Even those without much Christian background know that Christmas is about the birth of the baby Jesus. Christmas carols, nativity scenes and creches, and even the pictures on Christmas cards depict the miraculous birth. What is interesting for bioethics is that the story starts before the birth.
Luke tells us in the first chapter of his gospel that the story began with an angel telling Mary that she was going to conceive a child through the intervention of the Holy Spirit without the usual sexual process. God didn’t take much time to do that because by the time she could get ready and hurry off to her relative Elizabeth’s house she was already pregnant. When she got there Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy with her own angel-announced child. When Mary entered Elizabeth’s house, John (Elizabeth’s baby who later identified Jesus as the lamb of God) leapt in recognition of the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb.
This detail of the story suggests that the incarnation impacts how we think about unborn human beings. Since Jesus became a human being it means that human beings have a special status as members of the class of beings that God chose to become. His beginning human life as an embryo and fetus that went through the usual nine months of prenatal life implies that the special status of human beings applies to human beings before they are born. The recognition between John and Jesus suggests the continuity of identity of individual human beings from early prenatal life to after birth.
Remembering that Jesus’ incarnation began nine months before his birth reminds us of the moral value of unborn lives. We should be just as amazed by that as those the shepherds told were amazed about his birth.