Advent 1: Hope and Labor Pains

I remember it like it was yesterday.  Actually, what I remember is waiting.

I was 29 years old.  I was on a train, for the 100th time, leaving seminary and heading home.  The third and final year of seminary had taken its toll on my body, soul and wardrobe.  I sat across the Amtrak aisle with my overused backpack and weary winter coat and tried not to stare at the beautiful woman playing with her baby boy.  My heart ached.  I wanted a baby, now!

Feeling slightly crazy, I got home and announced to my husband that by the time I was 30, I had to have a baby. I couldn’t wait any longer. That spring, right before graduation, we learned that we were going to have a baby.

I walked down the long  aisle at the University of Chicago’s sanctuary, with a stirring in my belly and a diploma in my hand.  I couldn’t have been more excited and more scared, more uncertain and more certain about anything in my life.

I got a pregnancy calendar book and marked every day, noting when toe nails were coming in and eye lashes were formed. I tried to know as much about the unknown as humanly possible.

We talked about names and we talked about names some more. –That was something we could control.

Meanwhile, I tried to prepare for motherhood, the most difficult thing I would ever try to do and similarly learn what it meant to be a pastor, the second most difficult thing I would ever try  to do.  It all seemed very impossible.  So I tried to prepare.  I tried to prepare by imagining being a mother and pastor. I tried to prepare by determining what principles were important to me, from which I would not waver:  breast-feeding, not using my children as excuses for work, nor using them as showcases, reading to them every night, always being present, and never ever, ever sacrificing their needs over the needs of the church, or using my kids as reason the church work did not get done, never owning Barbie doll, or toy gun, always reading them the Bible and saying bed time prayers.  High principles indeed.  Lofty principles, I am afraid, in which I see now were unobtainable.

I had forgotten about the fact that I was human.

She was to come in January.  Right around my 30th birthday.  I grew and grew.  She kicked and turned.  We changed the office into a nursery.  The church family provided every item of clothing, book, bedding, and bear.  We waited.

I started having irritating labor pains on January 1.  We went to the hospital no less than 10 times, only to be returned.  We waited.

“I don’t think you understand the amount of pain you are going to feel when you are really in labor,” the doctor said.

Finally inducement was scheduled.  The night before we were to go in, full labor started.  Nineteen hours later, this little person came into the world.  She did not cry.  She sort of looked around the room, with these huge eyes as if to say, “I am here to see if I like it here or not.”  She still does that.

Never in my life was I so afraid, so excited, so in love, and so totally unprepared for what it meant to be a parent.

This, to me, is what I think of when I think of the Hope of Advent.   The idea of Christ coming into the world should sound no less overwhelming than the idea of having a child for whom you are responsible for loving. We can prepare for Christ in simple ways of prayer, scripture, service and worship, but we will soon realize that we can never be fully prepared for the gift and the awesome experience of knowing Christ.  We realize that we aren’t in control of Christ being born in us, and that we are reliant on hope. Hope that we will serve and give and receive the gift of grace with open arms.  Hope that we will forgive ourselves when we fall short.  Hope that we will be forgiven when our humanity is transparent, and our shortcomings are apparent. Hope that though the journey will sometimes be hard and often painful, it will also be filled with moments of grace and light and joy.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in* hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes* for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8

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