Thanks to Facebook memories, I will always be reminded that 11 years ago my Advent experience was different from any other I had prior. On the first Sunday in Advent 11 years ago, I announced to the congregation I was serving, and to the world, that I was pregnant and expecting my first child in June.
The experience of being pregnant and eventually giving birth has forever changed the visceral connection I have as I think of Mary during Advent.
Pregnancy for me was a complexity of various emotions. Joy at the gift of preparing for a child, after a long time struggling with infertility. Anxiety that the pregnancy would be full-term and healthy. Wondering about how life would forever be changed. Grief over knowing that our life as a couple would never return and would forever be changed. Not to mention the various hormonal emotional swings, the fetus’ body that was forever pushing on my right rib, the heat that consumed my body, and the inability to sleep through the night.
Preparing for life is not always comfortable, easy, simple, or neat. Bringing that life into the world was also filled with pain, struggle, and yes, blood, sweat, and tears.
We often try to make the birth of Christ a comfortable, easy, simple, neat nativity scene. We whitewash the fact that in the midst of pregnancy, Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem due to an oppressive ruler. We look away from the shame that would have come from others in the community for an unwed Mary to be pregnant. We look away from the fact that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had to flee as refugees to Egypt in order to keep Jesus alive, because Jesus’ life meant a radical movement that would challenge the systems of power.
In various churches (and now on various digital platforms) during Advent and Lent one can often hear the liturgy of Holden Evening Prayer by Marty Haugen being sung on Wednesday nights. At Valpo we hear that liturgy on Sunday nights at Candlelight when classes are in session. Week after week a central part of the service is the singing of the Magnificat, Mary’s song. It is based on Luke 1:46-55 where Mary sings about her pregnancy during her visit with her cousin Elizabeth. Because of the ritual of hearing this song each week, every time I read this section of Luke my heart sings it. This Advent, the song has been an earworm for me, constantly running through my mind as I work, shop, cook, rest, etc.
Mary’s song is a reminder of what we are preparing for, welcoming the Christ child into the world.
It is preparing for the world to be turned rightside up.
Over the past nine months, the world has been living in the midst of pandemic. This year it almost seems that in some ways our Advent has been a nine-month gestation period. It has been a long time of waiting, and the world has been changing and shifting around us. During this time many of the places of injustice and inequity have been highlighted. There are no easy answers or solutions, which can be challenging for a society that wants easy and clear answers, and instant gratification. Yet we know that things will look different post pandemic. How might our welcoming of the Christ child invite us to think about the new world we hope to welcome post-pandemic? The truth is that to join in God’s in-breaking is to join in a radical movement, that means some discomfort. What have these nine months prepared us for? Like any pregnancy it has been uncomfortable, filled with anxiety, filled with hope, filled with expectation. As we prepare for the birth of Christ, as we prepare for a new year, and hope of vaccinations, what will our world look like? Are we truly prepared to be changed? To not go back to the world as it was, but to join in the new life in Christ?
This year many of our traditions and gatherings will look very different. Yet how might they connect us to that first Christmas, that first Christmas which was anything but comfortable, clean, and controlled? That first Christmas that radically changed the world and invites us to join in that movement still today. I wonder what my Facebook memories might remind me of in another 11 years and what proclamations from Mary’s song might be present around us.
Dec. 16, 2020
Deaconess Kristin Lewis has served as Interim Campus Minister at Valparaiso University and completes her time in this role this month.