Let’s consider the midwife.
‘Hold on,’ I hear you say, ‘there is no midwife.’ I agree: there is no Gospel account of a midwife. But there must surely have been one – it is unlikely that Mary managed to deliver her firstborn without another woman alongside her. Probably from the extended family, some distantly connected aunt or cousin of Joseph’s, who would have been there to assist.
What a responsibility! Delivering the Son of God into the world! Not that the midwife would have realised who it was. Yet despite the importance of her task there is no record of her at all.
But thirty years later, in her old age, did she perhaps recognise in the description of Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, the child she had delivered? I believe we can learn about two important things from the midwife and her omission from history: fame and significance.
Because we now live in a celebrity culture we tend to feel that our best actions deserve publicity; we think of fame as being the reward for doing good things. Yet it doesn’t always work like that. In the world not everybody gets paid in the currency of fame.
We all know those who do good works and get no reward: no medals, no invitations to the Palace, no letters after their name. Just silence. For Christians, fame should be incidental. All that matters is doing what God wants.
It may well be that what you’re involved in is important but you know that it’s unappreciated. You can identify with the midwife in Bethlehem. You have done, or are doing, something vital – a job, child rearing, a carer – and you do it well but everybody takes you for granted. Well, it’s happened to other people and the great consolation is that God knows what you do.
The midwife of Bethlehem also suggests something about significance.
Two of life’s great questions focus on the meaning of our existence; there is the cry of youth: ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ and there is the cry of old age: ‘What did I do with my life?’ We all want to look forward or backward for significance. Yet the reality is that many people find little that is of obvious significance.
I think the case of our midwife helps us here. She may very soon have forgotten this particular delivery, yet these few hours were of supreme importance. She was there at the right place at the right time with the right skills. Our lives may work in the same way; unknown to us, we may have been of enormous significance.
We can be anonymous to the world but no one is anonymous to God.