by Julia Sterne
December 13, 2016
7 min read
Advent. Expectation mingled with the pain of not having. Hope colliding with senses of endless waiting. The yearning and the not yet. Historically, Advent’s a season of anticipation mixed with fasting and even mourning. We long for the coming Saviour, but live in a world that is broken and dark. It is the early morning hours before dawn’s first light.
The complication of this season is paralleled most often with the journey of Mary and Joseph: her miraculous pregnancy, his surprise and steadfast faith, their likely experience of being social outcasts while holding desperately to promises of God, their lonely and long journey to a foreign town where everything culminated in the pain of childbirth in a dirty stable.
This parallel has become so powerful for me as I have become a mother. This time of year we are quick to jump from the Angel’s prophecy to sweet little baby Jesus getting some odd gifts from men in turbans. But there are four weeks of complicated emotions and physical pain and labour, before we are allowed to see His adorable face.
The tenth month of pregnancy is brutal. My glow had worn off; the excitement was replaced with a sense of despondency and any bubbly energy evaporated as the human body is literally pulled and pushed to its limits. There were sleepless nights, anxiety, discomfort, aches and pains, and emotional shifts as a new reality presses in on the old. The upbeat carols of Christmas feel sappy and lame in the face of the bleak midwinter.
waiting for babies
I remember waiting for babies. I was ready at nine months on the nose: “Let’s go, kid! I am ready to meet you! What do you look like? Will you know me and will you fit your name?” But there were four more weeks! I had moments of absolute defiance in the face of waiting, trying every old wives’ tale ever mentioned in an attempt to get labour started. I was impervious, determined and maybe a little dangerous in my attempts to jump-start the process. I wanted Christmas, and I wanted it now.
My advent story so far is harmless, but tiresome. I got impatient and had many battles with God and time and my body and the little creature cramping my style. On a good day, I could trust the process, listen to the wisdom of my elders, and wait in joyful hope for the day baby would decide to make her appearance. On bad days, there were tears and angry words spoken in harsh tones, manipulation attempts with the Sovereign, and sinking into pouting and desperation.
Four weeks of this. Four weeks of Advent, the mix of hope and annoyance, resting in promises and up all night exhausted in pain. And then comes baby, right? No. Advent ends with the real-life drama of labour and delivery.
Annually we walk through the pregnancy and birth, light breaking in darkness, always waiting for the permanent Kingship of our Saviour.
This is the most major missing piece of the nativity story. Poor Mary, your labour counts and I see you. The world might wish to avert her eyes, but the mothers among us see you. We will look at you and remember you. Alone with only your husband, God save him, holding you through hours of the most intense pain you had ever felt.
I will spare you the gory details, but I want to pause and hold fast to the reality that this season parallels a young women’s last month of pregnancy and her first labour and delivery. Advent doesn’t just flip a switch into joy and merriment and presents and brunch.
the labour of advent
Labour and delivery are part of this story, as they have been a part of mine. I had been awake and in pain for 30 hours, at moments could barely breathe. My body shook uncontrollably for hours; there was vomit and blood and tears and moans and groans and screams. It was embarrassing to have such little control of my body and mind. There were moments of peace and joy and hope intermingled, but it was not an easy experience, it wasn’t simply waiting, or passively experiencing emotional discomfort. Labour, in all its beauty and splendour, is also gruesome and intense and physical and gritty.
Labour and delivery are not for the faint of heart.
Advent is not for the faint of heart.
But we have no choice, really.
Advent comes every year. Labour follows the pregnancy. I wanted to quit multiple times. I cried and begged for a pause, a break, to be done, but there was no stopping, only waiting for its end. I am sure my midwife, nurse and husband did their best to reassure me it would all be over soon, but I had no choice in the timing. I felt powerless and alone.
But obviously, and with unending thanks be to God, labour does end. There is relief. There is an answer to his promises and a meeting of our longings. The body’s final release as the baby is born is like being washed in an unexplainable smothering joy and bliss as I greeted the little one I longed to meet. I held her.
This is Christmas.
For us, this parallel, a young woman’s pregnancy, labour, delivery and welcoming of her first son, it is but a small glimpse into God’s story of salvation. It is a way to have the smallest taste of the immense feast we cannot yet fathom. A drop in our hands of the unending fountains of God’s forever plan of redemption and restoration.
I love the way Paul puts it:
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
We have intersected the goodness of God at Christmas, but Advent is also about waiting for the culmination of the story, for the permanent renewal of all things in the blessed Son’s triumphal return. Not simply a single line perpendicular in a plane, but the overlapping and overcoming reality of God’s kingdom forever transplanted onto ours.
There is pain in Advent now, the winter without the Christmas. Annually we walk through the pregnancy and birth, light breaking in darkness, always waiting for the permanent Kingship of our Saviour. If you’re finding pain and desperation and groaning in this waiting, you are not alone. God told us of Mary to help us know this season has hope and peace, but can also be arduous, wearying, labouring. It is not for the faint of heart.
And we cannot alter the progression of things: from waiting, to labour and then birth. From the dark cold of winter to the watery sunlight and fresh green of spring. We have no choice in this. So we can endure it and we wait for Christmas. And then, of course, for Easter.
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe