My newborn is sleeping beside me as I write this. I watch his face gently twitching as he dreams and I keep my ears open for a wake-up cry calling out for milk and comfort. This is a special Christmas season for me, as I mark the end of my first pregnancy and the birth of my son, Isaac. I’m thinking in new ways this year about how Mary surrendered herself, body and spirit, to growing and nurturing the child that would be the long-awaited Messiah. First while pregnant, and now as a nursing mother, I am privileged like Mary to physically join in with God’s work as Creator/Nurturer/Sustainer of the world. Jesus’s words from Luke 22:19 have new meaning for me as I think about my son: “This is my body, given for you”.
Mary was probably half of the age that I am now when the angel came to her with God’s wild and unexpected message that would turn her life upside down. Mary was just living her life, a normal Jewish girl in 1st century Palestine. All of a sudden, totally out of nowhere, God breaks into her life with a crazy proposition for her. Will she, an unmarried teenager, give birth to the Messiah, the saviour for whom her people have been waiting for centuries?
Think about the risks Mary was taking; first of all, by becoming pregnant without a husband in the picture, she was risking being stoned to death as someone who had committed adultery, according to Jewish law. Secondly, she was risking her body and potentially her life through pregnancy and delivery. I don’t know what the maternal mortality rate was for 1st century Palestine, but I am sure that the emergency c-section and neonatal care that gave me and my son a safe birth were not available to Mary and Jesus in the Bethlehem stable. I can only marvel at her willingness to say yes.
The last ten months for me have been at times nauseating, exhausting and painful. I’ve also been filled with wonder at what my body can do to create and sustain new life, and I’ve been flooded with feelings of joy and love for my small family. I love that my body can feed, nourish and comfort my son like no one else. When woken up to nurse at 2:47 am and again at 4:23 am, “This is my body, given for you” feels more like a mantra of sacrifice and less like the privilege of being a nurturer/sustainer of life. Yet I wouldn’t want it any other way. Rachel Wrenn’s poem, “A Prayer for the End of Nursing” beautifully captures this mix of emotions that I feel.
Childbearing is radical, and it’s ordinary. We’re all here because a woman joined in God’s great work of creation and gave her body over to us for nine months. Many of us were fed from our mothers’ body with the milk God designed to be most nourishing to us. It is an everyday miracle of creation that women around the world take part in. O Lord, we praise you, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
As I light daily Advent candles this season and read the familiar scriptures, it’s Mary’s song that stays in my thoughts:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.”
(Luke 22:46-49, NRSV)
Leah Reesor-Keller is excited to celebrate Christmas at home in Canada for the first time in three years. She and her husband Luke serve with Mennonite Central Committee in Nepal. They’re already making plans to take Isaac trekking in the Himalayas as soon as he’s big enough to fit into a baby carrier hiking backpack.