From our Ecumenical Advent Devotion Lunch on December 17, 2019
Our Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25
If you have been to all of these Advent lunches, we have heard repetitively that Advent is a season of waiting. It’s a season to be introspective and to slow down. And like the Lenten season before Easter, it’s kind of hard to do. Waiting is no one’s forte. We are an impatient people in an impatient culture. We want Christmas here, and we want it right now. Spending each Sunday (and Tuesday lunch) talking about waiting sounds excruciating. The rest of the world seems to have moved right on without a thought for intentional waiting. Santa’s at the mall, halls are decked, and no one is bothered at all that Christmas Day isn’t even here yet.
And then I think of the actual Christmas story, and Mary was given some pretty intense news about being pregnant, followed by some serious social scandal avoided by a good dad-to-be, plus angels speaking and dreams about the future…and then after all that, the part that’s kind of skipped over in verse 25: they still had to wait all those months to actually give birth.
Any of you who have had children (or had partners who had children) know what I’m talking about. Pregnancy can feel like the longest period of someone’s life. I know when I was pregnant last year, I was not one of these fluttery, happy pregnant women who loved it. Sure, I appreciated it as someone who took a while to get pregnant, and I certainly understood that so many could not get pregnant. But frankly, I was exhausted, nauseous, sore, and generally uncomfortable for about 38 months (or so it seemed). That last month of the pregnancy alone added those extra 29 months, by the way.
The 100th time you get up to go to the bathroom at night, the lost pace of stair climbing, the being out of breath just getting from one part of a building to another, the need to nap just to function in the afternoon…you realize that the pregnant stage of life is all about waiting for a major change, sometimes uncomfortably. I mean, you have to wait. The baby is still developing. She needs strong lungs to make it out there in the oxygenated world. She needs to be ready to digest and use the nutrients in her milk. She’s got to be ready to open her eyes and handle the light of the sun.
So you just keep being pregnant, for what feels like eternity. But you know that this waiting is good for the growth of a person.
Advent waiting is also good for the growth of a person, in my opinion. Without it, celebrating the birth skips right over the long, pregnant pause that Mary and Joseph had to contemplate what this birth would mean, and it skips over the pause we too need.
Our world is pregnant with possibility. Some churches lighting the Advent wreath are talking about what Christ’s birth brings into this world: the concepts of hope, peace, joy, and love. Some focus on the stories in the scriptures – they talk about a holy waiting for a second coming in the end of times while we contemplate that first waiting for the coming of Christ. They talk of prophecies calling for a leader who will know good from evil and sort things out in ways we never could. And they prophetically tell us what this coming would mean: healing and hope for the poor.
And when we explore all the meanings behind what Christ’s first coming means for us all, we are giving ourselves time to develop, time to grow, and time to be ready when the birth finally happens. And yes, like my 45th month of pregnancy, waiting is sometimes kind of miserable. We’d rather be shout-singing Joy to the World, but we’re singing one of five or so Advent hymns. I would have happily handed over my waiting for Elena if only my comfort was at stake, but I knew that she needed more time.
Friends, we need more time. We need this introspection. We need to wait. And we need to acknowledge the full range of the human existence in the meantime. Christ came to us in all our messiness and imperfection. He faced temptation and the worst humanity had to offer. And Christ is with us in this waiting.
His light is piercing through the darkness of the winter on its way. Every kick in my belly, every annoying nighttime case of baby hiccups reminded me of the light of this new baby’s life-to-be in this world. And it made the waiting worth it. These moments of hope and light are the reason we can not just weather the waiting, but find hope, peace, joy, and love in it. There’s growth happening in these waiting days, and there’s new life on the way. We have so much to look forward to!