I opened my calendar and counted the months. Our baby would be born in early January, which meant I would be great with child at Christmas. “Great!” I sighed, wondering if with child was a good thing for Christmas time.

A long time ago, there was another expectant mother, one much younger and more fearful than me. Perhaps she pulled out her calendar when she heard about a census of the entire Roman Empire. Perhaps she counted the months, sighed, and wondered.

Luke 1:26-2:21.

The hot months of summer passed slowly for me, punctuated by regular doctor visits. We shared our good news with everyone. I donned maternity clothes before I really needed them just because they were cute. (It was my first child. Give me a break.)

Mary probably hid her pregnancy
as long as possible.

That other, younger mother probably wasn’t so hasty. She probably hid her pregnancy as long as possible and avoided every public situation.

By November, the weight of our baby pressed on my hips and knees. I couldn’t travel across town without stopping for a restroom. I had to arch my back to fully fill my lungs. Sure, I felt great…like a great white shark.

As nativity scenes appeared in churchyards and devotionals turned to Matthew or Luke, I began to think about that other expectant mother.

Mary carried the weight of her baby on her hips, like I did, but she also carried an undeserved weight of shame. In the eyes of her neighbors, she was an unwed mother. Mary was nine months pregnant when she and her husband, Joseph, made the four-day journey to Bethlehem for the census. How many times did they stop for her to relieve herself? How swollen were her feet by the end of the second day?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Carole, about a month before her due date

The year I was pregnant, we lived fourteen hours (by car) from our families. At Christmas, I couldn’t manage the long drive, and I wasn’t permitted on airplanes so close to my due date. All our neighbors waved goodbye to us out their car windows while we stayed behind in our small apartment. It was quiet. We were lonely.

The census required Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem despite her “condition.” If Joseph’s ancestors were from Bethlehem, one would think he had family still living there. The standard practice would be to stay with them, yet this young couple approached the innkeeper instead. Had they been rejected by his family?

We had a cozy apartment with an evergreen-scented candle, but they settled into a stable. That’s a different kind of lonely.

When our baby arrived in January, we were supported by medical personnel, and later, by friends and church family. There were immediate phone calls to new grandparents, visits from relatives within the week, and many gifts. We felt overwhelmed with love and encouragement, surrounded by people just as anxious to meet our new baby as we were.

When Jesus was born, only two people in the whole world were glad to see Him. No one helped. No one cared. Mary and Joseph must have felt alone and forsaken. That is, until the shepherds arrived. Sure, they were stinky, uneducated night laborers, but they understood Who lay in Mary’s arms, and they rejoiced with her. I imagine that was enough.

Back on Christmas Eve, before our baby was born, my husband and I found a midnight church service near our apartment. With my one-and-only maternity sweater stretched tight across my belly and my legs pressed further apart than seemed appropriate, we worshiped with a bunch of strangers (who didn’t smell anything like sheep, by the way).

I watched the great holiness
of that first Christmas night
overlay the soil, the
shame, the sweat, and the
strain of bearing a child.

Even before we got to Silent Night and lit our little candles, I anointed my great belly with tears. I had never identified with Mary more than in that moment. And like her, I watched the great holiness of that first Christmas night overlay the soil, the shame, the sweat, and the strain of carrying, then bearing a child.

It’s been fifteen years since my “great with child” Christmas, but like Mary, I’ve “treasured up all these things and pondered them in [my] heart” (Luke 2:19). They have changed the way I think about Christmas. I know what it means to be Great! …with child.

When “great with child” really isn’t that great. Maybe Mary and I have a little something in common: #Christmas #pregnancy #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you have a Christmas memory that makes the season more spiritually significant for you? If you have a minute in these busy days, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Related: The Cast of Christmas: Mary, The “Perfect Christmas”

Love these, from Gabriella Siefert on Christianity Today (2017): “Every Woman Wants a Role Model” and from April Yamasaki, “Wishing You a ‘Mary’ Christmas.”

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9 thoughts on “Great! …with child

  1. This is so good! A careful study of what sweet Mary might have endured and matching it up with my “aches and pains and heartbreak and disappointments” puts things in right perspective. I just wrote a blog about No Room with regard to the inn in Bethlehem. The Lord definitely has you and me pondering the events in Luke’s gospel over recent days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The story in Matthew and Luke fill me with awe. I guess the most amazing realization is that real life was not the cleaned up version we see on Christmas cards. It was hard, dirty, smelly and stressful. Yet in the midst of it all, God came.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m late reading this, but I wanted to say that I had never thought about the couple staying with family. Also, was Mary from the same line? If so, shouldn’t her family have gone with them? Maybe she wasn’t!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She was! I recently read it somewhere. And maybe they weren’t alone but traveled with a big group, like when they went to Jerusalem twelve years later. So many unanswered questions!
      It’s never too late for a great comment. Thank you for taking the time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you remember where you read it, I’d love to read it, too. I was taught at some point that one of the genealogies in the Gospels is Joseph’s, and the other is Mary’s, but they both look like Joseph’s to me.

        Liked by 1 person

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