Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas In Utero

“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Luke 1:41-42

Jesus Christ, in utero, is, without question, the most popular fetus in the history of the world. Even the recent “royal baby”, for all of the attention granted him while he was still growing and forming in his mother’s womb, can hardly be mentioned in the same sentence. True, while still forming he was the subject of a fair number of front page stories and endless speculation, one can hardly expect Prince George’s birth to ever be celebrated as an international holiday. It would take some strange sort of madness to think that any nativity scenes will ever be replaced with ceramic figures of a Prince and Princess, giving birth in a modern hospital, surrounded, not by Magi or Shepherds, but by doctors, nurses, pain medication, and, of course, the flash bulbs of the media.

Jesus is hardly in danger of being overshadowed by any modern birth, for He was born. And perhaps one of the reasons for this is that we no longer see birth as we used to, but for isolated moments when it is a birth that extends some famous or royal bloodline.

Christmas is undoubtedly a season that is a celebration of childbirth—and as such, it is a time that really ought to make out society a bit more anxious. It is remarkable just how capably we can come together as a nation, erecting trees in our living rooms, hanging lights and gaudy, colorful ornaments upon every visible limb, without any semblance of recognizing the irony of a nation with no reverence for children, suddenly coming together to revere a child who spends much of His own story as a fetus.

Christmas is undoubtedly a celebration, not just of the birth of a child, but the anticipation, from the very moment of conception, of a child. It is not hard to believe that, if the miracle of the incarnation was to be repeated today, God would have to be exceedingly careful in deciding whom to bestow with the gift—should he choose another unmarried teenage girl, there is a very good chance that the child will never be allowed to come to term, as even an angelic announcement can be swept aside as a trick of the imagination or a schizophrenia-induced vision.

Do our modern sensibilities cringe when Elizabeth speaks of Mary’s fetus as if it was something more than a lump of tissue? If they do not, they certainly ought to. Do we think it strange that Elizabeth should call Mary “Blessed among women” when really she is just an unwed teenager who never really chose to become pregnant? We really should.

To those unable to fathom why anyone should ascribe any human value to a child in that murky area between conception and birth, it really would be best to simply ignore the story prior to Luke 2:6 and pretend it doesn’t exist. Forget the announcement of John the Baptist, who was destined to prepare the way of the Lord—until he is actually born, it is all just speculation anyway. Forget the angel coming to Mary and Joseph. Certainly forget the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, where the author (who had the audacity to consider himself a medical doctor) makes far too much over a couple of fetuses.

Until that very moment that the child is actually laid in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a bed of straw, there is no Christmas story—there is only the potential for a Christmas story. Nothing is real until then—the moment the story begins in earnest.

If it happened today, we might consider the fact that Jesus even survived long enough to be born one of his greatest miracles.   

And as the story progresses and the first couple years pass, the further Jesus gets from the womb the more valuable His life becomes. When Herod, in an attempt to destroy Jesus, orders the murder of every toddler in Bethlehem, it is recognized with universal scorn and contempt. It is called “The Massacre of the Innocents”, even by those who would take great offense to the same term being used to describe the present plight of the unborn.

The Christmas story is about new life, but this should only be a source of true joy to those for whom new life really is cherished. Christmas is a delight to those of us who recognize that Christ truly came into this world, not on the first Christmas morning, but 9 months earlier, where already He was recognizable, even by other infants.