Advent is a time of waiting, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Christ child. We look to Christmas as the coming of Jesus, but the truth is that Jesus’ life on earth didn’t begin in a manger in Bethlehem. In fact, Jesus entered our world
when the “power of the Most High” overshadowed a young girl in the village of Nazareth (Lk 1:35). He arrived into human history at the moment of his conception, a tiny bundle of cells, reminding us of “things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard” (1 Cor 2:9). Jesus came to us as an unexpected child, son of an unwed mother, a messy situation that is not unlike the plight of many unborn children in our world today.
From the first moment, the incarnate Jesus showed profound solidarity with us, sharing our human journey. His life would begin as ours, an unborn child developing cell by cell, tiny feet, hands with fingers and nails, a beating heart, the profile of a face. Gradually, Jesus would take on the features of his mother, her eyes, her nose, her ears, her chin, and finally, her hair. Though the Son of God, he was becoming the Son of Mary, spending the first nine months of his life intimately connected with the one who said “Yes” to life, Mary, the first Christ-bearer.
Pope Francis says that “every unborn child… bears the face of the Lord.” If this is true, every mother who carries a child is a Christ-bearer. Life, which begins at conception, is a participation in the Divine. This perspective sheds a whole new light on the privilege and responsibility of pregnancy, causing us to reconsider the esteem we grant to those who choose life. Mary’s “Yes” put her in a precarious position with her family, with Joseph and with the people in her small village of Nazareth, where everybody knew one another. She may have been labeled “unwed mother,” an offense that was punishable by public stoning to death. Labels hurt people — and often times a label misses the greater truth of a person’s life. In this sense, Mary stands as a beacon to all who are reduced to a category, or a commodity, while being judged or unsupported. If we see ourselves on the sidelines, we are forced to consider our own views toward life, particularly when it comes to us in ways that make us uncomfortable.
Jesus considers human life so precious that he chose to enter the world as a baby. He came as we are — helpless, fragile, vulnerable and completely dependent. Throughout his life, he continued to rely on the goodness in others for his worldly needs. The Advent season reminds us that all life is to be met with eager anticipation, whatever the circumstance. It’s not enough to require others to say “Yes” to life; we must join our “Yes” to theirs, offering compassion and support, not just in words but also in action. Children are to be loved and protected. None of us is exempt from this task. In this way, each of us is a bearer of Christ, allowing him to be born in our lives, and born in our world.
Mary Hallman is the diocesan Director of Evangelization and a parishioner of St. Charles-St. Ann’s Parish in Syracuse.