How the Christmas Story is a Special Needs Story

by Dec 14, 2022Encouragement, Holidays, Uncategorized0 comments

Guest blogger Mark Arnold explains how the Christmas story is a special needs story as he presents each aspect of the birth of Jesus.

How the Christmas story is a special needs story is something guest blogger Mark Arnold is thinking about this time of year. What he has to say will help you see how Emmanuel, God with us, is with caregiving families in a deep and meaningful way.

Every year we hear the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph heading to Bethlehem, of the innkeeper, angels, shepherds, wise men, and of course the baby Jesus. Have you ever looked at it as a metaphor for special needs families? Here’s a look at how this story parallels the story of parents of children with special needs or disabilities.

Unexpected news

Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her that she will have a very special child. This surprised Mary. She was ‘greatly troubled at his words’ before she accepted his message and said, May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:26-38)

For the families of children with special needs, unexpected news can arrive during a pre-natal scan. It can be troubling, devastating even. Not every parent accepts the news as Mary did. For some who learn their child will not survive or will be significantly disabled, parents grieve all that their child might have been.

A different location

Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for the census. Joseph, belonging to the house and line of David, had to register with Mary in Bethlehem, the town of David. (Luke 2:1-5)

Places where a baby with pre-birth concerns can be delivered may be limited. This might require a journey to an unfamiliar town. Though the trip won’t involve a ride on a donkey, it may still be a difficult journey.

Unexpected kindness

Mary needed somewhere safe to give birth to her baby in Bethlehem. Although there are no rooms available for them to stay in the inn, the innkeeper allowed them to use the stable, and the newborn baby was placed in the animals’ manger. (Luke 2:6-7)

Families of children born with special needs or a disability often mention one person who brought a cup of tea and a kind word during an overwhelming medical crisis. A simple act of kindness transformed their profoundly challenging situation into something a little more bearable.


A bunch of shepherds turned up shortly after Mary gave birth. Goodness knows what she thought about this, exhausted as she was. Still Luke’s Gospel says that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:8-20) Later, wise men or Magi from the East brought gifts and wanted to see the baby. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Families like ours get used to the arrival of strangers with impressive lists of medical and social care credentials, professionals involved in the care and support of the child and their family. We also ponder the support and care the professionals provide and wonder what the future holds for our child.

Hateful people

Mary and Joseph were warned that Jesus was in danger and fled to Egypt. King Herod ordered the death of all boys under two years old in the Bethlehem area, but was too late to catch Jesus and his family. (Matthew 2:13-18)

There are people today who do not understand or accept children with special needs or disabilities. They do and say hateful things. Some believe babies with special needs or disabilities should be euthanized. Families who encounter these views find them hurtful.


Mary, Joseph, and Jesus eventually returned and set up a home in Nazareth near Galilee. It was Jesus’ earthly home during most of his life. (Matthew 2:19-23)

Many families of children born with special needs or disabilities wait a long time to bring their child home. Some never make it. Those who do come home to a different future than originally envisaged. Still it is a future that can be wonderful.

Seeing how the Christmas story is a special needs story can help us live more fully knowing that Jesus, God with us, and his parents experienced the challenges, and struggles we and other families face each day.

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Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash

By Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold is the Additional Needs Ministry Director at Urban Saints, a leading national Christian children’s and youth organization. He is co-founder of the Additional Needs Alliance, a national and international advocate for children and young people with additional needs or disabilities. Mark is a Churches for All and Living Fully Network partner, a member of the Council for Disabled Children and the European Disability Network. He writes an additional needs column for Premier Youth and Children’s Work (YCW) magazine and blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. He is father to James, who has autism spectrum condition, associated learning disability, and epilepsy. To find out more about how Mark’s work can help you, contact him at: or @Mark_J_Arnold


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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



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