December 18th, 2012

Advent Devotional by Paul Shupe


Tugboats and Midwives

Not long ago, I saw a huge oil tanker heading into the harbor at Portland, Maine.  You couldn’t miss it.  Several hundred feet long, and dozens of feet above the waterline, it appeared, as they always do, to be immense, powerful and strong.  The Exxon Valdez taught us long ago, that these behemoths are not perfect, and not as strong as they look.  Like all things made by human hands, they’re capable of failure, but when they first appear over the horizon, with the vast expanse of the grey North Atlantic successfully navigated, they offer up an image of power and pride and perfection.

But as the ship neared the place where I sat, I noticed beside it a tiny tugboat.  The tanker dwarfed it; in every way it was the more impressive craft.  Yet as the tanker turned to port, and entered the narrow channel, it was clear that it was the tug that was in charge: the steering, the propulsion, the guiding, all was in the hands of that tiny tug.  The tanker had crossed thousands of miles of open water, but was powerless as it came into port, dependent upon the skill and the presence of another.

Every nativity set comes with the same cast of characters: Mary and Joseph, the baby Jesus of course, a few shepherds, three wise men, an angel, and a few animals, sheep and a donkey, camels and occasionally an ox.  What’s missing is the tugboat: a midwife.  Luke was a man, maybe he’d never even seen a birth, or perhaps he just forgot to mention the midwife.  Listen, I can’t prove that there was one present, but I sure hope so, because entering the world through childbirth is always more complicated and often more frightening than guiding a super-tanker into port.  I am comforted to think that there was a wise woman there to guide Mary, and to help her bring her baby into this world.

You know, in the end, the saddest people are the ones who won’t allow another to help.  We aren’t born alone, and we ought not live that way either.   Let’s learn to look for the tugboats, the midwives, the ones who are there to guide us.  They are there; let us look for them, and trust them, and give thanks to God for them.