By Katey Zeh, M.Div
Advent is a season of expectation, hope, and preparation for the miracle of God’s entry into our world as a vulnerable infant. But do we pause often enough to ponder the birth itself? The nativity stories found in our sacred texts tell us little about it, though what we know is Mary was a relatively young woman, she was pregnant at an unexpected time in her life, and she delivered Jesus under less than ideal circumstances.
In my advocacy work for global maternal health in the Church, I have often talked about Mary’s pregnancy as “high risk.” The more I learn about the dangers girls and women face and the common struggle to bring new life safely into the world, I realize how much we have taken Mary’s survival for granted. Somehow in the expectation and celebration of the Christ child, we have overlooked the mother who bore him.
In my eyes the miracle of the Christmas story is two-fold: both mother and baby survived the experience of childbirth. Mary was able to care for her child, to nurture him as he grew into a young man, and to encourage him in his earthly ministry. I’ve often wondered how different the life of Jesus would have been if he’d been born an orphan and never known his mother.
Tragically this is the reality too many newborn babies face today. Every two minutes somewhere in the world a woman dies from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. That means each day nearly 800 women leave behind families, communities, and our world—and often their deaths could have been prevented had they had access to basic health care. They are the “Marys” among us today; mothers who deserve to give birth safely and healthily.
As we enter into this season of Advent, the time of anticipation for the sacred event that brings us hope to stand strong in a world that seems hopeless, may we remember and give voice to the simple, yet astonishing miracle of a healthy mother and a healthy child. Let us remember Mary, reflect on the risks of her call by God and honor all of the mothers throughout history whose labors and births have prepared the way for the coming of the Christ. May their stories call us to continue working toward a world in which no woman loses her life giving life.
Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and educator who inspires intentional communities to create a more just, compassionate world through building connection, sacred truth telling, and striving for the common good. In 2010 Zeh launched the first and only denominationally-sponsored advocacy campaign focused on improving global reproductive health for The United Methodist Church. She has written extensively about global maternal health, family planning, and women’s sacred worth for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service. Find her on Twitter at @ktzeh or on her website www.kateyzeh.com.
Photo: © 2014 World Vision/ photo by Jon Warren