If Christianity has sanitised the Scriptures and been inoculated by a very middle class suburban comfort then Christmas has been most affected. We have reflected on those unrealistic scenes with perfumed cows and a wall papered stable with a baby who even a hymn writer has said “no crying he makes.”
The Scriptures are earthier than that and this baby came to live in earthier surrounds. In actual fact the Christmas scene itself is as earthy as it gets. Songwriter Andrew Peterson catches this earthiness and knocks over the diluted caricature of Christmas with a great song about Mary, called Labour Of Love, sung by Jill Phillips on Peterson’s Christmas record Behold The Lamb Of God.
Peterson paints a picture of that first Christmas morning with more realistic language than some of our carols. There’s blood and filth a woman screaming in birth pain.
Iona Community hymn writer and teacher John Bell shared one year at Greenbelt that when he talked through the nativity story with tough inner city Glasgow women that they went on at some length about poor Mary having to leave her mother at this point of her life.
Peterson points that out too but through her tears we find that Mary is a loving young woman prepared to give her all for God and her son. It is Biblical, moving, insightful and inspirational but has not been edited or cleaned up for Church consumption!
“It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town
And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold
It was a labour of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labour of love.”