Parents who give birth to many children are regarded today with patronizing compassion – if not plainly insulted (“Haven’t you heard of contraception?”).
But 2,000 years ago, among the Israelites, it was the childless parents who were regarded as pariahs. St. Anthimos the Iberian, Orthodox Metropolitan of Wallachia (1650-1716), evokes the early Church oral tradition which recounts that, before giving birth to the Mother of God, Joachim and Anne, her parents, were treated as pariahs in the Temple: “In the days of yore… whoever did not give birth to children was insulted and despised by everybody, even if they were noble and rich; and when they would take their gifts to the temple, the priest received them after everybody else’s and they had the worst place in the temple and nobody would eat with them, but considered them as punished by God“.
Why? Because the whole people of Israel looked towards future, waiting for the fulfilment of the many prophecies saying a savior would be born. From this perspective, being unable to have children meant stagnation of history. It meant preventing the prophecies to be fulfilled and implicitly preventing God’s salvation work through The One He would send.
More than being unable to procreate, refusing to do so meant going against God’s will to become manifest in history and sabotaging the salvation chances for the whole people.
But at that time nobody ever considered a child as an “option”. The only option for a pregnancy was life.
The child Jesus was born from the “unplanned” pregnancy of a teenager who thus risked her reputation and even her life: Virgin Mary. Had she refused this uncomfortable gift of life, the history would have looked completely different. Nobody would have changed hearts by preaching forgiveness, peace and a calling to man’s transfiguration higher than any other before. Nobody would have brought us the message that master and slave, man and woman, rich and poor are all sons of God and fully equal with each other.
What does this teach us? That there is no unplanned pregnancy. That every human being comes with the potential to contribute something to the world and to God’s salvation plan.
But it was also righteous Joseph’s merit that he, as Mary’s fiancé, assumed the woman and her child.
And this teaches us the divine will reflected in nature’s law: life flourishes best – and is best received – within a family. Woman, family and life are tightly bound together: the first has the power to say “Yes!” to life, to give life and nourish it, while the second has the power – and mission – to protect and rear life.
Thus, Christmas brings us the good tidings in favor of life and family. Being Christian is being pro-life par excellence. It means trusting that people and the whole universe are part of a divine and eternal plan. But it also means assuming the sacrifice of being open to life and trusting that it will always be followed by a great reward – not just for ourselves, but for the whole community. For the people.