Every woman who has ever given birth loves to tell her birth story. She loves to tell it in excruciating detail. She'll tell it to anyone who will listen.

One ravenous night some two thousand years ago, a woman named Mary brought a baby named Jesus into the world and laid him in swaddling clothes in the manger. The ultimate birth story, I guess. Now that I have birthed a few myself, I can't help but think of the whole story in a completely new light. Now that I know the howl of the moment of birth, the awesome pain and the unrecognizable joy, the unbelievable relief of having completed a task which took my body completely over and brought me to the end of the earth and back, I look at those nativity scenes quite differently. She always looks serene, Mary. She sometimes looks a bit possessed. I think I understand. And I didn't even have the Son of God.

I look at Mary's face wherever I see her--people's front lawns, store windows, Christmas cards, nativity scenes in front of the dentist's office. There she is and there is that expression. She looks so peaceful, so radiant. I imagine we are seeing her several hours after the big event. I think of that time, an hour after the birth of a baby. Someone has helped you to sit up, maybe you've gone so far as to brush your hair, and your forehead has been washed with a warm cloth. A drink of water. And your still-shaking hands reach to the baby, the babe who has been born, of all things. And you gaze in wonderment at the face and hands of that glorious child. A face of a stranger, a face of someone you've known all your life. Every minute detail of a human being. You have no idea what the next thirty-three years are going to hold for this little person . . . or for you as the mother of this person . . . who is this? And the wave of love and joy and amazement will perhaps never be stronger than this moment.

And that's how you see Mary, over and over, every artist's rendering . . . an hour or so after . . . and she kneels before this baby, with her arms open. Her radiant face just looks down at his radiant face looking up. Radiant joy. Radiant hope. Radiant unknown. Radiant love.

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