One of the greatest Christmas miracles happened the night before Christmas.
We often speak of the glorious miracles of that fateful Christmas night. The star. The angel. The manger. But what we don’t often celebrate, remember or even know is the merciful miracle that happened the night before our Savior met His mother’s gaze.
The life of an unborn baby is precious and mysterious. An expectant mother can feel every move and begin to instinctively feel a sort of communication with her child growing within her womb. Even then the pathways of understanding are blurred and intuitive. She can’t hear the cooing or warming laughter of her baby. She can’t speak to it as it nestles in close. A father, separated even further from his child, can converse crudely with it by resting his hand on the mother’s belly playing back and forth trading a push for a kick. But until that baby is born, what he is thinking, what he is feeling and what he wants in this world is simply a mystery…for ordinary babies.
Jesus was no ordinary baby.
Some thousands of miles away from Bethlehem, the faithful followers of a yet to be born Christ were facing painful and distressing adversity. Except for a handful of righteous believers, the once righteous Nephites living in the Americas had become an evil and hateful people. So wicked were the Nephites that they had issued a fatal ultimatum upon the minority who believed the coming of the Christ — if the sign of His birth foretold by the prophets didn’t come that night, they would all be executed.
The prophet among the Nephite people was Nephi, son of Nephi, son of Helaman. Grieving over the wickedness of the people and feeling compassion for his fellow followers, he “cried mightily unto the Lord all that day”.
He cried to Jehovah, the pre-earth Christ. Unaware, he cried to a soul that was presently possessing a tiny, unborn body still growing within Mary’s belly.
The ninth month is an especially busy month for a fetus. Nearly fully developed and larger than ever, a fetus will be working hard on developing many critical systems and tissues including advanced structures and cells in it’s lungs, without which it simply can’t survive outside the protective environment of the womb. There is a lot for the little body to do to prepare for its entrance into mortality. It is doctrinally unclear how much involvement one’s spirit has in the development of its earthly tabernacle or how much awareness there is for that spirit, but clearly as with all things He did, our Savior showed us that the bounds of flesh and blood were no match for his matchless power and grace.
In the broader context, Nephi’s cry could very well have gone on unanswered, or simply answered shortly after by the miraculous signs associated with the birth of the Savior. As far as we know, lives were merely threatened; no one lost their life before the sign was given. All that was at stake through the remainder of that night was the emotional wellbeing and comfort of a handful of followers. They would have survived the night. Their faith would likely have carried them through those difficult final hours. The prayers could have gone unanswered until the next day. And yet they weren’t.
From his mother’s womb, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, on the eve of his entrance into the world of his own making to begin the most important mission of all time, this loving and tender god spoke to his prophet, his disciple, his brother.
As Nephi prayed, the voice of the Lord came unto him saying:
“Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.”
Shortly thereafter, Jesus was born. The sign was given. The believers were saved from peril. Hateful hearts were softened and turned to the Savior. In Bethlehem, Mary held her baby boy. Shepherds and wise men marveled at the miracle. Salvation’s dawn was breaking. And for thousands of years after, his birth would prove to be a source of hope and love for millions of his disciples.
But before all that, in a land far from Jerusalem, the eternal and undying love of Savior reached out from beyond his mother’s womb to comfort a humble prophet. Mercy was alive, though still unborn.
Because of Him, redemption and joy is abundant for all. To those who lived. To those who would ever live. For unto us was born that day in the city of David, a Savior which is, still today, Christ the Lord.
Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.