Groaning with pain and exhaustion, the young woman settles gingerly against a pile of dirty straw in the corner of the cave. Two oxen snuffle in the nearby manger. A few hens croon and cluck, scratching the dirt.
The woman rubs her swollen abdomen, then gasps and cries out. Her anxious husband takes her hand and strokes her hair. She grimaces and breathes hard, belly tight as a drum.
The baby will be here soon.
We never tire of the Christmas story, do we? We never get bored with hearing about Mary and Joseph, the inn with no room, the shepherds and the angels, the wise men from afar. No matter our age, we love hearing the story of newborn Jesus swaddled and lying in a manger.
We never tire of this story because we know that all our stories hinge upon the story of this One who came to earth to save mankind from sin. The birth of Christ ushers in something completely new, yet planned from eternity past.
Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection fling wide the gates to a whole new kingdom, a kingdom wherein the subjects are adopted as sons and daughters forever.
So we celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year with good reason. We set up nativity scenes and read Advent devotionals and light candles, reflecting on the glorious grace offered us.
This Christmas, I find myself meditating not only on the birth of Jesus, but what happened before that. Not centuries before, but rather, the nine months prior to His birth.
It’s difficult enough to wrap our minds around the idea of God taking on a human form, limiting himself to the confines of a finite body, suffering ignoble weaknesses like hunger, weariness, and pain.
It’s even more difficult when we consider that it wasn’t His birth which brought Jesus into the world.
It was His conception.
Jesus actually came into our world shortly after the angel Gabriel made his stunning announcement to Mary and explained, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:28, 35).
Jesus arrived more than two thousand years ago as an eternally divine, yet newly conceived human being in the womb of a poor girl whose oppressed people suffered dangerous times.
How humble and vulnerable is that?
Before he was laid in a manger, Jesus was implanted in a human womb.
Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus Christ, a zygote. The long-awaited Messiah, an embryo. The Son of God, a human fetus.
“…[Jesus] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. – Philippians 2:6, 7[J1]
Born in our likeness—and even before that, conceived and carried in our likeness. The implications of this are staggering.
Jesus, our great High Priest, knows the full range of human experience—including the dark and mysterious season of gestation which precedes every birth (Hebrews 4:15, 16). He made himself small for our sakes, starting with the microscopic beginnings of conception.
One of Jesus’ beautiful names is Emmanuel, “God with us.” The first place “God with us” showed up was not in a stable, but deep inside a woman.
As I reflect on Psalm 139:13-16, I wonder if perhaps the spirit of Jesus uttered these words of praise to His Father as He was being fashioned inside Mary:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
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Did He commune with the angels while the Father knit Him together? Did He hear faint echoes of glorious songs sung around the throne in heaven while His skin was still translucent?
We do know that Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptizer, leapt with joy in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, greeted her (Luke 1:39-44). This tells us life in the womb is hardly devoid of spiritual vitality and awareness.
There’s much to wonder about and reflect upon, but one thing is clear: The womb was a sacred place for Jesus, just as it is for every child. It was designed by God as a sanctuary for the most delicate, easily disposed-of population on the planet—the preborn.
There’s a reason Jesus’ life began just as every human life begins. There’s something deeply significant, theologically and poetically, about the nine months He experienced before birth just as we all do.
It’s this very vulnerable, utterly sacred season of human life the pregnancy help community works so hard to protect. We know our God as sovereign Creator and loving Father. We know how much He delights in fashioning unique, individual image bearers.
He even fashioned His only begotten Son by means of nine months in the womb.
Those in the life-affirming mission fight a critical battle. The sanctity of human life is no side issue. Not only do lives hang in the balance; humanity’s ultimate sacred space is at stake.
Every preborn life we help rescue, every womb that remains a sanctuary instead of turning into a slaughterhouse, matters to God.
Jesus’ own gestation confirms this truth.
May the wonder of the Son of God’s full human experience be your meditation this Christmas season, and may you be filled with fresh joy for the journey.