Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14
I like the word “expectant” more than I like the word “pregnant.” I remember when I was eight months along with somebody and my dad saw me get out of the car he exclaimed, “DANG! You look PREGNANT!” I didn’t really take it as a compliment. It’s how I felt, of course: heavy, awkward, weighed down, pregnant.
“Expectant” is a happier word. It includes a sense of being filled up, but filled with hope, awaiting a future gift. Full of life, expectant. Weighed down, perhaps, but only temporarily, and for a beautiful purpose.
Because God came down, Mary was expectant.
The angel announced God’s miracle to Mary and with his words completely rearranged her plans for her future. “Be not afraid,” he said, and courage like the gift of a baby also came down. “Let it be done to me according to Your word,” she said, receiving the unexpected gift.
What did Mary ponder when she was expecting?
As her belly grew and her life was turned completely upside down, what did she think about? Did she take the angel’s words to heart, about her son, the savior? Did she imagine, perhaps, scenes from Isaiah 55, when God’s children would “go out in joy and be led forth in peace, and the trees of the hills shall clap their hands?” Did she also consider the words “like a sheep led to the slaughter,” and “he was pierced for our iniquities?” Did she worry for his health, his safety as she rode on the back of a donkey? Did she caress her growing belly, feel his kicks, and wonder if he would look like her at all? Would he look different, somehow, like the Savior of the world? What did she expect when she was expecting?
When I found out I was pregnant the first time, I ran to the library and checked out three books about pregnancy and childbirth. I read all three on the first day. I wanted to know what to expect! I wanted to be prepared, to be ready! Six kids later, and now I know: there is no being prepared, not really.
You can’t really be prepared for the way it feels to see your child’s face for the first time. Nothing could have prepared me for how it felt to see my husband hold our daughter, gently supporting her head as if she would break, unsure how to wear this new title called “Daddy.”
Nothing could have prepared me for the way it felt to see a heartbeat dip down low on the ultrasound monitor, to realize that the life I carried was delicate, fragile, mortal. Nothing could have prepared me for the first trip to the emergency room after my toddler son chewed and swallowed four christmas light bulbs! I could have read all the parenting books in the world, but i never would have felt “ready” or able to “handle it” when they wheeled my daughter away from me to do surgery on her brain.
What did Mary ponder when she was expecting?
Because God came down, this young Mary suddenly had the shocking responsibility of housing and protecting the Son of God in the flesh. Everything she ate nourished the baby Jesus. Whether she got enough rest, drank too much wine, or fell off a donkey; these things all mattered so much more for her as a mother, as the mother of Jesus who would take away the sins of the world.
Have you ever thought about that time in her life, after the angel’s words, “You shall bear a son and he shall be called Jesus, for he will save people from their sins,” after her words of trust back, “let it be done to me according to your word.” What happened after that? As her belly grew, as the problems of being an unwed mother loomed large. Joseph could have legally divorced her, even had her stoned, but God sent an angel to tell him the situation, and he chose to stay by her side. But what of her parents? Her best girlfriend? Her mentors that had taught her in the faith? Did they all think she had failed them and shamed them? Did they think she was crazy? Did they avoid her because they couldn’t decide what they thought, what they should say?
Did Mary know there would be so much suffering mixed in with her gift?
They say motherhood is like “taking your heart out of your chest and watching it walk around.” What a great analogy- not just for motherhood, but for all of us who love another human being. We pour our love into others- they carry our hearts with them, walking around outside of us, outside our control. And it’s not safe out there! Have you seen this place lately? It’s terrifying! There are choking hazards, and people who drive drunk! There are broken relationships and children with cancer and all kinds of things that just seem WRONG!
I see my daughters growing into lovely young ladies, and I rejoice in the work God is doing. And yet, I fear for them as they wear their beauty, because I know what this ugly world can do to those who shine so brightly. And I enroll them in self-defense classes, but I wish I didn’t have to. It just seems wrong.
Love in this broken world is risky. We are tempted to hold back our hearts because they really may get crushed. But God came down, and He did not hold back his heart from us, or His body, or even His blood. Mary delivered Jesus into this world of brokenness, and even now He does not stand far off but comes inside, under it, with us.
Sometimes, the glitter of Christmas has a way of highlighting the brokenness of our lives. Perhaps we remember the holidays of childhood, when grandma was still here, and we didn’t have to do the shopping. The empty chairs seem wrong. Things just aren’t how they used to be. And it feels wrong to have to visit the hospital during Christmas this year. And it doesn’t seem right to have to buy a pie from the store, or to lay a grave blanket down in the snow.
The brokenness of this world can weigh us down heavily, sometimes even more so when the world is trying hard to be cheery and bright. As children of God, we can acknowledge the brokenness we feel, the brokenness we live every day. We don’t have to cover it up with tinsel and pretend it isn’t there. Rather, for us, the lights of Christmas shine out in the darkness, pointing beyond it, to the dawn that God has promised. Because God came down, we, too, are expectant. Because Jesus is our God-with-us, we expect good things from His hand.
The shadow of the cross falls upon even our brightest December days. Like expectant Mary, we each have sufferings to go through yet, and we shall walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But from just beyond the valley, we hear the Easter songs of victory. We take our Lord’s hand, and we tune our ears to hear His. We step forward with confidence, filled with hope, because our God has come down.
God, You have given us, Your people a future and a hope —hope fixed and grounded in the resurrection of Your Son, who lives and reigns, who by His Spirit has given us a vision that can look beyond the gray breakers of our successive days and through the mists that obscure Your sun, out to the quiet shore of our unending home with You. Oh, keep us in that hope, that vision. Let us not lose it amid the clutter of this life, but help us to hold fast to you as we await the fulfillment of your will for us, great and abundant mercy from your hand. Give us strength and courage in this season of waiting and service, and may it be done to us according to your good and gracious word. Amen.
**This post is a rough version of the talk I gave at St. Peter’s Advent by Candlelight dinner on 12/2/16