Yesterday was the first day of Advent. The word comes from the Latin, “Adventus,” which means, “arrival, approach, coming.”
Usually, we think of this entire season leading up to the big day of Christmas as “Christmastime,” but the church throughout history has not celebrated Christ’s arrival until the actual day. During the days of Advent, the days leading up to the 25th, we’re challenged to practice a solemn period of contemplation, almost a miniature Lent. It’s a time of preparation, of readying our hearts and our lives for the arrival of the Messiah.
I learned that last year when I spent the first weekend of Advent at a monastery, listening to Benedictine monks share about their practice of Advent. Some spoke of the weeks till our celebration of Christ’s birth as a journey we enter into each year (they compared it to the Wise Men), some spoke of heart preparation: quietness, contemplation, meditation.
That’s a far cry from the lives most of us will be leading for the next four weeks: parties, Christmas card scavenging, buying buying buying, traveling, eating (binging, to be exact), and listening to Mariah Carey on repeat. Now, I’m no Scrooge. In fact, the holiday season makes me giddy. I love Christmas for the following reasons: It’s fun! It’s shiny! It’s full of warm coziness! It’s full of connections with people I’d hardly hear from otherwise! Christmas movies! Christmas stories! Christmas music! Christmas musicals! Twinkle Lights! I love wassail and carols and candles and decorations.
But most of the reasons I love the Christmas season have little to do with loving Jesus. Most of them have to do with tradition, feelings, a longing for warmth and community. None of those things are bad. But I sense that I mistake them easily for the presence of God. I believe God can be in those things, but I don’t believe I’m usually seeking him out in the midst of my busy holiday brain.
The past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary. I’ve been writing poems from her perspective and that work has challenged me into a place of waiting. After all, Advent belongs to Mary more than it belongs to anyone else. Who else knows the power and the longing of waiting for the Messiah than the young woman who waited as he formed inside her? Perhaps, I’ve been thinking, Advent is less a season of journeying or meditation, and more a season of pregnancy: the active work of preparing space.
There are seasons to pregnancy: There’s the hard first season of carving out room in one’s body for the child. In that season we somehow hunger and purge all at once. We build an organ (the placenta) that not only exhausts us but provides life for the child whose form is taking shape. In the second season we gain control of our stomachs again, if only to eat. We eat and eat and nourish ourselves, like bears hunkering down for some hibernation we don’t understand. We feel our bones and muscles moving, making space for the hard work of pushing our child out of us. We sit still enough to feel the small twisting, the hiccups of our two-pound eggplant baby. And in that last season, we ripen. Our bodies expand to the point of explosion. Our baby kicks into our organs with their human size feet. And eventually, the child forces its way out of us. We give in.
How is Advent like pregnancy? I like the idea that in this season we are holding something precious, making room for a child to be born, suffering and celebrating, eating and aching, growing and allowing the child to grow in us.
Maybe my love for the season is not a hindrance to the contemplative life that Advent calls me into. Perhaps in this season of preparing, I can make room for both the celebration and the ache, both the noise and the silence, both the making and the being made.
After all, pregnancy is one season, with many seasons inside.