Liturgically, over the past several weeks, we have been preparing for the coming of Christ by hearing the words of the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Lk 3:4; cf. Is 40:3) and “One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals” (Lk 3:16).
Culturally, we have prepared in other traditional ways. Our trees are dressed with our favorite ornaments; chocolates, candies and cookies have been lovingly made; gifts have been bought for our family and friends; the stockings have been carefully hung; and our halls have been dutifully decked.
And it isn’t just Christians who have prepared for the coming of Our Lord. According to the Pew Research Center, 65% of Americans consider themselves to be Christians, yet a recent Gallup survey reports that 93% of Americans celebrate Christmas.
While we can get caught up in the frenzy of baking and shopping and wrapping and gathering, we are called to remember what it is that we’re celebrating: the birth of a newborn baby, humble and cold, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (cf. Lk 2:7).
In his 2019 apostolic letter Admirabile Signum (“Enchanting Image”) on the meaning and importance of the Nativity scene, Pope Francis reminds us of the reason we celebrate the birth of our Savior: “God appears as a child, for us to take into our arms. … It seems impossible, yet it is true: in Jesus, God was a child, and in this way he wished to reveal the greatness of his love: by smiling and opening his arms to all. The birth of a child awakens joy and wonder; it sets before us the great mystery of life. Seeing the bright eyes of a young couple gazing at their newborn child, we can understand the feelings of Mary and Joseph who, as they looked at the Infant Jesus, sensed God’s presence in their lives.”
Following the birth of a child, it’s almost inconceivable that all parents do not sense this same presence of God in the miraculous act of creation. And just as God had a plan for his Son — played out in his incarnation and birth, his public ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension — he, too, has a plan for each child conceived: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” (Jer 1:5).
Each of us has been “willed by God,” created with a soul that has been “created immediately by God” and given a body that “shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 369, 366, 364). Children are gifts from God, made in his image, and all are worth celebrating. This is as true for children who have been conceived intentionally as it is for those who have been conceived unintentionally. The God-given dignity of a child is not dependent on whether that child is wanted by his or her parents.
If more people saw children as a gift from God, perhaps the Supreme Court wouldn’t have needed to hear oral arguments during the first week of Advent regarding a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Court-watchers and pro-life advocates say the case (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) is the best opportunity in decades to undo the tragic decision of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion across the country.
This Christmas, as they deliberate, we pray that the Supreme Court justices will consider every child’s right to live, regardless of his or her size.
We pray that the lives of the unborn are cherished and not simply seen through a political or ideological lens.
We pray that God will open the hearts of those who support intentionally ending the life of a child to see the tragic reality of abortion.
“Let us allow the Child in the manger to challenge us,” Pope Francis said in his homily on Christmas Eve in 2016, “but let us also be challenged by all those children in today’s world who are lying not in a crib, caressed with affection by their mothers and fathers. … Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by those children who are not allowed to be born.”
As we celebrate the birth of Christ, we pray that when every child is conceived, society sees him or her as the miraculous gift that he or she is — someone to be celebrated, not something to be thrown away.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young