Tuesday of the fourth week of Advent
The readings for the day can be found here.
Placing my hand gently on the pregnant abdomen of my daughter-in-law yesterday, I waited in anticipation of the movement I had imagined for many weeks. I knew what to expect, both as a pediatrician and as a father – that quick movement that came decisively, not in response to urging, but an early indication of free will and future independence. Waiting. Then when all became silent and still in the room, the quick rustle of movement hit my hand triggering a rush of hope and joy, and finally further anticipation of his eventual birth.
Feeling fetal movements has been a meaningful reminder of the hope of future generations for parents and grandparents throughout history. While the most celebrated fetal movement in history is probably Elizabeth’s report of John moving in her womb when in the presence of the pregnant Mary (Luke 1:39-44), certainly Mary herself experienced Jesus moving inside her. It is easy to imagine a loving family sitting around Mary, perhaps with one or more asking to place her, or his, hand on her pregnant abdomen, and then reporting with joy the thrill of feeling the fetal movements for the first time. The emotions and thoughts of Mary’s family members, perhaps including a future grandparent like me, were probably much like those at the Trevathan home last night. Yet we know that Mary’s perceptions and thoughts were unique among pregnant women, for she knew that the baby she carried was special.
Mary’s hymn of praise (Luke 1:46-55) reveals a deep understanding of her unborn child’s impact on human history. Jesus was not only destined to bring healing and mercy to the world, He was destined to right wrongs – to bring justice to an unjust world. In a world where Mary undoubtedly saw the rich benefit from the work of the poor, and the powerful grow strong and fat while the poor went hungry, she knew that her Son, like His Father, would “lift up those of lowly position…. fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty.”
In spite of our advanced technology, the world visible to public health leaders looks much like the world viewed by Mary 2000 years ago. In many parts of the world, including my own city of St Louis, the poor are suffering while many of the rich watch without action, or simply deny that the poor exist. Babies die from preventable diseases. Mothers and children are homeless and hungry, while the rich assert their own right to be greedy. How should a Christian public health leader reflect the social justice of Jesus in our world? The answers are clear for me and for other Christians in public health. For all of us who are public health professionals at Saint Louis University, I pray that in spite of distractions that we will have the courage to fulfill our mission – “the pursuit of truth, for the greater glory of God, and service to humanity,” and in doing so that we will pursue the social justice in our world envisioned by Mary while she was pregnant with our Lord.