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Advent Reflections Part 4: The Birth of Jesus

Created by Joe Benevento

One of the most iconic images in all of Christianity is the “manger scene,” the baby Jesus in “swaddling clothes” and placed in a manger in a stable surrounded by his parents and a variety of farm animals.  This scene, from the Gospel of Luke, has inspired the centerpiece of many a “creche” in homes and in various outdoor settings.  Who didn’t grow up with little ceramic or wooden animals- sheep, goats, donkeys etc.- placed near a  very little baby Jesus resting in a manger, surrounded by his loving parents, with perhaps some shepherds and the Three Wise Men outside the stable, on call for January 6th.  As peaceful and as lovely as this scene is usually depicted, Luke’s account may leave out a few key people, and particularly one woman who may have been the most important visitor of all.  

The phrase “no room at the inn” and the idea that the Son of God had to be born in a stable, seem to leave no room for hospitality in how the Holy Family had to face the birth of their son.  Only after Jesus is born do we get angels, shepherds, and later Wise Men who see the child as a “newborn king.”  What most people never ponder is how Mary actually got through childbirth and all its pain.  I guess most assume that Joseph was there to help her.  Joseph was there, but he couldn’t help her; Jewish custom and religious law at the time forbid the man to look upon his wife while she was giving birth.  So did Mary have to go it alone?  In my novel, “My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son” I imagine another possibility, but one which I think is quite plausible.  A woman must have come to Mary’s aide.  

If there was no room at the inn (and by inn, don’t think of a Holiday Inn but rather a residential house that might have had a few rooms available) that was not the innkeeper’s fault. Remember there were Roman census takers who would have insisted on first shot at any accommodations.  But the innkeeper was not Roman, but almost certainly a Jew, and it’s difficult to believe a Jew would not have some compassion for a fellow Jew and his wife who was about to give birth, far from family and friends.  I imagine that the innkeeper tried to make things as comfortable as possible for the Holy Family.  Since he was a Jew, no non-kosher animals would have been part of the group of farm animals Joseph and Mary needed to share the space with.  In spite of our celebrating Christmas in late December, Christ was just as likely born in the summer or spring, and even in winter, Judea hardly has cold like we do in Missouri. 

Finally, as Jews the innkeeper and his family would have been certain to know Mary needed a woman, if not a midwife, at least a female conversant with usual custom, to help Mary deliver the child, while Joseph stayed well off to the side, chanting those psalms of David that have been selected as the proper prayers for a safe birth.  Perhaps it was the innkeeper’s wife and/or one of his daughters who helped Mary in her time of great need. There is no mention in the Bible of angels ministering to Mary during labor; Mary was a wholly human being and she must have suffered the same pains that all women heroically suffer at child birth. Only after Joseph heard the first cries of the newborn babe would he know his wife’s cries of pain could diminish and they both could celebrate a safe and happy birth. After that there was time for shepherds, angels, wise men etc, but not before.

No woman is mentioned beyond Mary herself in Luke’s or Matthew’s accounts of the birth of Jesus, but Jewish custom and common sense suggests Mary had female support when she needed it most.


My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son

In this beautifully written novel- a masterful retelling of the greatest story ever told – Joe Benevento weaves together authentic Jewish and early Christian history with a fresh, humorous, and relatable take on Joseph’s journey from simple man to father to saint.  A rich, majestic, and relevant read.

Gary Jansen, Author of Station to Station and the Christopher Award winner, Remember Us With Smiles.

Thanks to a generous partnership with the author, Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri will receive all royalties (in perpetuity) for the sales of the novel, My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect SonPurchase a copy for yourself (or a loved one as a wonderful Christmas gift!) online at most bookstores or on Amazon.com.


Looking for more?

Click here to read and listen to past Advent Reflection episodes, including the Bonus Episode: A Conversation with Author Joe Benevento.