A couple of weeks ago it was a full moon and so, though I knew better than to believe the idea, I watched my wife Emily for signs of impending labor. The same thing happens when it rains, after a walk, or after a particularly hearty meal of spicy food. We are in those final days, the waiting, watching days when the old euphemism “expecting” fits our experience with a vengeance. Tonight, tomorrow, a week from now—our daughter could be here.
We’ve been preparing and preparing and preparing—with all of the hand-me-downs and gifts I think we’re well supplied for triplets for the next two years. Our house for the last week or so has never been so clean for so long. Even I have been mindful to rinse my dishes and put them in the dishwasher right away and pick up my books when I leave them lying around. If something breaks, we fix it. If something needs doing, we do it—we don’t want to be caught with undone things hanging around for us when Lillian Mae comes and changes everything.
Emily and I have experienced a calm in this period of waiting. Our normally busy lives have settled. We don’t make many plans, we don’t have many commitments. We’ve done our best to clear the decks and maintain our home and work lives in such a way that we could leave and not come back for a time—at a moment’s notice.
A few weeks ago our Sunday reading in the Revised Common Lectionary included an apocalyptic passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. In the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer the Daily Office epistle reading for this first Sunday in Advent is the same passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. In the passage Paul is warning the community of believers to always be on watch for the “Day of the Lord,” the apocalyptic coming of God’s judgment and the final coming of Christ’s kingdom. It is a day that will come, Paul writes, “as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!”
I have been thinking about this passage in terms of our own preparation for the birth of our daughter and in the beginning of Advent. Advent is a time of waiting and expectation, it is a time of fasting more than feasting (Christmas is the time for that!). It is a time to clear away the clutter of our lives as we practice expectation, rehearsing Christ’s coming to prepare us for his coming again.
I think about what my life would look like if I lived it with the kind of expectation Emily and I are living with at the end of our pregnancy. It would be a life in which I would leave less undone, a life in which I would write a blog post on Advent as soon as I had a moment, rather than waiting until the day it was due as I normally would. It would be a life in which I would not wait to do good, not linger with the evil that I cling to.
When Lillian comes into the world we will be as prepared as we can be, and I’m sure there will be much we will discover we didn’t foresee, but we are ready and in a constant state, not of getting ready, but of being ready.
How do we get ready for the Christ who has come and is coming again? How sad it would be if we were caught in our infighting, lacking in maturity and knowledge, unready for Christ. Paul tells us that we must prepare ourselves with Faith, Hope and Love and encourage one another in these things. Spend this Advent finding these things in your church, setting them in order, and when you have them always be ready with them in expectation so that when Christ comes we can welcome him, “we were waiting for you.”
Ragan Sutterfield is a dear friend whose work has been crucial in the forming of the concept of Slow Church. He is an agrarian and writer who lives with his wife and soon-to-be-born daughter in Little Rock, Arkansas and is the author of the book Farming as a Spiritual Discipline (Doulos Christou Press, 2009).