I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children.
Cursed is the ground for your sake; both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.
Those verse from Genesis 3 take on a gut-sinking reality when examining a newborn preem yesterday. She had been found abandoned LITERALLY IN THE THORN BUSHES. No glossing over the wrongness of this picture. Something drove this mother to a level of desperation barely imaginable. Perhaps, like another patient on Scott's service, she was a teenager whose own mother remarried, perhaps she was raped by her step father, reported to police but mother hid court papers when they were sent so she failed to testify and the man was released from jail, escaped to live with a grandmother and sister, quarreled over cooking duties, took rat poison, lived and is now awaiting the birth of the baby. Only this preem's mom didn't make it to any kind of a caring situation, and didn't feel she had any option other than to stash the too-early baby, unexpected to live anyway, in a bush.
Those little damaged feet also, however, point to the third poetic prophetic paragraph in Genesis 3, the one that makes the sorrowful conceptions and thistly ground a graphic interlude but not the end of the story.
And I will put enmity between you and the women,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise his heel.
That little bruised, scabbed heel reminds us of Christmas. The one who would reverse the suffering, the rapes, the preterm births, the abandonment, the hostile ground, entered the story personally with feet not much larger than these. In Ezekiel 16, God's people are described as a newborn, cord not cut, not washed, not wrapped, thrown out into the open field, loathed. In this story, God takes the role of the passerby who picks the little baby up in her blood and struggle to breathe, and says live, covering and caring. That's a beautiful picture of redemption, of love. But the Christmas story is even more shocking. The abandoned baby of Ezekiel 16, dressed in rich robes, adopted and loved, grows up and runs away to prostitute herself. And the rescuing God comes to the rescue again, but not as a competent adult passing by and pitying a wailing newborn. No, this time God comes as the bruised infant.
Faith does not gloss over the thorns and blood. They are real, they are painful, they are wrong, and they are the stuff of daily reality for the most vulnerable the world over. But faith sees those thorns and blood on through the story to the homeless infant in a stable, to the crown of the crucified, to a fulcrum of resurrection reversal where thorns blossom to food and flower, where blood blushes in health and life. Where babies are no longer abandoned, where mothers have the health and strength and support to enfold them in families. And in the meantime, faith is right here in the bushes and incubators pulling for survival, one at a time.