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Being Christmas time there is a great deal of activity happening around the place, with the buying of presents, preparing food and having parties; and in all the fuss and turmoil, one senses that the real meaning of Christmas is being overlooked - apart from the dreaded "canned" carols in all the major malls and shopping centers! Ocassionally one stumbles across a Nativity scene in a large store, and as always, the little children are still fascinated by the strange sight of a baby in a crib surrounded by cattle, sheep and men in funny clothes.
Being born is a miraculous event - what starts off as two cells fusing into one, ends up becoming a living, breathing human being, and all in the space of 9 months. But the passage from conception, to the time when the baby becomes independent and able to forage for itself, is probably the most "dangerous" period in our lives. For Jesus to be born in a "cattle shed" to a young teenager who had no ante-natal care, and who is having her first baby surrounded by men,and not a midwife in sight, would classify as an extremely high risk birth. And to highlight what faced infants born before the time of modern medicine, here's a quote on conditions in a well known country in the mid 18th century:
"Infants under one year old accounted for a quarter of the total deaths in England and Wales. Half of all of the deaths were infants under five. Sanitation and hygiene were serious problems. Filth or contaminated foods often caused infection. Diarrhea was so common and dangerous that it could cause death in a baby in less than forty-eight hour." Palestine at the time of Christ was a fairly primitive place and under siege, (not much seems to have changed!) so it would be a fair guess to think that similar conditions would have existed in His time.
If Christ were to be born today in an undeveloped country such as Mali, there would still be a one in five chance that He would be dead before the age of 5! Paradoxically, if He were to be born in Egypt or Albania, He would have a one in five chance of being overweight by the time he was five!
Where we are born has a significant impact on our health and longevity, and for many infants on this planet, they have a fairly rugged start in life. Where a child is born is a major factor in predicting its future health, but the family - or lack of - into which that child is born and which nurtures it in those first 5 years, is equally vital. Critical biological imprinting goes on in those vulnerable first five years, and if parents neglect themselves or their child, the result could well be that the child will spend the rest of their life paying the price.
The gift of one child 2,000 years ago gave us all hope: lets make sure that for what remains of the rest of our lives, that we try our best to give every child the best opportunities in those critical first five years.