Today in the Lectionary, I was surprised to find Luke 1: 26-38. This is the Annunciation story, in which Mary is told by the angel Gabriel, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” and that she will be having a baby; “for nothing is impossible with God.”
Wait. This is still Lent, right? I was expecting to read this story during Advent – you know, the season leading up to Christmas! And then it dawned on me: today is exactly nine months before Christmas. In general, pregnancies last nine months, and I’m sure Mary’s was no different – duh!
We don’t really think about Mary’s pregnancy very often, do we? Especially not during Lent; the season that prepares us for Passion Week, Good Friday, and the crucifixion! We aren’t given much information from the Bible, other than Mary was not yet married to Joseph, and went into labor in Bethlehem while they were traveling from Nazareth for the Roman census.
Since we aren’t told much more, it’s pretty safe to assume that there was nothing unusual or remarkable about Mary’s pregnancy. She may have craved pickled olives, or developed a sudden aversion to baked fish; and wondered when her waist vanished. She might have become hungry ALL THE TIME, or noticed that her hair and fingernails were growing longer and faster than normal. Perhaps she cried anxiously; wondering if she would be a good mother, or if Joseph would ever find her attractive. Her ankles may have swelled, and she was probably bone-tired – especially after that 90 mile trip to Bethlehem. Maybe she was deliriously happy and full of energy! Pregnancy is like that.
And so in the middle of Lent, we are reminded that Jesus – the Christ, the Messiah, the promised One of Israel – was born just like everyone else, after a 9-month gestation period.
During Lent we get so focused on repentance, sacrifice, and fasting for 40 days. Lent can be kind of a downer. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Remembering the crucifixion is good. Fasting is good. Repenting is good. It is usually the first step to spiritual transformation!
But it is also good to pause in the midst of Lent and reflect on the miracle of birth and the circle of life. Jesus was conceived and spent nine months inside a young woman’s womb; growing and developing just like every other human infant. Mary’s body nourished His, and gave Him strength to move and grow and kick. He heard the muffled sound of Mary’s heartbeat, and became familiar with the sing-song cadence of her voice. I wonder if He recognized the Psalm when she sang:
“For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully
And wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
When I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
Were written in your book,
Before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)