Advent is well under way now, and we are counting down the days until Christmas, the birth of the Christ child. The Christmas story is one we all know well, and in all the celebration we can forget that it wasn’t an easy story for the people in it.
As it’s the feast of the Immaculate Conception today, it’s a great time to consider the challenges Mary had to go through because her “yes” to God. After all, she was conceived immaculate so she could bring Christ into the world.
We know that people married young back then. Mary was almost certainly a teen mother. Although she was engaged, she was not yet married. In the culture she lived in, that was a scandal. This alone is used as the justification for many abortions today. But in her culture, acceptance of the unborn child was normal. While other cultures around Israel practised abortion, in Mary’s culture, it was considered immoral to abort an unplanned pregnancy. The timing of the pregnancy was perfect from God’s point of view, but it probably didn’t seem like that to the people around Mary and Joseph.
Rather than think first of herself, her first recorded act after her “yes” to God was making the trip to her cousin’s town. Elizabeth was pregnant for the first time, and she was very old for a first time mother. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, bringing our Lord’s presence for the remainder of what could have easily been a difficult pregnancy. At the end of her own pregnancy she had another journey to make, the long trip to Bethlehem while heavily pregnant. That’s not an easy thing for a heavily pregnant women to do today, by modern means of transport. Mary’s options weren’t so attractive, go on foot, or ride a donkey. And when she arrived, the only accommodation was the place where the animals were stabled. Hardly a great start for a family. But that wasn’t the end of it, because of Herod’s desire to kill baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and Jesus had to flee, and become refugees in Egypt.
So, by modern standards, there were plenty of reasons that would justify an abortion. But Jesus was is safe hands being born into the holy family and being born into a culture that considered the unborn child as a gift.
The Christian pro-life ethic grew out of the Jewish culture and Christianity has always condemned abortion, right from the beginning. While the theologians have debated the magnitude of the moral gravity of abortion, the Church has always considered it immoral. This condemnation of abortion dates from the earliest Christian writings. The Didache, a first or second century Christian document, condemns abortion “You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child” (Didache 2:1–2). There a plenty of other writings from the first centuries of the Church which speak of the Church’s esteem and respect for the unborn child.
Mary’s “yes” was much more that simply accepting an unborn child. It provides us with an example of how to live our lives as a gift to God. Our respect for life, from conception to natural death, flows out of this “yes”. Mary shows us how to live that “yes” with courage and faithfulness.
Her words at the annunciation provide us with a model in our pro-life witness, and throughout our lives, “You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.”