The church year begins with a pregnant woman. Christian traditions have called her theotokos. Bearer of God. Mother of God.
Most images of the theotokos show Mary in red or blue cloth, halo-ed and cradling a baby Jesus. But that's not Advent. Advent is not about Mary the mother; it's about Mary, the pregnant woman. Advent is about the journey to the birth of Jesus.
Advent is about pregnancy, and pregnancy is about waiting.
Pregnant women wait.
Some women wait for the first three months to pass before they tell anyone they are pregnant. Waiting to get past the time when miscarriage is more likely. Waiting to share the good news. Waiting to feel like the baby is safe. Waiting to exhale.
Pregnant women wait for morning sickness to end.
Pregnant women wait to feel the first kick.
Pregnant women wait for the baby to be born.
Waiting nine months—actually nine and a half months for a full term of thirty-eight weeks.
I spent most of this last calendar year as a pregnant woman, so I spent most of this year waiting. There are no halos. It's not that glamorous.
Pregnant waiting is worrisome and frustrating. I first waited to be sure I stayed pregnant. I prayed not to see the blood that indicates possible miscarriage. I waited for the test results that would tell me the odds of genetic diseases, and whether or not I needed even more tests. I waited weeks for the nausea to end. Then I waited for a time when I would not feel so tired. I waited for the first kicks, only to discover that my kicky baby would have me waiting for sleep. The last hot summer weeks of my pregnancy, I waited eagerly and uncomfortably for the baby to be born.
I'm probably more than twice the age that Mary was when she was pregnant with Jesus. A pregnant teen has more to think about than I did. Today, a pregnant teen might worry about school, health insurance, money, and childcare. Or, like Mary probably did, she might worry about telling the father and what people would say.
Maybe Mary got advice telling her to wait it out. That these things blow over in time. That her story will soon be old news in the rumor mill. That the vomiting will end in the second trimester. Maybe someone told Mary that waiting on God would renew her strength and cause her to mount up on wings as eagles. Like the scripture says.
I hope Mary kept it real and told those non-pregnant advice-givers that waiting sucks. I hope she told them that she was too heavy to fly like an eagle. I hope she told them that growing a person and supportive eco-system inside one's body does not renew strength. It saps energy.
In both pregnancy and the spiritual life, waiting can be tiring, frustrating, and worrisome. When all eyes are on the proverbial prize, the journey becomes no more than a tedious means to the glorified, halo-ed, baby-cradling end.
We can be the same ways in our spiritual lives. We want deliverance from our challenges, without the road to get there. We want spiritual maturity without the prayers and discipline required each day. We focus on getting to heaven more than living on earth. We focus on Jesus, not Mary. The baby, not the pregnancy.
Advent encourages us to look for the lessons of pregnancy. Here's one: Although waiting is difficult, rushing to the end can actually diminish the quality of life. We need each day between conception and birth to grow. We need to learn to live with discomfort and the unknown. Not because it makes us stronger. But because it makes us human.