Updated: Apr 27
By: Jessika Sanders
We love to make plans, especially surrounding our children. We plan creative pregnancy announcements and gender reveal parties. We plan elaborate baby showers. We even make birth plans on how we would like to labor and deliver our children.
Despite the fact that we live in a fallen world where literally everything is impacted by sin, we somehow think we deserve a picture-perfect, happy-ending birth story. While sometimes labor and delivery may go as planned, Proverbs 19:21 ESV reminds us, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
If your pregnancy ended in premature birth, trauma, a NICU stay, or even if you find yourself grieving all you missed out on, may the details surrounding Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus minister to you.
Read on to learn 6 ways the nativity story reminds us not even The Perfect One had a perfect beginning and how His story can give us peace even in imperfection.
1. An Unexpected Pregnancy Announcement
“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Luke 1:30-32 ESV
I’m willing to bet the way in which Mary’s pregnancy was revealed to her was nothing like she expected. I’m not sure how pregnancies were announced in Biblical times, but I do know that encounters with angels were a huge deal.
We see multiple occurrences in the Bible where individuals are frightened to the point of death by their angel encounters. (That’s probably why the first words spoken by the angels are often, “Fear not!”) Can you imagine Mary’s surprise to learn she was chosen to carry the Messiah and the process by which it was to happen—immaculate conception! In all the world and in all time, nothing like this had ever happened or would ever happen again.
When Your Pregnancy Announcement Doesn't Go As Planned
When I learned I was pregnant I was living in Florida and my husband was living in South Carolina. Though I would have loved to orchestrate a creative way to reveal the news, with some 700 miles between us and my incapability to withhold the smallest of surprises, it just wasn't possible. I called my husband while still in the bathroom and blurted out the news as he sat in the stands at a baseball game. By many standards, it wasn't the perfect pregnancy announcement, but to me, there was perfection in the imperfection. It was our story.
Whether you deliver before a pregnancy announcement is possible, whether the announcement goes off without a hitch, or whether it is a complete disaster, take heart in knowing that the mother of the Perfect One didn’t even have the perfect pregnancy announcement. And while it wasn’t what she envisioned, it was exactly what the world needed.
Your child doesn’t need pomp and circumstance to announce their arrival, they are worthy because they are knit together by the Creator. They are worthy because they are a good and perfect gift from the Father.
2. A Time of Questioning and Doubt
“And Her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” Matthew 1: 19-21 ESV
In this fallen world, not all of us experience healthy and whole relationships. We may have wounds that cause us to doubt or we may be so in our heads that our inner dialogues take the lead on how we respond.
From the scriptures, we see that Joseph’s first inclination was to lean toward the natural versus the supernatural. In his logic and understanding, it made more sense to conclude that Mary was unfaithful than to think of all the women in the world she might be the virgin chosen to carry the Messiah. And although there was suspected doubt concerning Mary’s pregnancy, the Lord sent an angel to Joseph to clear things up. While the world might be full of confusion, the Lord is all about clarity.
I experienced doubt during my pregnancy. I remember wondering if something was wrong with my son. With two healthy pregnancies, there was no reason to think this one would be different, but still, my heart questioned. Each time fear-inducing thoughts would come to mind, I would speak scripture over my situation and the child growing in my womb to cast out doubt.
The Lord Brings Clarity
And then one day, just as the Lord sent the angel to speak to Joseph, He spoke to me. In my spirit, I heard clear instructions to read through the book of Psalms and circle the ones He told me to circle. He instructed me to pray them until He told me to stop. Just as Joseph likely found peace in the words spoken by the angel, I did too.
Maybe questioning has become a part of your pregnancy or birth story. How should you deliver? Do you need a birth plan? Do you need to be proactive and tour a NICU? I pray for the Lord's clarity if you are experiencing questioning or doubt. I pray that just as He spoke to Joseph and to me, He’ll speak into your situation, give you direction, and give you peace.
3. Inconvenient Travel Plans
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.” Luke 2: 1-3 ESV
When Mary was pregnant with Jesus, a large requirement was made of her. By law, she was required to make the long trek to the city of her betrothed to be registered for the census. It didn’t matter whether it was inconvenient and whether it interfered with her birth plan—she had to go.
Part of a Bigger Story
As we look back on the story and study the scriptures, we know that this requirement was necessary to fulfill what the prophets had written about the Messiah. Jesus being born in Bethlehem was part of God’s plan, no matter how inconvenient it may have been for Mary and Joseph.
Appointments. Blood draws. Ultrasounds. Tests. Vitamins. Exercises. A lot of my pregnancy consisted of doing stuff I didn't want to do. But I did it all anyway. I sacrificially gave of myself, for the precious child that was growing in my womb. I did it because of my overwhelming love for a child I hadn't yet met. I did it out of gratitude to God for giving me such a precious gift and out of the responsibility I felt to steward the gift well.
If you find yourself walking through what feels like an obstacle not of your choosing, take heart knowing that God sees all and He knows all. In our humanness, we see only part of the picture. God, knowing no bounds, can see our yesterdays, our today, and our tomorrows. Trust that whatever is being required of you right now is for your best interest. Even in the seemingly imperfect, God knows what He is doing and He can be trusted.
4. Bumps in the Road
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town 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 registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” Luke 2:4-5 ESV
The mere mention of days if not weeks on a donkey’s back through a desert wilderness would have been a hard no for me. In fact, it would have felt like straight-up torture. Do you ever wonder Mary’s perspective on the trek to Bethlehem? Since she was chosen to carry the Messiah, do you think she expected the process to be smooth and effortless? Do you think she voiced each ache as her very pregnant body rode on a donkey? Do you think she complained about the elements and the desert terrain?
You Can Do Hard Things
If I’m honest, I expected my third pregnancy to be smooth like the others. But when my son was born extremely underweight for his gestation, I had a feeling there might be a few bumps in the road ahead. The next day Ezra had a seizure that landed us in the NICU for 37 long days. It wasn’t what I had planned and it certainly wasn’t what I hoped for, but it was necessary. I know now that our difficult experience led to the creation of Praying Through ministries.
I hope you know that through Christ, you can endure the bumps in the road. Through Christ, you can do hard things. I have no doubt that the Spirit of the Lord on Mary and the Messiah within her carried her through that long journey. The same God that carried her also carried us through our NICU journey and He’ll carry you through whatever might come.
5. A Busted Birth Plan
“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7 ESV
I imagine Mary had some sort of plan for where she would deliver Jesus or who would be there to support her. I doubt she envisioned herself in a city far from home and in a scrambling panic as she and Joseph looked for some sort of shelter to lay their heads and ultimately lay their son once he was born.
Sometimes labor and delivery don’t go as planned. We might have a plan, but then circumstances, and well, life happens.
My husband and I had prepared for my son Ezra. We had a pool inflated in our bathroom for days. We had the hose and the connections ready. I had the candles placed for mood and the worship playlist made. But when active labor quickly accelerated, my husband couldn’t fill the pool fast enough! The water wasn’t warm either. As I felt our son drop, I wondered if I was going to have him in 6 inches of water or if I would have to switch and just deliver him in our bed.
It's Ok If Your Birth Plan Doesn't Work Out
It’s safe to say that things may not go the way you plan for the birth of your child. But you know what? That’s ok. They didn’t seem to go perfectly for Jesus and if anyone deserved perfect, surely it was God in the flesh. Take heart knowing that even with a busted birth plan, God’s ways are higher. He is working every aspect of your story together for your good, just as He did with Mary and just as he did for me and my husband.
6. Surrounded by Strangers
“And they [the shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” Luke 2:16 ESV
Birth is a beautiful and sacred thing. The moment a baby breaks through to this world is miraculous. It seems that in American culture typically the closest family members are present for a child's birth. Perhaps this is because mothers may feel especially vulnerable after having endured the pain of childbirth and all the changes that happen mentally, emotionally, physically, and hormonally.
I'm not sure of the protocol surrounding childbirth in Biblical times but we see here that Mary and Joseph were surrounded by strangers following the birth of Jesus. Per the angel’s command, the shepherds left their sheep to follow the beautiful star to the promised Messiah. The humble shelter that held the Savior in a feeding trough, now housed strangers—stinky, shepherd strangers.
Though it may not have been what Mary wanted in the moment, I have a feeling that just as she “treasured things in her heart” she was also in awe of the swaddled Savior. I imagine her gracious nature humbly welcoming the shepherds to worship the King right alongside her.
Called to Serve
When I gave birth to our third child, Ezra, we were in the comfort of our own home. The lights were low and the warm glow of the Christmas tree and Christmas lights filled the rooms of our home. My husband, friend/photographer, midwife, and her team were all in our bathroom as I labored. My mom and my best friend stood in the doorway, peeking their heads into the bathroom. While there were a handful of people, they were my people. I felt completely comfortable and at home with each one.
But 36 hours later, when I was physically uncomfortable, engorged, and running on fumes, our home was filled with strangers just like Mary and Joseph's shelter. A medical professional I had never met tenderly held our son as my husband and I frantically threw on clothes and shoes while ambulances and fire trucks rounded the corner. Within minutes our house was flooded with first responders as they placed me and my son on a gurney for transport to the local hospital.
Perhaps the arrival of your precious child has also come with strangers—doctors, nurses, and specialists. I hope you’ll find peace in knowing that just as the shepherds came to pay honor and respect, those surrounding you have been called to serve. They don’t mean to be intrusive or insensitive, they simply want to meet you in your moment of need.
Our Savior Didn't Have a Picture-Perfect Birth
Although we sing of the nativity as a silent and holy night, we see from scripture the events surrounding Mary’s pregnancy and the arrival of Jesus were likely anything but silent and smooth. With an extraordinary pregnancy announcement, questioning, travel plans, bumps in the road, a busted birth plan, and the new family surrounded by strangers, things were not picture-perfect. May our far-from-perfect human hearts one day find peace and contentment in our imperfect stories knowing they were divinely written by a Perfect God with a perfect plan.
You Are Not Alone
If you find yourself in the middle of an unexpected journey of the NICU, PICU, or child loss (or if you've journeyed through them already), we want to know that you are not alone.
Praying Through ministries is here to equip and embolden men, women, and children with Biblical Truth and encouragement as they journey through the NICU, PICU, and CHILD LOSS. Through our active, online Christ-centered Facebook communities, we help families to gather and pray through these difficult seasons together. We also provide Biblical support and encouragement through outreach care packages and online events. And we would love to pray and support you.
Jessika Sanders is a published writer who has been featured in Proverbs 31 Ministries’Hope When Your Heart is Heavy devotional (2021), Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Jr. magazine (2023), and Tyndale’s So God Made a Mother (2023). She is also the co-author of The Good Book Company's Little Ones to Him Belong (2024). You can also find her work here on the Praying Through blog and on her blog Jessika Sanders, Writer. Jessika is also the founder and acting president of Praying Through ministries.