I remember that Christmas when what I wanted most in the whole world was to be having a baby. We had been hoping to have children for a while, but after some tests we were waiting for an appointment with fertility specialists. It was November when we got the news that conceiving on our own might not be possible, and I was devastated. As Christmas got closer, the last thing I wanted to hear about was pregnancy and babies – and here we were entering a season where a story involving those exact things was all around me. Every pregnant belly made me jealous. Every baby in a stroller made my heart ache. And every mention of the miracle of the baby born at Christmas made me wonder why I couldn’t have a miracle for me.
In the end, we were one of those couples that had to cancel the appointment at the fertility clinic when we found out we were having a child. We only knew the pain of longing for children for a short time, so I can’t pretend to understand the experience of women who have been on a longer, harder journey than me. However, that season of heartache did teach me something: Christmas can be a painful time for women that long to hold their children and are unable to do so. This includes women who have wanted children and not been able to conceive, those who have miscarried and those who have outlived the children they loved.
When we read stories in the Bible, I always encourage people to look for where they see themselves in the story. But where does a woman who has had to come to terms with infertility find herself when she reads the story of Elizabeth conceiving in her old age? Where does a woman who has miscarried see herself as she reads of a joyous birth, something she never got to experience with her baby? Where does the grieving mother, facing the first Christmas since her child has died, find herself as she sings of “mother and child” and aches to hold her own child again?
When you feel so far from Elizabeth, from Mary, and from the joyful mothers in the Christmas story, where do you belong? Is there a part of the story that can feel like yours? I have been reflecting on this question often this Christmas and I can’t shake the desire to share this message for those who need to hear it: broken hearted women ARE in the story. We just don’t talk about them as much.
Many of us will know the famous part of the Christmas story that says some “wise men” came to find Jesus. Because they were looking for a king, they logically talked to the current king, Herod, about where to find the new king that had been born. Herod’s scholars directed them to Bethlehem, where it was said the Messiah would be born, and Herod asked them to come back after they had found the child. His intention, however, wasn’t to worship Jesus, but to kill him. The wise men decided not to return to Herod, and when Herod realized he had been tricked, he wanted to do all he could to prevent another king from taking his place. He ordered that all boys in Bethlehem, aged two and under, be killed. By the time this happened, Mary and Joseph had already taken Jesus from Bethlehem, so his plan failed. Instead, it led to the murder of completely innocent babies – babies that were loved and wanted and cherished and held and longed for by mothers who had to let them go. The Bible describes the devastation by saying: A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.
How great the wailing must have been.
Each time I read this story, it takes my breath away. I can hardly handle the thought of opening my door to find a soldier there to kill my child. I can’t imagine the anguish. I can’t fathom the pain in those mamas’ hearts.
I know why we don’t dwell on this story at Christmas, but sometimes I think maybe it deserves a little more airtime. Sometimes I think there are a lot of us who need to remember that there is sadness in the Christmas story too – that there were mothers who had their dreams shattered alongside those who had their dreams come true. The hurting women are part of the Christmas story – the ones with the empty arms and the broken hearts.
Yes, the Christmas story is ultimately one of joy. But it never demands that those in pain be forgotten. It doesn’t sugar coat, cover up, or forget heartbreak. We always stop the readings before we get to the awful part on Christmas Eve, but it strikes me that Scripture never left it out. God didn’t say: “This is too sad. It’ll bring people down. Let’s not mention it.” It isn’t justified or explained away. It is simply acknowledged and named and allowed to be.
I know we forget this in churches, especially at Christmas time. We don’t always want to make space for the sad stuff, and this can make those who carry sadness feel forgotten. For that, I am sorry, and it is why I want to say it again: if you are a grieving, hurting, longing, dream-shattered women – you belong in the story, too. Alongside Mary and Elizabeth are the mothers who mourned. There’s space for your loss there, and there is space for you.
When you’re ready, and when you’re able, I know you’ll see the hope in the story as well. The Christmas story shows us that the impossible can become possible through the power of God. Your impossible may be believing that there can be joy in your life again. Have hope that Christ’s coming can make even this true. One day.
But, this Christmas, if it’s not the day, and you are more broken than joyful – you don’t have to wait to feel you belong in the story. You’re already here. It is, after all, for your sorrows that Christ came.