James E. Copple
Every holiday season for the past 20 years, I have chosen a theme that helps me focus on the meaning and joy of Christmas. This year, I chose motherhood with a particular focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus. Resonating through my reflection is the message – every mother counts.
Scholars tell us that Mary was probably about 15-years old when informed that she was pregnant. This news was disruptive at best. There are so many complications associated with Mary’s pregnancy, including the information that this child was conceived miraculously. Moving beyond that theological and biological conundrum, let’s just stipulate that this was awkward on so many fronts.
Today, the birth of Jesus, is celebrated with the singing of familiar carols, Christmas tinsel and the exchanging of gifts. For Mary, it was met with disbelief, confusion, political intrigue and marvel. The birth of a Savior was anticipated but never expected in the manner in which that Savior came. Mary did not understand the meaning of the child she carried. The scriptures inform us that she was troubled and is later admonished by the Angel Gabriel not to be afraid. A tall order for a young woman who must now explain to her neighbors that she is pregnant. Her first response, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” Her question was both biological and social.
How odd of God to have chosen Mary. Mary and first century Palestine would not have been in my strategic plan. However, that is the miracle of life. The circumstances and environments that give birth (literally) to children continue to surprise us. I have been in all manner of birthing environments from hospitals to huts in remote places in countries far, far away. When that newly birthed child is placed in the arms of a long-expecting mother, something else happens that also appears miraculous. A bond is created that can never be severed. It is a forever moment. This bond is so important that we should do everything we can to protect it and to guarantee that nothing can destroy it. Every mother counts!
Several years ago, I was introduced to a campaign that advocates for the health and safety of moms during pregnancy. Every Mother Counts is a campaign to end preventable deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth around the world. Their founder, Christy Turlington Burns — model, actress, and film producer says, “We inform, engage, and mobilize new audiences to take action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women worldwide.”
Every Mother Counts points out that each year more than 287,000 women die in childbirth; another 8.5 million women suffer lifelong debilitating complications from childbirth; more than 200 million women, who would like to choose when they become pregnant,do not have access to informed family planning; and finally, the United States ranks 50th in maternal mortality.
In the cultural wars that have produced the heated debates on abortion rights for the past 40 years, we would be the wiser if we would also advocate for pro-life policies after conception. What are we doing to assure that all women, rich and poor, are given the capacity to have a safe and healthy pregnancy? Christmas is a time when we reflect on the birth of Jesus. Mary did not have the conveniences of a modern hospital and no doubt was assisted by a midwife. Regardless, her birth created a personal social consequence.
An unmarried maid explaining to the world that she was to deliver the Messiah is an experience that is difficult, trying and in conservative Nazareth perhaps even dangerous. It would be many years before Mary would fully realize the significance of the child she called Jesus. As the months would pass, before the birth of her promise, her emotions would vacillate between fear and hope. Elisabeth, friend, comforter and cousin, would continually assure Mary that among women she was most blessed.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever. (Luke 1:46-55).
That long expected Savior, who in Mary’s words put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; and filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty, was more, much more than she had hoped. So too in every woman who bears a child, there is a promise and hope that the life they carry will become one of significance. We owe that child and the woman that carries that child the right to a healthy pregnancy and the hope of safe deliverance.
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