A year ago, I was just entering the third trimester of pregnancy. Movement was beginning to feel uncomfortable, sleep eluded me, and I was plagued by the worries I’m sure every first-time mother experiences. Will my baby be born safely? Will I be able to cope with the pain? Will I be up to the task of mothering? What will my son be like?
I had a few other concerns that I’m guessing aren’t quite as typical for a first-time mom. We were (and still are) living in China, a land where neither my husband or I are from. We felt uncomfortable with the language barrier and level of medical care available to us here, and had made the choice to deliver across the border in Hong Kong. We were about a 4 hour drive away from the hospital where we planned to deliver. And in order to bring our baby back to China after he was born, we’d have to stay in Hong Kong until we were able to obtain for him both a passport and a visa. This brought up a lot of unusual concerns, or amplified some of the more normal concerns. Will I make it to the hospital in time for the birth? How uncomfortable will it be for me to travel to the doctor every week or two during the last part of my pregnancy? Where could we possibly stay in crowded and expensive Hong Kong that would be adequate to bring my sweet new baby to? What should I bring with us for this trip? How soon until I can take my baby home with me?
As I held all these questions in my heart, we entered the Christmas season, and I began to feel a special bond to Mary, the mother of Jesus. I don’t mean to make undue comparisons here – clearly, traveling four hours on public transportation or in a car is nowhere near as difficult as traveling by donkey. But she too, shared some of my questions. Would she be able to travel safely while so very pregnant? Where could they stay in crowded Bethlehem? Who would help her with the birth? Where could she lay her precious baby? How soon until they could go home together?
Would she be up to the task of mothering?
What would her son be like?
I continued to think about Mary and her baby son as my time to deliver grew closer. I wondered if she took note of me from where I’m sure she sits in Heaven. I know her Son did. I saw His hand as we traveled safely to Hong Kong. I saw His hand as someone took mercy on us and offered us a place to stay, much as an innkeeper of old did thousands of years ago for another young couple. I saw His hand as we stood at the door of Heaven, waiting for our little son to enter this earth, delivered by a woman named Grace, whose assistant’s name was Joy.
Our beautiful baby boy was born in spring, on a mountaintop overlooking the sea, in the dark of the night as the stars shined above, while pink blossoms brought new life to the trees. The very first picture we have of him shows him on a white, bloodied cloth, with a smile on his face (you can even see his adorable dimple, moments after he was born). We named him Sander, which means “defender of man.” And as I look at that sweet picture of him smiling, I wonder if perhaps Sander remembers something that we sometimes forget. Perhaps, so fresh from Heaven, he remembers another being who entered this world as a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes. A baby who grew to be a man who bled for each of us, before being lovingly wrapped again in a white cloth. A man who came as a defender of mankind.
As soon as they heard of the birth, several of our friends immediately made the journey down to Hong Kong. They brought gifts. They laughed in joy. They held our little baby, snuggled in his swaddle. My sweet husband took both me and our baby in his arms and for a moment that was all that mattered. There were still a lot of unanswered questions-would we be released from the hospital in time to make it to Sander’s passport appointment? Would he be granted a visa to enter China? How long would we be stuck in Hong Kong? But in that moment there, I felt nothing but peace and love.
I wonder now, as Mary must have, what kind of life my son will have. What kind of person he’ll grow to be. I have my hopes for him. I hope he’ll grow up to be someone good, someone kind. A defender of man. A man who loves wholeheartedly, who experiences and spreads joy. Who understands grace. Who values the labor we all must do. He won’t be perfect, I know. None of us are. But because of another Defender of Man who came to this earth thousands of years ago, all of us can be made into more than we are on our own. All of us can have hope that with our work and His grace, we’ll be forgiven of our shortcomings and that the gap between what we are and what we can be, will be bridged. That we can be made whole.
My wish for each of us this Christmas season, is that special this time is about more than just giving and receiving gifts. And about more than the milk and cookies we leave out on a plate for a night. And the tree we so joyously decorate. My wish is that we make this Christmas season a little bit more. That we each become more. And that in becoming more, we lift others up, and spread the cheerful message of grace and joy that our Savior Jesus Christ brings to each of us. I hope when we look into the eyes of our children-whether this is their first Christmas, their fifth, or their fiftieth, we see light reflected there. And that we remember where that Light comes from.
Merry Christmas to each of you. May your days-always-be merry and bright.