Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).
For many boys and girls, December is the best month of the year. Whether they’re sitting on the lap of a department store Santa or decorating a Christmas tree or reading stories about the baby Jesus, children love December. They look forward to Christmas. They love opening presents, eating all sorts of treats, and enjoying a great celebration with family and friends.
But not everyone enjoys the holiday season so much. Christmas is fun for children, and it’s often fun for parents just to see how much the children enjoy it. But what if you don’t have any children? It’s possible you don’t want any, but what if you long for children and haven’t had any? Perhaps you’ve been trying for years to have a baby, and have even spent a great deal of money in seeking medical help, but you still don’t have a little one.
In the book Dear God, Why Can’t We Have a Baby, Sylvia Van Regenmorter writes, “For many couples in the midst of the infertility struggle, holidays become a burden rather than a joy. Going to Grandma’s house for Christmas dinner is not something to look forward to knowing inquisitive relatives will inquire when one is going to start a family. Shopping for other people’s children, hearing someone say ‘Christmas is for children,’ and knowing that sister Ellen’s new baby will be the center of attention, does not make for a very merry Christmas” (p. 64-65).
Well, if that’s the case, there are quite a few people who aren’t going to have a very merry Christmas. A recent cover story in Time magazine (9/30/91) says that we are “in the midst of an infertility epidemic.” More than one in twelve couples in the United States has difficulty conceiving a baby, and for couples in their thirties, that number is as high as one in seven. Even with rapid advances in medical technology, only half of those who seek help for infertility ever have a baby. Infertility is a painful reality for many couples all over the world, and it has been throughout history.
You might be surprised to know that the struggle with infertility is a prominent theme in the Bible. God’s Word tells the stories of many different couples who struggled with the disappointments of infertility, and we’re going to look at a few of them.
It’s helpful for all of us to hear about their experiences, if for no other reason than to get a better picture of God’s concern for childless couples. If you’ve been unable to have children of your own, these true stories may give you fresh courage and insight. And even if you have children, this material from the Bible can make you more sensitive to the pain of those who don’t. That’s very important in a season like Christmas, when childless people can easily feel hurt and excluded.
But there’s another reason as well for thinking about this during the Christmas season. These stories are very closely connected with the birth of Jesus Christ, and they help us to understand how important Christmas really is.
Long before the birth of Jesus, God promised again and again the birth of a Savior, and this baby became the hope of God’s people. They eagerly waited for the child God had promised, but years and centuries passed, and still no Savior was born. They waited … and waited … and waited, like an infertile couple hoping for a child but never getting one. In a sense, the entire Old Testament part of the Bible is the story of one very long struggle with infertility, of placing all hope for happiness on the promise of a very special baby who seemed a very long time in coming.
The line from which the promised Savior was supposed to be born had to struggle repeatedly with infertility. Abraham and Sarah are the first infertile couple mentioned in the Bible. Although they had no children, the Lord promised that they would become the parents of many nations, and he said that their offspring would be a blessing to all peoples on earth (Genesis 12:3). So Abraham and Sarah kept hoping for a baby, but after God made the promise, 25 years passed by and Sarah still had not become pregnant. They grew very old, and with each passing year it seemed less and less probable that they would ever have a baby at all, let alone become the parents of many nations.
Then one day, after all those years of waiting, when Sarah was long past the age when she could have children, God spoke to Abraham again and said that Sarah would have a baby within a year. When Abraham first heard this, he couldn’t help laughing (Genesis 17:17). God must be joking! There was no way Sarah could have a baby anymore. Well, the Lord wasn’t joking, though he did show a sense of humor. He told Abraham that the boy who was born should be named Isaac, which means “laughter.” A little later, when God repeated his promise to Abraham within earshot of Sarah, she burst out in laughter. The Lord heard her, and he asked, “Why did Sarah laugh …? Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:13-14). And within a year, the boy named Laughter was born, proving that nothing was too hard for the Lord. His power and his promise are no joke!
Well, the boy Isaac grew up and married a beautiful woman named Rebekah. But they too had problems. The Bible says, “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant” (Genesis 25:21). She had twin boys named Esau and Jacob, and the Lord made it clear that the line of promise would continue through Jacob.
But when Jacob grew up and got married, his wife Rachel also went a long time without becoming pregnant. Finally, Rachel was so upset by this that she told Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die” (Genesis 30:1). That’s how much it can hurt to be childless. Without a baby of her own, Rachel didn’t think her life was worth living.
If you’re childless, you can sometimes become dreadfully depressed, and no one else seems to understand. If someone has a child and it dies, at least they can grieve openly, and family and friends are there to cry with them and offer support. But if your problem is that you’ve never had a child at all, it’s a different story. There’s no funeral, no flowers, no sympathy cards, no tears from the people around you. And yet your grief may be just as deep–so deep that, like Rachel, you would rather die than go on without children.
In Proverbs 13:12, the Bible says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” When you keep getting your hopes up only to have them dashed with every monthly cycle, you become heartsick. For Rachel, life began to feel like one long string of disappointments. But at long last, the Bible tells us, “God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son… She named him Joseph” (Genesis 30:22-24). This boy Joseph grew up to be a remarkable man who saved his people, as well as many other nations, from starving to death in a famine.
A pattern takes shape very early in the Bible. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, ancestors of the Hebrew nation and ancestors of Jesus, all had to battle infertility. It became clear that the offspring God had promised could not be born simply by human activity, but only through God’s miraculous power.
In Judges 13, the Bible tells how God worked in the lives of yet another childless couple and gave them a son called Samson. As Samson grew up, he had many personal faults and shortcomings, but he also had immense strength and power from God to overcome the enemies who had been oppressing the Hebrew people. This mighty man began his life as a miracle baby born to an infertile couple.
The great prophet Samuel was another miracle baby. The Bible book of 1 Samuel begins with the story of Hannah, a devout woman who’d been unable to have a child. Not only did she endure the pain of not being blessed with a baby, but her husband’s other wife enjoyed provoking her about it. Sometimes Hannah felt so bad about the situation that she lost her appetite. To make matters worse, rather than taking Hannah’s grief seriously, her husband made a feeble attempt to cheer her up. “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you so downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8). Well, of course Hannah loved her husband, but that didn’t mean she didn’t want a baby. Why couldn’t her husband understand that?
To top it all off, when Hannah went to worship, the priest seemed to do her more harm than good. “In her bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord” (1:10). But when Eli the priest saw this, he thought Hannah was drunk, and he told her to stay away from the wine. Hannah protested that she had not been drinking. “Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (1:16). In her pain, the last thing she needed was for someone to judge her. When the old priest realized he had jumped to conclusions, he told Hannah that he hoped the Lord would answer her prayer, whatever it may have been. If you’ve had to put up with a spouse or pastor who is well-meaning but insensitive to your true feelings, I’m sure you can relate to Hannah.
After all that pain and misunderstanding, the Lord finally gave Hannah a baby boy. She named him Samuel and dedicated Samuel to the Lord. Samuel’s birth brought great joy to his parents, but he also made his mark on history as a mighty prophet of God.
Still, another miracle baby is introduced at the opening of the New Testament book of Luke. There was a priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. This couple loved and obeyed God, and they prayed for children of their own, but they grew old without having any. One day Zechariah was serving as a priest in the temple when an angel appeared to him and said,
Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time” (Luke 1:13-20).
Zechariah couldn’t ask any more questions or express any more doubts or say anything at all for the next nine months, until the baby John was born. When Zechariah was finally able to speak again, he used his voice to praise God, not only for the fact that he finally had a son but also for the even greater fact that John would be a great prophet to help people get ready to meet the coming Lord.
Now, what do these stories tell us? To begin with, they tell us how deeply God cares about childless people, and they show how powerful the Lord really is. He listens to the prayers of his people, and he is more than capable of answering them in his own time. Nothing is too hard for the Lord, even blessing couples who are beyond hope with children of their own.
I’ve listened and prayed with a number of couples who were unable to have children and went through a lot of grief and questions. I didn’t know whether they would finally have a baby or not, but I wanted them to sense that God was with them even in their hurts and struggles. But I’ve also had the thrill of seeing many of them later on, beaming with joy and amazement as they held a baby in their arms. Some became pregnant after nearly losing hope, and others were blessed with the wonderful gift of adopted children. And as they held their little ones, they could echo the words of Psalm 113:9, “(The Lord) settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord.”
But as I said earlier, there is something even larger going on in these biblical stories about infertility and miracle babies. The ultimate purpose of the Bible is to direct our attention to one baby in particular, the Lord Jesus Christ.
At the very beginning of history, God had promised a very special baby. As soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin, God promised Eve that one of her descendants would crush the power of the evil one (Genesis 3:15). So when Eve had her very first child, I suspect she was already hoping that he would be the promised offspring. But the boy Cain grew up to be a vicious man who murdered his own brother. Cain was a sinner, not a Savior, and so was every other human being.
God gave the promise of a Savior very early in human history, and he repeated it many times, but the years flew by and still, the baby had not come. Every time a couple who knew God’s promise had a child, they may have wondered whether it just might be the one God had promised. But time after time after time, the child was born sinful, just like its parents.
Even the miracle babies I’ve talked about had their faults and sins. As important as they were, they were not the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise, because they too were born sinners. Sinful parents inevitably gave birth to sinful children. The human race was hopelessly sterile when it came to producing a sinless Savior. Human beings were utterly incapable of giving birth to someone who would be absolutely pure, who would be God with us.
And yet, despite all this, the Old Testament believers continued to hope and pray for the child God had promised. None of the miracle babies born so far had been the promised Savior, but their stories still must have encouraged God’s people to keep believing. Who could forget the question God asked Sarah: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” They remembered that they themselves were descendants of men and women who had been blessed with children only after all human hope was gone. They remembered the miraculous birth of great leaders like Joseph and Samson and Samuel, and so they trusted that the ultimate deliverer would also be born at God’s appointed time. Somehow, someday, God would send the miracle baby he had promised.
Their faith was not in vain. One day the waiting was over, and their hope became a reality. God kept his promise, and his people no longer had to feel like an infertile couple desperately hoping for a baby. The agony of waiting became the joy of celebrating. The gospel of Luke tells how it happened. God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, a younger relative of Elizabeth. The angel told Mary,
“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:31-37)
It’s hard to find a greater sentence in all the Bible than that one: nothing is impossible with God! It was impossible for sinful human beings to have a sinless baby, but God miraculously took his own Son and placed him into the womb of a virgin as a perfectly holy, human baby. The Lord who had given children to so many infertile couples, himself became a baby in the womb of Mary in order to save us.
Jesus was born a perfect baby, he lived a perfect life, and he offered a perfect sacrifice when he died on a cross to pay for the sins of his people. He arose from the dead and ascended to heaven, guaranteeing salvation to everyone who trusts in him.
So not only was Jesus the miracle baby born on Christmas, but he is also the one who creates the miracle of new birth for his people. The Bible says, “To those who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). God miraculously became the child of a human mother so that we humans might miraculously become children of God. God’s Son was willing to take on a body within the womb of Mary so that his Spirit might live forever in the hearts of his people.
The message of Christmas is that God’s promised miracle baby has come, and he has done everything necessary to save his people. And so today, believe the truth about this miracle baby, and receive his Holy Spirit into your heart.
Lord, we praise you for your miraculous power. Truly, nothing is impossible for you. We thank you for the amazing gift of life in every new baby, and we pray that you will give strength and encouragement to those couples who are still longing to have a baby. Walk with them through the difficult times of this holiday season, and in your compassion grant them the desire of their hearts.
We thank you above all, dear Father, that in your love you kept your promise and sent your only Son for our salvation. We praise you, Lord Jesus, that you were willing to humble yourself and become a little baby to rescue us from our sin. By your Holy Spirit, help each of us today to experience the new birth that comes through faith in you. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.