The Joy of Giving Birth
Rogate Sunday (Mother’s Day)| Rev. Rolf Preus | May 9, 2010| St. John 16, 21-22
“A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” John 16:21-22
Mother’s Day is a secular holiday, not a church holy day. You cannot find it on any of the liturgical calendars of the church. Yet the office of Christian motherhood is as high and noble a vocation as God has ever given to anyone on this earth. So it is appropriate that we discuss it this morning, seeking in the Holy Scriptures the divine instruction that we need.
Jesus is the Second Adam. From the side of the first Adam, God took a rib and made a woman who became the mother of us all. Jesus is the second Adam. From his side flowed water and blood. The water became Holy Baptism by which the church is born from above. The blood became the New Testament that we call the Lord’s Supper. Salvation flowed from his side. From his side the church is taken. She is Christ’s holy bride. She is also the mother of us all, as St. Paul teaches: “The Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (Galatians 4:26)
When Jesus speaks of the joy that a woman has after giving birth he speaks the truth. A mere man cannot understand childbirth, but Jesus can. He who bore all our sins and sorrows understands the pain of childbirth. He is no mere man. He is the only begotten Son of God. He was speaking of what a mother actually feels.
But the joy that a mother feels – the joy that God has given her to feel – is under attack in our country. The culture beats into the brains of young women the propaganda that having children and caring for them is secondary to finding fulfillment and joy in something else.
A culture of planned barrenness has replaced the Christian culture of life. The church has stood by mostly mute as she has witnessed this radical change. The denigration of motherhood and the bearing and nurturing of children cannot be understood without looking at the so-called sexual revolution of a generation ago. There are three things that God in creation joined together: sexual intimacy, marriage, and having children. These three go together, not by human convention, but by God’s design. Sexual immorality, divorce, and planned barrenness all conspire together against the institution of motherhood.
Sexual intimacy and motherhood belong to marriage. It is possible to have a marriage without either. Sometimes things don’t work right. That’s what we expect as sinners living in a fallen world. When we don’t receive gifts from God we don’t assume that God doesn’t love us or that he is punishing us. But what God established as the norm was an intimacy within marriage that would bear fruit in having children. God created a certain intimacy and he instituted marriage as the only legitimate place for it because it was to be the means by which children would be brought into this world. Since children need fathers and mothers who love each other and are devoted to one another, God forbids divorce except in cases of fornication.
Motherhood belongs to marriage. That’s the way God established it. This is so simple and basic, yet at precisely this point our society has lost its way. It was after God joined Adam and Eve together as husband and wife that he blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful and to multiply. Why does God forbid sexual intimacy outside of marriage? Why does the New Testament repeatedly condemn the sin of fornication? It is because when God created man and woman he joined sexual intimacy to the conceiving, bearing, and caring for children.
What he has created is a beautiful thing. Surely God knew what he was doing when he invented a special gift of intimacy to be that unique expression of love between husband and wife by which children would be created by God. And surely God cherishes these children. He redeemed them all by the blood of His Son. He offers to all of them new, spiritual life through Holy Baptism. What a wonderful thing God did when he created us male and female, when he made the fruit of marital love to be another human being, a baby, a child, male or female. This is why sexual sins are a direct attack on the sanctity of motherhood.
Men who seek sexual conquests despise their own mothers. Women who give themselves to men who will not promise them lifelong fidelity despise themselves. Christians are often belittled when they defend the biblical teaching on sexual morality. We support this teaching out of love for our God and for our mothers.
The promise of liberation was a lie. To liberate women from being bound to the fruit of their womb is to liberate them from God’s gifts. The fact that our generation regards children more as a burden than as a blessing is a direct assault on God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. What God in love placed into marriage is despised and the bitter fruit of that ingratitude are all around us.
We were told not to judge and look at what has happened. We were told that we should not condemn homosexual sex even though it is a clear perversion of marriage, fatherhood, and motherhood. Thousands of young men died as a direct result of this sin. What was the result of the sexual revolution among heterosexuals? Millions of children without fathers and millions more unborn babies killed inside their mother’s womb. But instead of repenting and returning to the faith of their fathers and mothers, our nation has enshrined in its law a legal right to abortion on demand. Those who favor the right to kill unborn children parade themselves as champions of women’s rights. What a gross debasement of womanhood!
The sexual revolution in all of its manifestations is an attack on our mothers. The Bible says that “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain.” Men who cannot think beyond their urges don’t agree with God. They want charm and they want beauty. They look around and eye women as a boy eyes the candy in a candy store. They run around before they are married and they cheat on their wives after they are married. They despise their mothers. Men who love their mothers are faithful to their wives.
Our generation has fallen for the lie that the woman who devotes her life to her husband and her children has somehow not fulfilled herself as a woman. Now there are many women and men who have never married or if they have, have not had any children. Nowhere does the Bible say you must be married with children to find true meaning in life or to be a full partaker of every blessing Christ gives. Marriage is not a sacrament. It is not a means of grace. You don’t need to be married. You need God in Christ as your Savior.
But women who are married and who live their lives for the benefit of their husbands and children are not wasting their lives. They are doing what is precious before God. God values the children. God loves the children. God is the Creator of life. It is a godless nation that no longer cherishes what God cherishes. When God pays the price of his own blood on the cross for the souls of these little ones, these little ones are precious. This makes the labor of the mother precious.
The religion of humanism teaches us that we find our value as the world acknowledges what we do. The Christian disagrees. We find our value in God alone. And when God chose to become incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, he sanctified motherhood by that very act. The incarnation of the Son of God has elevated motherhood above any mere occupation or job or career. The reason ought to be clear. God himself is bound to our humanity at every stage of life. At death we are reminded that the death of Jesus has sanctified our death so that it is now the gate to eternal life. His resurrection has guaranteed to his people the resurrection to eternal life on the last day. At the birth of a child the Christian is reminded of the birth of Jesus from a pure virgin girl, and how that holy birth has sanctified the bearing and nurturing of children. Christian motherhood is a most holy vocation.
Jesus repeatedly said that whoever humbles himself will be exalted and whoever exalts himself will be abased. The world doesn’t believe this. Christian women are told that if they want true dignity, recognition, and acknowledgement of their value as human beings they must find it in competition with men. But the Christian knows what true glory is all about. It is in giving to those who cannot repay. It is in serving those who will not give anything in return, either because they cannot or they just forget. To be a mother is frequently a thankless task. But then, when Jesus healed ten lepers, only one returned to give thanks. A careful examination of what the mother’s job is will yield an interesting conclusion. She is like Jesus. Her children quarrel over who is greater. They forget her instructions immediately after she has given them. They boast of their love for her while going out and doing their own thing without a thought of her wishes.
But the analogy breaks down. Jesus can bear all of our failings because that’s what he does. He bears our sins. No mother can do so. The joy of the birth of a child gives way to the worry, the anxiety, and yes, the guilt. Christian mothers feel inadequate. There is a reason for this. They are inadequate. They cannot be what they must be. Their children are just too precious. No mother can possibly care for them as is required. So the initial joy of giving birth – even when it temporarily obliterates the memory of the pain of labor – soon fades as the mother must face the everyday problems of her own weakness and her child’s need.
So we, mothers and fathers, bring our children to the One who gave them to us. He promises a joy that will never end. He says, “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” And we see him with the eyes of faith. We see him hidden under the sufferings of his cross. We see him and he gives us the eternal joy he purchases by bearing the unbearable sorrow of all our sins and failures. This is the joy that sustains the Christian mother and father in their labors. We are forgiven of all our sins. And we know it. We can face our own failures as parents. Jesus has already borne them. We can value the work of a Christian father and mother, because we know its true value will not be seen by the strength of our labors, but by the grace of God in Christ that covered all our sin. That is a knowledge that brings us and our children true and lasting joy. Amen.