A little over a decade ago Kathi and I decided, after six years of dating, and five years of marriage, that we’d like to start a family. We’d earned our college degrees, had decent paying jobs, owned our home, and had paid down our debts. Practically speaking we were ready to get pregnant.
Besides, we’d already tested our parenting skills on two unsuspecting canine kids, Salsa and Chips. Our 10-pound terriers seemed fairly well adjusted, they ran and played and ate and drank and cuddled on the couch just fine. Heck, after growing up a bit they even stopped peeing on our floors. We were really happy about that. We took this success as a good sign house-training human kids just might be in our wheelhouse too.
So we decided to start trying. As with many couples getting pregnant wasn’t as easy as we’d assumed. It took a couple of years, a couple of miscarriages, and the help of a fertility clinic before our pregnancy planets aligned.
To help stack the deck we meticulously followed the doctor-ordered prenatal schedule, making sure we adhered to their medical wisdom as best we could.
We read and studied the book it seems everyone gets these days, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. We researched what baby items to buy, combed through product reviews, figured out what to purchase new, and what to buy gently used.
We nicknamed our in utero firstborn “Bean”, a reference to her size at six weeks. We excitedly designed the nursery. My home office transformed: out with the desk, computer and video game calendars, in with the crib, stuffed animals and changing table. Not wanting to know gender we painted Bean’s room the color of Cantaloupe, and settled on a Winnie the Pooh motif.
The go-bag, the hospital, the doctor, the birthing plan – natural, no meds – we precisely defined it all. Kathi is crazy tough, her pain tolerance infinitely more than mine. Which probably explains her ability to put up with yours truly. A story for another time.
But for all our planning Bean’s birth didn’t go as expected.
Fear and Joy
At 40 weeks the doctor encouraged us to check into the hospital that night. Even more, our doctor was heading out on vacation, we learned, leaving her todos to someone we barely knew. After an overnight of intense pain, and no sleep, Kathi opted for pain meds. We soon found out why – a medical complication forced us to forgo natural childbirth. I watched as Kathi was carted off for an emergency C-section, and found myself worrying about what would happen to my wife and our unborn child.
Birthing plans now dashed, our hopes, dreams, and fears – especially our fears at this point – were all now in the hands of another. I’ve never been as excited, or as terrified, as in those minutes spent waiting to hear the fate of the two people on this planet I loved the most.
This story has a happy ending, really more of a happy beginning. Hannah joined our family the morning of March 10, 2010, full of life and health. As I first held her, looking down at that tiny, peaceful face, and over at my exhausted yet joy-filled wife, I realized something.
None of the planning for how we imagined that day would unfold really mattered. The fears, anxieties and worry that had consumed us were suddenly gone.
What mattered most was sleeping in my arms.
I share this story, of our first child, not because it’s anything special, but because it’s downright normal. The planning, the fears, the joys, it’s all part and parcel of how parents go about welcoming a child into the world.
This next pregnancy story is decidedly abnormal, for so many reasons, and in so many ways.
Mary was between 12 and 14 years old when the angel Gabriel came to visit. This is young by today’s standards; 2,000 years ago it was fairly typical. There simply isn’t much time for planning when your entire lifespan is a dozen years. I’ve got a sweatshirt that’s older than that.
The conversation Gabriel had with Mary that day ended up being the start of the greatest pregnancy story ever told. Their conversation went something like this –
“Guess what Mary,” Gabriel began, “I’ve got some news. Big news, from the big Guy upstairs: you’re with child.”
“No worries,” Gabriel continued, “it’s a boy, and you don’t even have to come up with a name. Call him Jesus.”
“Even better, the Almighty has hand-picked your first-born’s job. Your child is the Son of God. Your child is destined to be King.”
“Yes, Mary, I know you and Joseph haven’t been screwing around before tying the knot.” The Holy Spirit will take care of those particulars, Gabriel told her. Trust me.
“I realize all this sounds absurd Mary, but check this out, your cousin Elizabeth is preggers too! I know, she’s 88 years old, so crazy! With God anything is possible.”
And with that the angel Gabriel departed, leaving Mary alone.
Mary, being the sensible type, decided to check this story out, and went with haste to visit cousin Elizabeth. Their conversation went something like this –
“Elizabeth, whoa are you showing! Six months along now is it? You’re not going to believe this, but an angel came and told me you were!”
“Wait what? An angel came to your hubby too? And the angel said that you’d get pregnant too? And they said your kid would become a great prophet of God?”
“I’m pregnant! And the Holy Spirit is the father!”
“I can’t believe we’re both pregnant!”
“And angels! Your child a prophet, mine the Son of God!”
Scripture says at this point Elizabeth’s child leaped in her womb with excitement.
This was the first meeting of John the Baptist and Jesus, with the two sharing an in utero virtual high five.
Elated with all this news Elizabeth blessed Mary, then blessed the Christ-child she carried, and finally blessed the faith Mary had in believing this heavenly news.
I like to think the women, both unexpectedly pregnant, both full of joy, sat down and talked and laughed and wondered at the magnitude of it all.
Mary then did something that could have come right out of a Hollywood script. Did she lament that life wasn’t going according to her plan? Did she worry about what could go wrong with the pregnancy? Did she obsess on what color to paint the nursery? Nope. None of the above. Overwhelmed by joy she proceeded to burst into song.
• She sang, magnifying the Mighty One, who had looked on her with great favor.
• She sang, to worship a God who brings down the powerful, and brings up the lowly.
• She sang, praising a God that fills the stomachs of the hungry, and sends the rich away empty handed.
• Mary sang, recognizing that she, a young, poor, unwed, pregnant woman was as much a part of this blessing as anyone else.
• And she sang, most of all, to glorify a God who keeps the promises made to God’s people. She sang, knowing the child in her womb would be the fulfillment of that promise; a King who would right wrongs, a Ruler that walks alongside humanity, a Deity offering nothing less than salvation.
For Mary knew, that when this child of hers was born, the world would never be the same.
Pregnancy. It’s a beautiful thing; I look back on the time of waiting and anticipation for both our children fondly. All the potential that is to be, all the hopes not yet realized, it’s downright magical.
At the same time, the doing part of pregnancy can be downright draining. All the birth-planning, nursery making, doctor visiting, baby showering stuff can make for a busy, stressful nine months. And let’s be honest, being the guy in this equation tells but a small part of the story. Hearing from mothers about their pregnancy stories is really where it’s at.
As we look to the birth of the Christ child in a few short days, I ask you to spend this season of anticipation like Mary. Consider this your WWMD: What Would Mary Do?
Listen to the angels. They speak blessings to us in ways great and small.
Then spend time with loved ones. Share stories of how you have been so richly blessed by our maker. The gift of presence will always surpass the gift of presents. The sharing of your time is the best gift of all.
And don’t forget to celebrate the upcoming birth with joy, with laughter, and with song. Let this miraculous birth warm your hearts for not just a day or a season, but for a lifetime.
Are you ready for Christmas? The query is typically tied to the doing of preparations – aka have the gifts been purchased? The Christmas cards sent? The holiday meal prepared? How you answer signals your ability to navigate the gauntlet of cultural Christmas challenges. But these challenges often leave us stressed-out, exhausted, and flat out broke.
Today’s text begs us to consider the question in a new light.
Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready to celebrate the goodness of God? Are you ready to spend time with loved ones, sharing with them how you have been so incredibly blessed? Are you ready to talk and laugh and sing, all in praise to our Creator? Are you ready to make room for the Christ child that will soon be here?
As the saying goes we make plans and God laughs. Instead, try this on for size.
God makes plans – good plans, Christ-child plans – and we rejoice.
Are you ready for Christmas? May it be so. Amen.