A Question of Fertility


Christmas makes me slow down and reflect on many things. One of the things I am thinking about is the #Me Too movement and its implications. I also noticed that Michelle Obama seems to be in the news a lot these days and I found out that her two lovely daughters became a reality through in vitro fertilization.  Her revelation gave me the inspiration to address the subject of fertility and Christmas. Weird combination – however, there’s a connection.

Since I am still basking in the after-glow of the Yuletide season, I am clearly reminded that a woman is at its center because of her faith and obedience to the will of God. As a matter of fact, she is only eclipsed by the gift that she bore.  This gift has been made available to everyone, including me. It was prepared for me before I was born. Each of my parents was also presented with this priceless gift. However, they could never accept this gift on my behalf nor bequeath theirs to me. Although they told me about its existence and many other reliable folks corroborated their story,

I failed to accept this great offer until twenty-seven years ago. I have been using it ever since and I’m still thinking to myself why I was so foolish not to have claimed it earlier. The donor had it gift-wrapped over two thousand years ago and continues to re-gift it to every person on earth. Funny thing though – it never wears out and no one who accepts it has ever complained because it brings them unspeakable peace and joy.

Mary was that virgin girl who housed God’s greatest gift to mankind in her womb, Jesus Christ, who died to save us all from our sins. One day an angel appeared to her and told her she was highly regarded because she would give birth to the Savior of the world who would save all mankind from their sins. Knowing that she had not yet consummated her betrothal to Joseph, she wondered how it would be possible. The angel assured her that the Holy Ghost would come upon her and she would conceive the holy child. She thought little about her reputation and the consequences of this phenomenon but yielded herself to be used for the purpose of God. It was scandalous: to say that it wasn’t easy for her, her family, and her fiancée is an understatement. Not only had Mary committed adultery from the perspective of the Jewish community: she had committed blasphemy against Yahweh. Therefore, according to Judaic Law, she must be stoned. It did not happen because her report was true.

In 21st century terms, it would have been a #Me Too debacle!

In our “sensitive” society, the tabloids would tend to be kinder to an “exploited” young virgin, who in their view, may have been abused and brainwashed by a member of the clergy. It wouldn’t be far-fetched because it is true that young women and men have been abused at the hands of so-called holy men. Some would have presented her story as the hallucinations of a deranged teenager or the fabrication of a sophisticated young woman used to excuse her infidelity. Other more pragmatic media forums and readers may pass it off as another person seeking notoriety without admitting having used assisted reproductive technology to conceive.

Regardless of the incredulity of people today and during Mary’s day, the truth is Jesus was born to her and he was not the biological son of any human male. It is a fact that for conception to occur, a male sperm and a female ovum must combine, as is the case in gestational surrogacy and in vitro fertilization.  Christ was conceived only through divine intervention and no assisted reproductive technology can replicate what the Holy Ghost did on the day Gabriel made the annunciation to Mary and God took on flesh:

 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God (Luke 1:29-35 NIV).

Even before Mary was ever thought of, the lives of two women intertwined to hold significance for the coming of Jesus.  These two women were Sarah and Hagar. Sarah was the wife of Abraham the Jewish patriarch, and because she remained barren for most of her adult life, encouraged her husband to sleep with her Egyptian maidservant Hagar to produce an heir for him. She would become one of the first known surrogate mothers. According to the prevailing law of Hagar’s day, she would have been the biological, but not the legal mother of Abraham’s son – that role would have been given to Sarah.

It was also legal for Sarah to give permission for her husband to sleep with Hagar without the latter’s consent. The #Me Too saga thickened because Hagar was impregnated by Abraham and bore him a son called Ishmael. Therefore, Hagar became the wife of Abraham, though she did not share the same privileges as Sarah. Hagar would learn that despite her inferior status in Abraham’s household, she was no less important than Sarah in receiving God’s grace and advancing his purpose.

The key to God’s actions toward man is how he continues to advance his plan even in the most chaotic moments of our lives. Hagar is a reminder that he takes notice and controls situations. When Hagar found out that she was pregnant with her master’s child and her mistress was still barren, she started to ridicule her. Of course, her behavior offended Sarah and she punished her maidservant. Consequently, Hagar fled to the wilderness and God saw her distress. God called her and informed her that the child she was carrying would be blessed and become the father of a great nation. Furthermore, God told her that her son would also be a man of violence. Hagar was so shocked that God had noticed her that she coined a name for him:

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen[c] the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi[d]; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered (Luke 16: 13-14, NIV).

Hagar submitted to her mistress and gave birth to Ishmael. He became Abraham’s heir and was loved by his father. However, he was not the heir God had promised Abraham and he would not be Christ’s ancestor. God showed that he was a God of his word that after thirteen years after Ishmael was born, he opened the womb of Sarah in her old age and gave her a son. Her son Isaac ousted Ishmael as the favored heir. Ishmael and Hagar were eventually permanently cast out from Abraham’s household after Sarai noticed the young boy mocking Isaac.  God did not forget his promise to Hagar and blessed her son. He became the ancestor of twelve sons: the nomadic Arab nations are his descendants and occupy a substantial part of the Middle East today.

With Hagar gone from the household, the rivalry between Abraham’s sons and wives was over and Abraham was able to concentrate on God’s plan to prepare a chosen people in whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed.  Isaac would later father Jacob whose twelve sons were the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus was a descendant of the Judas, Jacob’s fourth son. Note that God did not approve of Abram’s seeking an heir outside of Sarai although he blessed the two sons of this Jewish patriarch. Both women were victims of their circumstances: Why wouldn’t a childless woman not use the law in her favor to produce an heir for her husband and lift the shame of childlessness off her? And, how could a slave woman refuse to subject her body to give pleasure to her master for the purpose of providing an heir for him and his mistress? None of these women had the choices that women have today due to the amazing research that has been done in assisted reproductive technology – and not mention the progress in women’s rights.

Today’s woman, for those who can afford it, has access to in vitro fertilization and can use her own egg and the sperm of her spouse to be fertilized outside her body and developed in her womb. She can also opt for gestational surrogacy: where another woman’s womb is used as a repository for her embryo. In these two named examples and other forms of fertility options, sexual intercourse is bypassed. Kim Kardashian took advantage of this opportunity to add a third child to her family and will be expecting a fourth son by a new surrogate!

Take note that the issue of female reproduction has been at the forefront of Israel’s development as a nation starting with God’s call of Abram away from his people, and his promise to him that he would bless him and make of him a great nation (Genesis12:1-3). It has cropped up several times in Christ’s family tree: with Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Rebekah (Gen.25); Tamar and Judah (Gen. 38); and Rachael, Leah, and Jacob (Gen. 30 -33).

The seed of the woman, a concept introduced in Genesis 3:15, hints at the Incarnation of Christ that would happen through a woman. It is a theme that runs through the Old and New Testaments because Jesus, the seed of Mary has “bruised the head of the serpent” by the redemptive work he did on the cross.  It has deeper eschatological meaning because Christians are looking forward to the day of Christ’s return when Satan will be totally defeated.

Mary is different from all the other women mentioned here not because of her infertility, but for the incredible conception of Jesus. It is controversial because it is inexplicable and will remain so because it is the work of the Supreme God. He has used, “- the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:28-30, NIV).

To speak about fertility is also to speak about producing and multiplication. When God created Adam, he could have created Eve in the same way at the same time. However, he cast the man in a deep sleep and took a rib from his body to create Eve. He wanted them to be equals and to live in harmony. Moreover, he wanted human beings to “be fruitful and multiply” through the institution of marriage between a man and a woman.

Being fruitful and multiplying is a concept that God does not limit to procreation.  Jesus tells us in John that God wants us to bear much fruit in our spiritual walk (John 15:8) and in Matthew 28: 19-20, he commands his disciples to go and preach the gospel so that converts would be added to the kingdom of God.

19 Go [a]therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [b]Amen.

The kingdom of God is fertile and dynamic; anything that does not bear fruit, he prunes and discards (John 15:1-6, NKJV).

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