of latent labor lasting as long as 22 hours.  

Christmas cards aside, we don't really know that Mary was riding a donkey, in fact walking would have helped her labor progress.  In Luke's story, Mary was probably well into her labor before finally finding shelter.  When active labor arrived at last surely the midwives had also arrived to help Mary manage her rapid, excruciatingly painful contractions and to show Joseph just how to support her as she began the arduous effort of pushing the newborn Jesus into a waiting world and, more immediately, into the midwives' waiting arms.

We won't dwell on Mary's anguished cries, her sweat, her blood, or her tears -- but I can tell you that when that baby Jesus appeared at last, there was no need for chanting angels, because the joy and wonder reflected in Mary and Joseph's faces, shown more brightly than any guiding star.  

From a midwife's point of view all that heavenly host stuff is afterglow.  

The long-awaited child is born, Mary is safe, and Joseph as proud and relieved as any new Dad trying not to faint over the intensity of watching his wonder woman wife give birth.

Mary labored long and well to birth a child who would be all about God's love everlasting. When he was old enough she would teach him the tenets of Judaism—summed up in her Magnificat hymn about a God who fills the hungry with good things and raises up the lowly.    

Her boy-child would become a man of peace who died a violent death even as he labored mightily himself to bring forth her Magnificat-God's justice-reign in the face of hatred.

My midwife's question for each of us tonight, is to ask in what way are we laboring, like Mary to birth God's abiding love into a world so much in need of it?

In what way are we, like Joseph, supporting the efforts of all who labor on behalf of the marginalized -- refugees, immigrants, the homeless poor or victims of sex-trafficking?

In what way are we, like the midwives, supporting our powerful birthing God, who longs for right relationship and protection of a Mother Earth that in fact, gave birth to us all?  

To conclude, I share a prayer poem that pretty much sums up my midwife's understanding of the mystery, the challenge and the hope of this most transcendent of nights:

Comfort, be comforted my people

for God’s glad ecstasy

is new made flesh by human yes.

Through earth’s long mourning

God waits again, near at hand

to birth the earth afresh

in celestial, millennial

unfolding of Christ’s

transforming yes.

Yet, all depends

on still small voice:

“Be it done in me...

 as you would have it be.”

Then God’s glad life

now gifts, uplifts ,

heals, enfolds,

newborn Christmas  soul

In swaddling delight.

Come beloved Jesus,

herald now

God’s just and kindly reign.

Teach us how

we learn to live

inside our God again.  

C. Schenk 1999

 El Naciemento de Nuestro SeÑor

25 de diciembre, 2016

Lucas 2:6-7

y, mientras estaban allí, se le cumplió el tiempo. Así que dio a luz a su hijo primogénito. Lo envolvió en pañales y lo acostó en un pesebre, porque no había lugar para ellos en la posada. 

Reflejando en este adorado relato de la Navidad, para mí resaltan dos cosas.  

La primera es la realidad de que la muy embarazada María y su esposo José tenían muy poco poder ó control sobre sus circunstancias.  ¿Qué pareja se propone viajar a un pueblo  físicamente lejano, a larga distancia de familiares y amistades cuando su primogénito está a punto de nacer?

Solo una familia para la cual la única opción es cumplir con las demandas de un gobierno invasivo y opresor, y un liderazgo religioso cómplice, los dos demandando impuestos civiles y religiosos de cantidades exorbitantes – a pesar de el hecho de que el nivel de vida de la mayoría de Palestina daba apenas para sobrevivir.

Y entonces se dio el detalle del albergue.  No hay Holiday Inn.  No hay concierge. No hay servicio a la habitación – solo el establo para los animales, solo para los inaceptables pastores – los cuales eran inaceptables porque hieden a las ovejas que tienden – probablemente las mismas ovejas usadas como sacrificio por los sacerdotes de los templos.

Lucas nos pinta un cuadro de una familia de pocos recursos, a las márgenes de la sociedad, desesperados por encontrar donde alojarse para que María pudiera parir a su hijo, protegida de la intemperie.

Me pregunto cuántos refugiados de la Siria, Iraq, Nigeria, o Yemen se encuentran en esa misma situación esta misma noche.  

La segunda cosa que resalta para mi es lo fácilmente que el autor Lucano roza por encima de las realidades difíciles y desagradables de dar a luz.  Se nos habla mucho acerca de la política que requiere que José se matricule en su pueblo natal, sabemos acerca de los pastores cuidando de sus rebaños, y de los ángeles celebrando y cantando por los cielos 

Todo bien.  Pero acerca del parto en sí sabemos solo lo mas básico; era hora.  El bebé nació.  Lo envolvieron en frazadas. Y se acabó.   

Si en algún momento se ha preguntado quien podría haber escrito el evangelio de Lucas podemos con certeza decir por lo menos una cosa – este evangelio lo escribió un hombre.

Como esta noche YO soy la que puedo reflejar en esta historia quiero darle un poco mas de carácter a este cuadro con detalles que probablemente hubieran sido incluidos si hubiera sido una mujer contando la historia de el parto que cambio el rumbo de la historia del mundo.

Como comadrona que soy siempre me ha molestado que nunca se haya incluido una comadrona en los retablos de nacimientos. Siempre se ve a María, a José, al bebe Jesús, los pastores, los ángeles, los reyes magos – vemos burros, vacas, ovejas, a veces hasta papa Noel, y a menudo un tamborilero, -- pero ha visto a una comadrona?  ¿No? ¿Y porque no?

¿Quien cree en realidad que José, por más devoto que haya sido con María, haya sido el que la ayudo a completar el parto?

En el primer siglo, en Palestina hubiera sido inconcebible que una mujer diera a luz sin el cuido y la atenciones de otras mujeres, en particular el cuido de la mujer quien los franceses nombran de ‘sages-femmes’ – mujeres sabias – como los franceses les dicen a las comadronas.  

Aunque María y José estaban lejos de su hogar, la hospitalidad era esencialmente la directiva para le gente de Palestina, los cuales no se veían muy lejos de sus días como nómadas en el desierto.  Me imagino que el dueño del establo, o más bien su esposa, vio el estado de María y mandó a buscar a las mujeres sabias de Belén para que la ayudaran.

Dado el caso de este ser su primer parto no había ninguna garantía de que María sobre viviría el proceso.  Se dice que la mortalidad materna probablemente haya llegado a sobre pasar el 35% en el primer siglo.  Todo el mundo hubiera conocido a una prima, esposa, hermana, tía, o vecina que hubiera perecido dando a luz.

Y aunque puede que María y José hayan sido optimistas – dado los relatos bíblicos del misticismo que acompaño a María durante su embarazo – este tiempo todavía tenía que haber sido pavoroso para ambos.

Como la comadrona relatando la historia yo diría que los dolores de parto empezaron de camino a Belén.  Cuando se trata de un primer parto los primeros dolores pueden durar varios días, ser muy irregulares, y preceden el trabajo de parto que puede durar hasta 22 horas.

Ignoremos las tarjetas Navideñas, no sabemos en realidad si María monto un burro, en realidad el caminar hubiera ayudado su parto.  En el cuento de Lucas María probablemente ya estaba lidiando con dolores cuando por fin encontraron el establo. Cuando le empezaron las contracciones regulares sin duda ya las comadronas estaban presentes para ayudar a María a bregar con las rápidas e increíblemente dolorosas contracciones, y para enseñarle a José como sujetar a María en lo que se preparaba a empujar al bebe Jesús al mundo que lo esperaba ansiosamente, pero mas inmediatamente a las manos de la comadrona.

No nos vamos a enfocar en los gritos de angustia de María, el sudor, la sangre, sus lagrima – pero si les digo que cuando por fin apareció el niño Jesús no se necesitaron ángeles para iluminar la escena, la alegría que se reflejaba en las caras de José y María iluminaban más que cualquier estrella.

Del punto de vista de la comadrona todo eso de la luces del celestiales son solo luz tipo crepuscular.

El muy esperado niño había nacido, María estaba bien, y José orgulloso, aliviado como cualquier esposo y padre tratando de no desmayarse al sentir la intensidad de ver a su esposa dar a luz.

María trabajo arduamente para parir al niño que sería todo lo que es el amor eterno de Dios.  Cuando tuviera suficientes años ella le enseñaría las leyes de la vida judaica – sumados en el himno Magnificat donde Dios llena a los hambrientos con cosas buenas, y levanta a los más bajos.

Su niño se convertiría en un hombre de paz, que moriría una muerte violenta peleando el mismo para reconocer el reino Magnificat - la justicia de Dios - que ella le había instruido, para enfrentar el odio que lo estaba matando.

Como comadrona mi pregunta esta noche es la siguiente, de qué manera estamos nosotros trabajando, así como María trabajo para dar a luz a el amor eterno de Dios, como estamos nosotros laborando para traer al mundo el amor eterno de Dios a este mundo que hoy tanto lo necesita?

¿De qué manera apoyamos nosotros, como apoyo José a María, a los esfuerzos de todos los que buscan ayudar a los marginalizados – refugiados, inmigrantes, los desamparados, los pobres y las víctimas del abuso y el tráfico?

¿De qué manera nosotros, como las comadronas, apoyamos a nuestro poderoso Dios, el cual anhela que tengamos relaciones positivas y que protejamos a la madre tierra la cual en realidad nos dio a luz a todos?

En conclusión los dejo con un poema que resume como yo entiendo el misterio, el reto y la esperanza en esta noche transcendental:

Consuelo, estén consolados mi gente

Por el feliz éctasis de Dios

Es carne humana nueva sí.

A traves del luto largo de la tierra

Dios espera de nuevo, cercano a la mano

Para parir al mundo renovado

en celestial, milenios

desenvolviendo de Cristo

transformando sí.

Sin embargo, todo depende

De una pequeña voz:

“Hágase en mi...

 Según tu voluntad.”

Entonces la vida feliz de Dios

Ahora presentes, nos levanta,

sana, abraza,

recién nacida alma de Navidad

Envueltos en delicia.

Como el amado Jesús,

Anuncia ahora

El reino justo y amable de Dios.

Ensénanos como

Aprender a vivir

Dentro de Dios de nuevo.  

C. Schenk 1999

First Reading

Is 9:1-6


Ps 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13

Second Reading

Ti 2:11-14


Lk 2:1-14
Read texts at

Christine Schenk, CSJ

Christine Schenk, CSJ

Sister Chris Schenk is a regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. Her column “Simply Spirit” is available at   It appears online twice a month and periodically in print.   

Her book, Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity explores visual imagery found on burial artifacts of prominent early Christian women was published in 2017 by Fortress Press. It is the winner of two awards from the Catholic Press Association: First place in history and third place for first time author of a book.

In October 2013, Schenk stepped down from her position as the founding director of FutureChurch, an international coalition of parish centered Catholics working for full participation of all Catholics in the life of the Church. She led the organization from 1990-2013 and worked to transform a diocesan network of 28 parish councils and 100 parish leaders into an international organization of over 3500 parish-centered activists reflecting the values of Vatican II. A Sister of St. Joseph, Sr. Chris formerly worked as a nurse midwife in Cleveland for 20 years. 

In 1980 she helped to organize a successful statewide coalition to expand Medicaid coverage to include pregnant low-income women and their children.   She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Georgetown University and holds two Masters degrees, one in science from Boston College and an MA in Theology "with distinction" from St. Mary's Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Cleveland.


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