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.
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?
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.
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.