“Christmas & Abortion”
Written by Jack Crandall
Delivered at North Anderson Community Church, Presbyterian, January 21, 1990
Matthew 2, Luke 2: 1 – 14
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: `And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
Luke 2: 1- 14
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirin’i-us was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
Christmas & Abortion
Most of us who have had happy childhoods have never realized how lucky we are to have been born in a more enlightened age than the one that gave birth to Jesus, Indeed, were it not for the story of Herod ordering that all boys in Bethlehem younger than two be slain, we, who consider children as blessings, would be tempted to over romanticize the coming of the Messiah as a baby nearly 2000 years ago.
But as that story reminds us, babies and childhood did not receive special treatment in those days. In fact, the lot of babies and children was not an especially happy one until at least the 17th or 18th century, when Protestant notions of education began to include the importance of rearing children to fulfill their roles as adults. Even into the 19th century,
as Charles Dickens’s fiction so aptly attests, children were sometimes still regarded as mere animals to be exploited for work or service.
It was the coming of Jesus that eventually changed the way our world perceived children, women, and slaves. Once regarded as mere chattel the property of men they have gradually emerged, under the influence of Christ like regard and teaching, as persons in their own right, with individual autonomy and protection under the common law.
It’s easy to see how Jesus’ coming has made a vast difference in the way children are regarded today. But what about the question of abortion, terminating the lives mf children not yet born? What are the implications of the Christmas story for this controversial issue? We cannot pretend that the Bible answers such questions directly, but there are implications that deserve our serious consideration.
The first implication of the Christmas story is that life itself is a mystery, inextricably connected to God. We forget that, don’t we? Some of us manage to do days at a time without thinking about our relationship to God. Modern education programs our minds to think in finite terms, forgetting the infinite. When we see the leaves appear on a tree, we explain it in terms of photosynthesis, not in terms of the God or creation. Today the heavens….once the arena of God and the Spirit. . . are a meare field for satellites, interplanetary exploration, missions in space.
But Christmas, with it’s beautifully simplicity, reminds us that mystery permeates everything. The star, the angels, the birth in a stable, the coming of mysterious wise ones from the East, all reawaken our sense of the beyond in our midst. Subtlety at a level where we don’t merely understand, but feel we sense the oneness of everything, both physical and spiritual. Francois Mauriac once wrote: “The Christmas mystery is the darkness which makes light more plain.” Mystery explains nothing, yet it explains everything. Because of Christmas, we know that there is a wondrous mystery at the heart of the universe.
By no means is the mystery limited to Christmas; we see that mystery at work everywhere. “There is no even so commonplace,” writes Frederick Buechner, “but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. In the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” The mystery makes every place the center, and every time the now.
The next implication and the most important one with regard to abortion is that life itself is a mystery, and if it is tied up with God, then we should respect all life as a gift, capable tof blessing the whole world. If the mystery is everywhere, then we ought to be falling to our knees everywhere to worship. If the heart of the mystery is heBe and here and here, then we must be careful not to Be arrogant before it or to claim its rights. In short, we have not been give authority to handle any life casually not the life of the prisoner who has been found guilty of a brutal murder;not the lives mf the people at the end of the trajectories of our missiles; and not the life of an unborn fetus. If the heart of the mystery is everywhere, then life itself is sacred, and no priests-high or low, holy or profane, may destroy it with impunity.
Part of the scandal of our faith is that Jesus was conceived out of wedlock. What if it had been possible then as it is now for Mary, when she missed a period, to step into an abortion clinic and have the situation fixed? Leonardo de Vinci was also an illegitimate child. What if he had been aborted? Johannes Brahms’s mother was 41 when he was born. Suppose she’d had an abortion? John Wesely was the 15th of 19 children born to Susannah Wesley. Suppose she had decided to abort after the fourth or fifth child? Franz Liszt was so sickly that his father ordered a coffin to be made for him. Lord Byron was born with a club foot, and Charles Dickens was small and sickly from birth. Suppose their parents had known what obstetrical science knows today, and had decided to abort. You see? Life is a mystery a gift from God. Who are we to make such momentous decisions?
That question leads us to another implication of Christmas that may seem to contradict the others: The world did not become perfect the moment Jesus was born. Indeed, his coming seems to have intensified the evil. Dozens perhaps hundreds of mothers in Judah lost their baby sons at the dark bidding of Herod, and the life that began in a manger amid singing angels ended on a cross amid jeering sinners. The implication, then is this, that because the world we live in is not perfect, there are times when we must make grievous choices about many things, including the lives of unborn children.
The decisions are not always simple. Don’t we wish they were? Sometimes the mother’s life is endangered by the impending birth. Sometimes her nervous system or her very sanity is in jeopardy. The family welfare may be threatened, or the ecology of an even larger societal unit may be at stake. In the end, the mother and the doctor sometimes must breathe a mea culpa (I am at fault?) and do what neither of them would choose to do under different circumstances.
It is my belief that the church has no business engaging in great campaigns declaring abortion illegal or to smear guilt and condemnation upon those who choose abortions. If anybody understands the complexities of good and evil in the world and the impossibility of ever separating them by mere legalities, it ought to be the church. Though the Old Testament might have taken a simplistic stand against abortion (as it does against many things), Jesus didn’t. Religious groups that say abortion is anti-Christian don’t know the same Jesus who confronts me in Scripture, through individuals and events. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus said, is like a field of wheat and tares growing up together that cannot be separated this side of the judgment of God. The need for abortion may be sin, but even our purest decisions are contaminated by sin. We often have to do the wrong thing sometimes to avoid what might be an even greater wrong. There is no right answer. There are only two wrong answers. Standing Before the mystery of the universe, we must make the choice, asking forgiveness even as we do.
Where does that leave us? Are we lost in the same muddle the world was in before Christmas? No. The Christ whose birth in a stable has helped make us sensitive to the mystery in all of life, who died in an imperfect world at the hands of people who were both good and evil . . .was raised up b y God as the first fruits of a perfect world that is still to come. The gospel, the Good News of Christmas is that this flawed universe is not all there is . . . it is not the whole story. “In my opinion,’ the Apostle Paul declared, “whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has in store for us.” The whole story comes into view only when we understand the song of the angels and the promise of God.
The world is still on its journey to journey to Bethlehem. Until every person has paused in wonder before the holy manger and has been irradiated by light from the holy star, life will remain a mixture of good and evil. There will be times when abortion is wrong and times when it is right . . . or when it is less wrong. The decision to terminate the life of an unborn child ought always to be made in fear and trembling, while worshiping before the mystery of life.
KNOWING that God is with us …that he has been with us a special way ever since Mary gave birth in a stable to the Savior of the world transform the whole situation for us. WE no longer make our difficult decisions in a secular vacuum where no one cares about us or about what we do. We now make our decisions in the presence of the One whose name is above every name, and who has given mystery itself a name. “His name shall be called Jesus,” said the angel.