December 7, 2003

MARY’S CHOICE

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Luke 1:38

Mary was a young woman who had no plans for a pregnancy, no plans to have a baby any time soon. But one day Mary found out that she would be having a baby boy. His name would be Jesus. When Mary heard this news, she made a choice. Mary chose to accept God’s will and receive God’s Son into her womb.

What if Mary were living on earth today? If Mary were told of an unplanned pregnancy, a baby who would make it impossible for her life to go as she had planned, would Mary be right to abort her baby? Would Mary be better off if she had an abortion? Would the world be better if that unplanned baby Jesus was chopped up in his mother’s womb and vacuumed out?

Even if you favor abortion rights, you probably shudder at the thought of Mary aborting Jesus. But aborting Jesus is what happens every time an unplanned, inconvenient baby is aborted.

Is that putting it too strongly? Well, Jesus identifies himself with little children. He says that what is done to them is done to him, whether good or bad. He says, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5).      The Son of God did not enter this world as a full-grown man. He came as a baby. In fact Jesus did not start out as a newborn baby, able to breathe and survive outside his mother’s womb. He started as a pre-born baby, a tiny speck, conceived inside his mother by the Holy Spirit. He grew through all the stages of a nine-month pregnancy before he was born in Bethlehem. Jesus’ life did not become precious only after he was born, or only after he was viable, or only after the first or second trimester of pregnancy. Jesus was God’s precious gift to the world from the moment he was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. This is enormously important. It means that Jesus doesn’t just identify with grownups or kids or newborns. He identifies with unborn children from conception on.

Jesus identifies with the weakest, neediest people, those who aren’t self-sufficient, who can’t look out for themselves, those he calls “the least of these.” Who are the very least? Who are the smallest and most helpless of all? Surely tiny, helpless infants are among “the least of these.”

Hungry, Thirsty, Naked Stranger

Jesus identifies so closely with those who need help that when he comes again to judge the world, he will tell people, “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was without clothing.” He will tell the righteous that they helped him in his time of need, and he will tell the wicked that they were cruel in his time of need. Both the righteous and the wicked will say to him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes?” And Jesus will say that when they encountered “the least of these,” they were meeting Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31-46).

When do you meet Jesus hungry and thirsty? It may be when you meet a disabled person without enough money to buy food, but that’s not the only time you meet Jesus hungry and thirsty. Who needs food and drink more than a baby? A baby will die without nourishment. If a mother provides her unborn baby nourishment through the placenta, if a mother nurses a newborn at her breast, she is giving drink to thirsty Jesus and feeding hungry Jesus. But if a mother aborts her baby rather than nourishing the little one, she is refusing to nourish Jesus. When a father works to provide food and drink for a child, he is providing food and drink for Jesus. But if a man seeks to abort a child he fathered rather than be responsible to provide for the little one, he is refusing to feed Jesus.

When do you meet Jesus needing clothing? It might be when you meet someone who can’t afford to buy things from a store, but that’s not the only time. A baby enters the world naked and needs to be cleaned and clothed. When mother and father change a baby’s diapers, bathe the baby, dress the baby in warm clothes, and wrap their little one in blankets, they are clothing Jesus. But if parents expose a naked little one to an abortionist’s weapon in order to escape the responsibility of clothing and caring for their baby, they are refusing to clothe Jesus and exposing him to death.

When do you meet Jesus as a stranger who needs shelter? It may be when you meet a refugee or a homeless person, but that’s not the only time. A baby enters the world as someone you’ve never met before, a total stranger who can’t speak your language or understand anything you say, a stranger you can’t even see at first. That little stranger needs shelter, and the only suitable shelter is a mother’s womb. To give a baby a place in that shelter is to shelter Jesus. To deny that baby a shelter, to tear that baby from the womb, is to deny and cast out Jesus.

When Jesus speaks of “the least of these,” he includes babies. What we do to them, we do to him. If we neglect or destroy a child, we neglect or destroy Jesus. If we accept a little child, we accept Jesus.

A common way to honor Jesus’ birth is to set up a manger scene. That might be okay, but setting up a manger scene with a fake baby isn’t nearly as important as how we treat real babies. Jesus doesn’t identify with a doll in a manger. He identifies with living babies and takes personally what is done to them.

Christmas Choices

The Christmas season is a time to celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God. “Incarnation” means “to enter flesh” or “to become flesh.” The Son of God became human and entered our flesh. He lived the same flesh-and-blood life as every human, starting at conception and going all the way to death. The Lord entered into human life that we might taste divine life. He became like us that we might become like him. Jesus coming confront each of us with a choice: will we trust Jesus as Savior and Lord, or will we reject him?

You have a choice to make. And your choice of whether to take Jesus as Savior and Lord often reveals itself in another choice: how you treat other humans of every social class and at every stage of development. Jesus’ incarnation means that he shares our flesh—not just your flesh or my flesh, but the flesh of every human, including “the least of these.” Jesus’ solidarity with babies and other needy humans makes their humanity holy and precious. Your choice of how to relate to them is evidence of your choice of how to relate to Jesus.

Christmas is a time to choose. Indeed, Christmas has always been a time to choose. Mary’s choice was to trust God and to accept the baby God gave her. What is your choice?

Mary’s choice was to accept baby Jesus, but others made a different choice. They rejected Jesus. The reason baby Jesus had to be put in a manger in the first place was that nobody made room for him anywhere else. His parents were away from home at the time, and even though Mary was in labor, nobody made space for them in a motel room or home. Apparently, the people of Bethlehem couldn’t be bothered helping a baby.

Others went beyond neglect to murder. The evil king Herod felt threatened when he heard a prophecy about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem, and he did all he could to kill the baby. Herod sent soldiers to slaughter all the babies of Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph had fled with baby Jesus just in time.

Baby Jesus presented various people with a choice. Herod’s choice was to kill the baby if he could. The innkeeper’s choice and the townspeople’s choice was to neglect the baby and to leave his parents to fend for themselves in a livestock shelter. But Mary’s choice was to receive her baby, to carry him in her womb, to nurse him at her breast, to love and care for him in every way she could.

Still today Jesus confronts you and me with a choice: a choice of how to relate to him as Lord and Savior, and a choice of how to treat “the least of these,” especially babies.

Blessed Mary

     To see a beautiful pattern for responding to Jesus and to any baby God sends into your life, look at blessed Mary, the mother of our Lord. When I call her “blessed Mary” and “the mother of our Lord,” does that sound like something only Roman Catholics would say, with their emphasis on devotion to Mary? Well, many Roman Catholic friends listen to this program, but I’m not Roman Catholic. I’m a Protestant pastor. But I still speak of “blessed Mary” and “the mother of our Lord.” This isn’t a matter of talking like a Roman Catholic. It is simply echoing the Bible.

In Scripture no less a figure than the mighty angel Gabriel called Mary “highly favored” by God (Luke 1:28). When Mary went to live with her older cousin Elizabeth for several months of her pregnancy, the Holy Spirit moved Elizabeth to exclaim, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:42-45). Mary herself said, “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name” (Luke 1:48-49). Now, if great Gabriel called Mary “highly favored,” if Spirit-filled Elizabeth was overwhelmed at the privilege of having Mary stay with her and called her “blessed” and “the mother of my Lord,” if Mary herself prophesied that all generations would call her blessed, then it’s not just a Roman Catholic thing to hold Mary in high esteem and to call her the blessed mother of our Lord. It is simply biblical Christianity.

The Roman Catholic church goes beyond the Bible in some of its teaching about Mary. The Bible says nothing about the immaculate conception of Mary, nothing about her perpetual virginity even after her marriage to Joseph, nothing about her bodily assumption into heaven, and nothing about her role as queen of heaven to whom the faithful can direct their prayers. These Roman Catholic teachings are not found in the Bible, but the Bible does teach respect and honor for Mary as the blessed mother of our Lord. It is wrong to exalt Mary so highly that she becomes an object of faith and worship almost equal to Jesus, but it’s also wrong to overreact against Catholic Mariology by going to the other extreme and regarding Mary as just another woman and ignoring her blessedness.

God chose to give Mary the greatest of all babies and to make her to most blessed among women, and Mary accepted this blessing humbly and gladly. When she learned that a pregnancy was about to interrupt her plans and change her life, what did blessed Mary say? “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said’” (Luke 1:38) God chose for his Son to become incarnate in Mary, and Mary chose to willingly accept God’s Word and God’s work in her. God chose Mary, and Mary chose God.

Mary had not planned on pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean her pregnancy was unplanned. God had been planning that pregnancy from before the foundation of the world.

A common slogan in the pro-abortion movement is, “My body, my choice.” What a contrast to Mary! She did not defiantly say, “My body.” She said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” She didn’t insist on her own choice, regardless of what God said. She didn’t put her own plans and goals ahead of God’s will. She said, “May it be to me as you have said.” Blessed Mary chose God over self, blessedness over emptiness, life over death.

A favorite Christmas movie for many people is the old classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The film doesn’t have the glory and grandeur of the true Christmas story, but it does emphasize a wonderful truth: your life can make a huge difference in the lives of others. At times you may think that self-centeredness is better than investing yourself in other people, but there’s a huge reward in making a real difference for good.

Mary’s reward was not in becoming richer; she remained poor. Mary’s reward was not in being admired by her neighbors; they despised her because they assumed her baby was the result of sin. Mary’s reward was in knowing she was doing God’s will and playing a part in God’s wonderful plan to save the world through Jesus. Mary welcomed Jesus into her womb and into her life, and all generations call her blessed.

Our Choice

There is only one incarnate Son of God. Only one woman could carry him in her womb and be his mother. But all of us have a choice similar to Mary’s. The central choice is how we will respond to Jesus himself, and out of that choice flows our choice of how to respond to babies.

God comes to each of us and graciously offers his Son to us. Have you accepted Jesus, or do you reject him? Do you worship Jesus as God with us and trust him as the only one who can save you and give you eternal life? The Bible says, “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). God’s Son came to earth to make us God’s sons and daughters. Do you believe that? Do you receive Jesus as Savior and Lord? Mary’s supreme blessedness was to receive Jesus as God’s gift to her and to have him in her family. Would you like to be blessed with Mary and be part of the holy family? Then make Mary’s choice your choice: Receive Jesus as God’s gift to you personally.

What a blessing to receive Jesus with your whole heart! One of the chief signs of receiving Jesus by faith is that you also receive those Jesus called “the least of these.” As Mary chose to welcome the baby Jesus and to love him, you and I must choose to welcome and love babies, with whom Jesus identifies.

Jesus comes to each of us in the person of the least and the little ones. If you have the same faith Mary had, you will say, “I am the Lord’s servant,” and you will serve each child God gives you. It’s tempting to say, “My body, my choice,” but the way of blessing is to say, “I am God’s servant, and this is a child, not just a choice.”

In this Christmas season, can there be any doubt that God wants babies to be cherished and not destroyed? In this Christmas season, can there be any doubt that human life starts at conception? The Bible is emphatic that Jesus’ own human life began with conception, and the Bible also says that a pre-born baby was one of the first persons to delight in Jesus and to honor blessed Mary. When John the Baptist was developing and growing in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth, that little unborn baby leaped for joy to be in the same room as Mary and to hear the voice of the Lord’s mother. Even before John’s mind and brain were developed enough to know what was happening, the spirit of that unborn little one was made glad by Jesus.

We might not understand how that could happen, but there is much about the human spirit we don’t understand, and there is much about the Holy Spirit that we do not understand. The fact is that an angel said of John the Baptist that he would “be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15 NASB). If you believe what the Bible says about Jesus’ incarnation from conception on, and if you believe what the Bible says about John the Baptist being filled with the Holy Spirit and rejoicing while still a preborn, it is impossible to say that pre-born babies are not precious. It is impossible to know the truth of these Christmas events and still think that it’s okay to destroy unborn babies.

Guilt and Grief

Deep down most of us know that abortion destroys a tiny human. Even among who favor abortion rights, most realize that the baby is human, but they think the rights of the mother trump the needs of the baby. However, the guilt of baby killing is so heavy, and the grief so painful, that more and more people are ritualizing their guilt and grief.

In Japanese culture, many people who have aborted a baby go to a temple. There they take a tiny statue like a doll, which represents their baby. They dress the doll like a newborn, in hand-made sweaters, booties, and bibs. They pour water on their sacred doll to relieve it of thirst. Even some Japanese doctors who perform abortions go through these rituals to relieve their consciences and avoid a curse.

Abortion is legal and common in Japan, and there is no political opposition to abortion to speak of. But what the law permits, the conscience abhors. A young woman at a Japanese temple explained, “I think I’ve done something bad enough to be cursed.” She goes through the ritual, hoping to avoid a curse on herself and any future offspring she might have. A young man and his girlfriend aborted their baby and were at the shrine. He said, “The fact that you have murdered someone will be with you all your life—it will not disappear.”

In North America some abortion clinic operators encourage people to write messages on pink valentines to babies they’ve killed. A valentine quoted in Glamour magazine said, “To my little angel, Please understand that you are better off in the hands of God than mine at this moment. I smile when I think of you, even if I cry. You have given me reason to be strong and wise and responsible. You will always be my baby. I will see you in heaven, sweetheart. Love you! Love always and unconditionally, your mommy.”

Can dressing up a doll at a shrine make up for killing a baby? Can writing a sentimental pink valentine remove the sin of destroying a little one? Never! Japanese shrines and American valentines for aborted babies show that people know abortion kills a precious baby, but these things can’t take away sin.

Many who work in abortion clinics turn to alcohol and drugs to quiet their troubled hearts. One former worker said, “I took drugs to wake up in the morning. I took speed while I was at work. And I smoked marijuana, drank lots of alcohol… this is the way that I coped with what I did. It was horrible to work there, and there was no good in it.”

If you’ve been involved in abortion, the only good news for you is that Jesus came into the world to pay for our sins and to make us right with God. But Jesus does not save those who keep making excuses or press on with evil. If you repent and ask him to forgive you and change you, Jesus will wash away your guilt and comfort you in your grief.

Choose Life

Perhaps you enter this Christmas season just having learned about a pregnancy you didn’t plan on. You can’t imagine how you will cope. But there are choices besides abortion. You can give your baby life and bring joy to adoptive parents who have been yearning for a child, or you can bring up the child yourself.  Will you make Mary’s choice? Will you love this child the way you would love the baby Jesus himself? If you do that, you will find that the Lord works all things for your good.

The Back to God Hour’s Russian speaker, Serguei Sossedkine, received a letter from a listener, saying she had become a Christian not long ago. She writes,

I’ve learned how to trust God in very difficult circumstances. God supported and encouraged me through your radio broadcasts, answering my most urgent spiritual needs and questions.

I was pregnant with my third child when my husband abandoned us. My mother told me, “Go, have an abortion, and your husband will return to you.” At the same time I heard your broadcast where you said that abortion is a murder of a human being created by God. I couldn’t go for an abortion after what I had heard. My mother kept crying and saying, “If you give birth to this child, I’m not going to love him. You’ve gone crazy because of your God! How will you survive? Will your God provide you with diapers?”

May God forgive my mother for her harsh words! I understand that she was primarily driven by her concern for me. At that time I didn’t know the Bible well. But your radio programs, Christian books, sermons in the church, and my new sisters in Christ supported me.

I couldn’t pay the rent since my husband was gone. I and my kids were under the threat of being thrown out on the street. Now, thanks to the help from the church, we have new temporary housing, and it’s pretty good. My 8-month baby has enough clothes to last him until he is two years old. My mother loves him just like she loves her other grandchildren. She takes care of my baby when I go to work or participate in church activities.

Now I’m free from the bitterness that I used to have. There are peace and love in my soul, and I have a huge desire to seek God’s Kingdom and to be filled with his Word. Your broadcasts help me in that.

That new Christian made Mary’s choice: she received Jesus as Savior, and she cared for a baby even thought it was not easy. In doing so, she received the blessedness that comes from Christ: peace, love, and freedom. Make that same choice, and you will enjoy that same blessing. As Mary is called blessed, so you will be called blessed.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.