Passed by a manger scene lately? I know many of them have been outlawed, but maybe you’ve spied them on your neighbor’s lawn next to the inflatable Santa. Whenever I drive by, calming lyrics flit through my head, “Round yon virgin mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.”

Coming back from the Black Friday mall madness, manger scenes instill peace. The quaint barn. The kneeling shepherds. The somber light from the star. A little lamb peering over a makeshift bassinet. And dear Mary, a soft glow around her face, cradling her baby in swaddling clothes. Immanuel: God with us. Silent Night, Holy Night. I can already feel my blood pressure plummet.

Until I ponder the real manger scene. Far from quaint, I see a “Scared yon virgin, mother who was a child.” Mary was probably 12-14 years old. She and Joseph left the only town she knew under a cloud of suspicion. From the headlines of Nazareth News: “Carpenter’s Wife To Have God’s Baby!” Remember, it took an act of God to reverse Joseph’s initial desire to divorce his betrothed Mary. I doubt everyone in the blue-collar town got the same memo. In her third trimester, this poor girl traveled 100 miles on a donkey’s back to an unknown village south of Jerusalem. As the labor pains increase, she pulls into overcrowded Bethlehem stifling her screams. Joseph slams on doors trying to find a room.

While our labor and delivery rooms are outfitted with comfortable beds, satellite TVs, adoring family, and trained doctors, Mary plops down on hay, surrounded by nervous livestock, the soothing stench of manure, Joseph as a midwife, and a stick to bite on for the pain. Though Jesus is the Son of God, Mary never had a divine epidural. A teenager’s screams pierced the silent night. Rather than mom running in to hug her close, strange men come from the hills wanting to see her new baby. Any glow from Mary’s head is the sweat from her brow. Her night would pass quickly. Soon mysterious men would bring her first baby shower gifts…nothing you’d probably find at Babies R Us. As the wise men depart, rumors circled about Herod’s secret service coming to kill any babies under two. So does Mary get to return to the safety of her family’s house where sister could hold the new baby and give her a break? No, they must go farther south, to a strange land and foreign country.

That’s Mary’s manger scene. Mary must have pondered Isaiah 7:14 in those harried days. Immanuel: God with us. He was with her. In labor and delivery, he was with her. When news of danger came, he was with her. When her overnight bag needed to stretch from a few days to a couple years, he was with her. He is with us too. When friends and neighbors slander you, God with us. When family is a distant memory, God with us. When pain grips your body, God with us. When strangers surround you, God with us. When bloodthirsty soldiers nip at your heels, God with us.

On that holy night, I doubt much was silent for Mary. Something tells me this scared young virgin felt little tenderness or peace, save maybe a moment when Jesus lay swaddled in her arms; her strange surroundings faded in the background; as the savior of the world caught some sleep, she murmured, “His name will be Immanuel: God with us.”

God asked young Mary to carry the hope for humanity. We at Renaissance carry a similar burden: to release God’s love into our community and world. Obstacles will be many, but like Mary, we rest in this simple truth: Immanuel, God with us.