Here is my fourth Festive Friday, taking a look at a contemporary issue in line with a traditional advent or Christmas theme.
Today is the turn of Mary. She endured a long journey to Bethlehem whilst nine months pregnant, suffered the ignominy of not being able to get a room in an inn and ended up giving birth in a dirty, smelly stable.
It was a far cry from the process that resulted in my two children. Despite my father's desire to have them born in Yorkshire, both arrived in London just a short journey from home. There was little problem about space in the hospital; in fact, the lack of space in the ward for my daughter gave us an 'upgrade' in that we stayed in a room of our own. The hospitals were clean and efficient both times. My eldest was induced, with all the technology whirring around me that our modern maternity units can provide. My daughter came of her own accord, with comparative speed.
Of course, not all women are as lucky as me. As I have got to know single mothers I am in awe of their ability to keep going. I find it difficult enough myself at times, and I have a fantastic husband with whom to share the duties (and the pleasures). Particularly in those early days, when up feeding repeatedly during the night, having someone as support was invaluable. As I said, I have total respect for those who bring children up on their own.
This Christmas I have spent much time thinking about Mary and Joseph and their long journey to Bethlehem, only to find there was no room for them. Could the same happen again? No room at the Inn? I fear it could. So many people are sleeping out on the streets of our towns and cities even in this freezing weather. Asylum seekers still arrive into the UK every day, looking for somewhere to stay - and often turned away. I used to do some voluntary work for a homeless charity in London and was frequently humbled by the way my co-workers could support and care for the clients. And in Newcastle I was taught about the procedure for dealing with immigrants: how they are given a number, not a name, and how they can fall through the system to have nothing unless charities step in. The journey may be long and arduous but there is no guarantee of comfort at the end.
So as we welcome Jesus this Christmas into our hygienic houses and warm homes, let us not forget that he actually came to a poor family with nowhere to stay, to a smelly stable surrounded by cows and sheep, to a young girl who probably was scared silly. Mary, who had motherhood unexpectedly thrust upon her (as well as Shepherds and Wise Men), was like every mother I have ever known and 'treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.' [Luke 2.19]
Have a very Happy Christmas!