Mary’s Embarrassing Pregnancy
By David Wright
Whitney was an outstanding student in high school. Her GPA was a perfect 4.0. The most difficult courses—chemistry, physics, calculus, trigonometry—were her favorites. Her impressive ACT and SAT scores earned her a full scholarship at the state university 15 miles from home.
Whitney is now 19, a second-semester freshman. She is on track to finish the university’s premed program in three more years. After graduation she will go to medical school. Her ultimate goal is to become a gynecologist. But a personal crisis is threatening to derail her academic and career goals.
Whitney is a Christian. In fact, an elder of the church is responsible for encouraging her to become a doctor. A physician himself, Dr. Gerald sees in Whitney the ambition and intelligence essential to success in medical school. Yes, Whitney is a Christian – but for several months her behavior has been inconsistent with God’s moral standards.
Whitney’s father, although a good man, has failed to give her the affection every daughter needs from her dad. He rarely touches her, never hugs her, never affirms her feminine beauty. So Whitney craves male attention and approval. At the university she meets several young men who, for selfish reasons, are more than eager to make her feel attractive. She refuses to use contraceptives, not wanting to admit even to herself that she is intentionally sexually active before marriage. Whitney prefers to think of her occasional moral lapses as mistakes. After each indiscretion she fervently prays for forgiveness and pleads with the Lord that no pregnancy will follow.
God does not seem to be listening to Whitney’s prayers. One warm April morning she wakes up feeling nauseated. The sickness soon passes, and she forgets all about it by the time she arrives at her first class. The next morning she feels queasy again – and now quite anxious too. After classes, she hurries to a pharmacy and buys a pregnancy test. It only takes a few minutes to confirm her suspicions.
Whitney is an unmarried teenager, a young woman relationally, emotionally, and financially unprepared for motherhood. But a mother she is. Dazed, she grabs her cell phone and calls Misty, her best friend. “What am I going to do?” Whitney wails. “How can I take care of a child and go to school at the same time? My life is ruined! How can I face my parents and all the people at church?” After a long pause, Misty says, “Whitney, you may not want to hear this. But you have only one option. Get an abortion.”
The modern Bible reader is so familiar with the Gospel accounts of the virgin birth and so impressed by the incredible honor of bearing God’s Son that she may overlook the predicament his miraculous conception created. Of course, it was not the miracle itself that made life difficult for Mary. Her relative Elizabeth was honored with a miraculous intervention when she became pregnant with John, and yet there was nothing at all awkward in the circumstances.
Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, “had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). Plainly, Elizabeth was postmenopausal. When Zechariah learned from the angel Gabriel that he would become a father, he simply could not believe his ears. Having a baby at Elizabeth’s time of life seemed impossible. But the pregnancy was great news for Elizabeth and all her friends. After conceiving, she praised God for taking away her “reproach among people” (v. 25). When John was born a few months later, Elizabeth’s “neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her” and “rejoiced with her” (v. 58).
Of course, the miracle Mary experienced was far more striking. Since sexual relations preceded the conception of John, a skeptic might argue that Elizabeth’s pregnancy was a perfectly natural occurrence – extremely rare but not scientifically impossible. Mary’s pregnancy, though, defied scientific explanation.
Gabriel appeared to Mary in Nazareth, telling her that she would conceive in her womb “and bring forth a Son” (Luke 1:31). She protested, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (v. 34). The angel’s reply was stunning: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (v. 35).
Again, this extraordinary miracle itself did not make life difficult for Mary. The problem was her marital status. When the angel appeared to her, Mary was “a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph” (Luke 1:27). The biblical description of Joseph as Mary’s “husband” (Matt. 1:19) reflected the serious level of commitment characterizing Jewish betrothal. This phase of courtship was so binding that only death or divorce could nullify it.
Engaged American couples usually view their intention to marry as a good excuse to be intimate with each other. Betrothed couples in the strict moral environment of Nazareth had more honorable values. Yes, Joseph and Mary were legally husband and wife, but they both fully intended to remain chaste until the wedding ceremony. After “Mary was betrothed to Joseph” but “before they came together, she was found with child” (Matt. 1:18).
And this is why Mary suffered acute embarrassment. No doubt, suspicious neighbors in Nazareth closely questioned her and refused to believe her honest answers. The painful conversations Mary endured might have gone something like this:
“Mary, it seems that you have put on some weight lately.”
“Well — yes — a little.”
“And most of it seems to be right around your waist. You’re not expecting …”
“Actually, I am.”
“Oh? Then you and Joseph must have had your wedding already. How did I miss it?”
“You will be invited to our wedding. You haven’t missed it.”
“Why, Mary! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. How can you hold up your head and look me in the eye after acting like a harlot?”
“Wait a minute! Let me explain.”
“There’s nothing to explain. I’m not interested in your excuses. You have shamed yourself, your family, and your God.”
“Hold on! I haven’t done anything wrong. I promise! I’m still a virgin.”
“Do you take me for a fool, young lady?”
“No, no, not at all. But an angel, Gabriel, came to me and told me that I’d give birth to a son, a very special child, the Son of God. He told me that the Holy Spirit would overshadow me and miraculously give me the baby. And that’s exactly what happened. Please don’t look at me that way. It’s true!”
Exactly how the women of Nazareth received Mary’s story is a matter of conjecture. But it is perfectly plain that her own husband initially held an unflattering view of her pregnancy. Having no desire to publicly embarrass Mary, Joseph decided to divorce her quietly (Matt. 1:19). How Joseph learned of the pregnancy is unknown. Perhaps Mary told him herself. If so, she would have also informed him about Gabriel’s visit. Maybe Joseph noticed his young wife’s changing figure and reached his own conclusions. Or maybe someone reported the news to Joseph as gossip.
What matters, of course, is that Joseph felt betrayed. He had pledged to marry this young girl (she was probably about 13), but before they could even begin their lives together she had already been unfaithful. This suspicion hurt Joseph deeply.
A wounded spouse tends to retaliate, to send some pain the other way. Joseph could have openly shamed Mary by telling everyone about her indiscretion. But God chose well when he selected Joseph for the task of rearing Jesus. Joseph was “a just man” (Matt. 1:19), a genuinely good person able to sympathize with Mary even when he felt cheated, embarrassed, and bitterly disappointed.
Joseph was an excellent man, but he knew the meaning of relationship boundaries. He had no intention of sharing the rest of his life with a flighty young woman who failed to respect him and their commitment. Nor was he gullible enough to believe the impossible story that Mary’s baby was conceived miraculously.
So God again sent an angel to Nazareth, this time to reveal the truth to Joseph himself. While the man slept, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins'” (Matt. 1:20-21). When Joseph roused from sleep, he did exactly as the Lord directed. He promptly married – but refrained from intimacy with his wife until after her child was born (vs. 24-25).
Even without the comfort of Joseph’s faith in her, Mary certainly would have chosen to carry the child the Holy Spirit gave her. When Gabriel informed Mary of God’s plan, she was so overwhelmed by the awe of an angelic visit and by the incredible news itself, that she probably failed to grasp just how painfully awkward her pregnancy would be. Her humble reply to God’s message was: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary might have said this in the excitement of the moment, but her response was completely sincere. Enduring the scornful eyes and wagging tongues of Nazareth a few months later, she was just as determined as ever to love and protect the child developing in her womb. She never would have considered aborting Jesus, even if abortion clinics had been readily accessible in her day. She had the tender and loving spirit of a good mother.
In the heart of Mary and her relative Elizabeth was the conviction that an unborn child was a person. When Mary visited Elizabeth in the sixth month of the older woman’s pregnancy, Elizabeth exclaimed, “As soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:44). Pro-abortionists refuse to think of the unborn child in human terms. Aborting a “baby” sounds too much like killing an innocent, helpless little person. So the impersonal word “fetus” is the preferred term.
But Elizabeth calls her unborn son a baby. In Luke’s Gospel this same term (in its plural form) appears in another story about children. The disciples of Jesus wrongly rebuke parents for bringing “infants” to him so that he might touch them (18:15). A child is a baby, a person, whether born or unborn.
The fact that Elizabeth was now entering the third trimester of her pregnancy had no bearing on the personhood of her unborn son. When Mary came to visit her, Elizabeth asked, “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). At this point Mary had just learned of the marvelous work the Holy Spirit intended. Her pregnancy was in its first trimester, but she was already Jesus’ “mother.” And the unborn baby John “leaped for joy” at the thrill of being in the presence of the Lord (v. 44). In other words, Jesus was present in Mary’s womb months before the point at which personhood is legally recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mary and Elizabeth also understood that their children, though yet unborn, had a future. Gabriel promised Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, that John “will be great in the sight of the Lord.” Elizabeth’s son would take a lifelong Nazirite vow, become a great and effective preacher like Elijah, and serve as the Lord’s forerunner (Luke 1:15-17). The angel told Mary that her child would be greater still. He “will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (vs. 32-33).
In the 45 years since the legalization of abortion on January 22, 1973, American women have taken the lives of some 60 million babies. Among this vast throng were people with extraordinary talents – for researching and treating illness, for writing, singing, painting, acting, counseling, teaching, preaching, inventing, designing. But their bright futures have been snuffed out. Also among this great multitude were millions of ordinary people denied the opportunity to experience childhood, reach adulthood, choose a career, marry, and have children.
As pro-life advocates often say, the womb is the most dangerous place in America. It is a place where an innocent child with a promising future may come face to face with death at the hands of his own mother. But the womb of Mary was the safest place in Nazareth. In Mary’s heart, Jesus was no fetus, no formless blob of tissue, but a son with an exciting life ahead. In fact, her pregnancy (though extremely awkward) was a great joy to her. In Elizabeth’s home, Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. […] Henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:46-48).
Whitney is 19, unmarried, emotionally and financially unprepared for motherhood. But the pregnancy test assures her that a mother she will soon be. Utterly dismayed, Whitney grabs her phone and calls Misty, her best friend. “What am I going to do?” she wails. “How can I take care of a child and go to school at the same time? My life is ruined! How can I face my parents and all the people at church?” After a long pause, Misty says, “Whitney, you may not want to hear this. But in my opinion you have only one option. Get an abortion.”
Whitney finds this suggestion completely unacceptable. Knowing full well that the pregnancy is her own fault, she has no intention of attempting to cover up her immorality by committing a heinous crime against her own innocent child. Instead of paying attention to worldly advice, Whitney will listen to the counsel of godly people with good values. Remembering that this is Wednesday, she decides to talk to Dr. Gerald after church tonight.
In the privacy of an empty classroom in the basement of the church building, Whitney pours out her heart to Dr. Gerald. An elder of the congregation and the father of three teenagers of his own, he listens sympathetically to Whitney’s painful story. He encourages her to confess her sin to her parents first, and then to the church. “Whitney,” he says, “this is going to be stressful, but the Lord loves you and will forgive you. The church loves you too. We all make mistakes and need God’s grace.”
“I know God will forgive me,” Whitney sobs. “But what am I going to do with the baby? That’s what worries me.”
Dr. Gerald assures Whitney that her refusal to consider an abortion is highly commendable. Then he gently explains her acceptable options. Whitney can either raise the child herself or find an adoptive Christian family.
Whitney admits that the thought of keeping the baby terrifies her. “But is it biblical to give your child to someone else?” she asks.
“Well,” Dr. Gerald says with a smile, “I can think of two godly women in the Bible who did it. One was Jochebed, the mother of Moses. To protect her baby’s life, she permitted him to be adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. And then there was Hannah. She asked Eli the priest to adopt Samuel so that her son would have the opportunity to be trained up in God’s service.”
“But I don’t know anyone I could trust.”
“I do,” Dr. Gerald replies quietly.
“Their names are Dan and Becky. They’re both schoolteachers in a small town 40 minutes from here. They’re about 35 and have been trying to have a baby ever since they married 10 years ago. They absolutely adore children but just can’t seem to have one. Becky has been pregnant three times, but each pregnancy has ended in bitter disappointment. She miscarried twice. The third child was stillborn.”
“That is terrible! But do these people love the Lord? I want my child to know Jesus.”
“Whitney, it would be very difficult to find a more dedicated Christian couple. Dan and Becky both teach Bible school classes, and Dan even preaches when the minister is out of town.”
Whitney’s pregnancy is as difficult as expected. Facing her parents is an ordeal. First they are shocked, then angry, then ashamed, and finally guilt-ridden and depressed. Attending church is extremely awkward too. Whitney’s swelling abdomen demands more and more attention every week. Although everyone is kind to her face, Whitney knows how people are. The immature members are whispering behind her back, reproaching her for doing wrong.
Whitney is sustained in this traumatic time by the unconditional love of the Geralds and other mature Christians in the congregation. Dan and Becky are supportive also. Becky is so excited that, in her company, Whitney is almost able to forget her emotional distress.
When the baby finally comes, Whitney snuggles the tiny boy in her arms and kisses his silken cheeks. Surrendering him into the eager embrace of Becky, who is in the delivery room with her, is the hardest thing Whitney will ever do. But the light of pure joy dancing in the adoptive mother’s eyes makes the sacrifice bearable. Whitney will always have an empty place in her heart that only her missing child could fill, but she will never have to struggle with the overwhelming guilt and depression so often associated with an abortion. Whitney has given her son life and given him away for the same reason – she genuinely loves him.
Mary’s Embarrassing Pregnancy
The abortion debate often stirs up strong feelings and painful memories. So in what spirit should a discussion of this issue be conducted? Paul says that a Christian “must not quarrel but be gentle to all, […] in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Does the sensitive nature of the abortion question call for even more gentleness and humility than most other topics?
2. In previous generations unwed mothers were ostracized. Did fear of rejection influence some young women to seek abortion? How does a typical congregation today treat a pregnant girl in the youth group? Should your congregation strongly oppose promiscuity but also tenderly forgive a teen who has committed fornication? If so, how can a healthy balance be struck?
3. What can Christian mothers do to protect their daughters from the immoral conduct that leads to unwanted pregnancy? Does the age at which a girl begins to date have any bearing on her self-control? Does encouraging your preteen daughter to have a “boyfriend” push her to grow up too quickly? Will you be like most other moms if you refuse to let your daughter date until she is 16 or 17? Do you actually want to be like most other mothers?
4. A rape victim is rarely impregnated by her attacker. But if she does conceive, do the circumstances make the baby any less innocent than a child conceived in love? In what ways would such a pregnancy make the crime against her more difficult to bear? How easy is it to find good Christian people eager to adopt a newborn baby?
5. Whitney, a fictional character in this chapter, receives no support from her parents after getting pregnant. How would you treat your daughter if she embarrassed your family? Do you think that humiliating her could push her away from the Lord?