Growing up in the Catholic tradition, I learned advent was rich with meaning and longing. I remember how the time between the initial advent mass and Christmas Eve felt like a sacred eternity. One year, I decided I would stick it out and make it to midnight mass with my dad. When the hour finally rolled around I was full with food and heavy with exhaustion. I barely remember the service, but I do remember the sense of beauty there.
While I no longer identify as a Catholic, I have always connected with the significance infused in this season. Perhaps, as a person who frequently searches and yearns for meaning, I find goodness in honoring the wait as much as the arrival of Jesus. I see a metaphor for our lives here on earth. We are the “already but not yet” people. Jesus came to us over 2000 years ago, and brought his kingdom. And though his work has absolutely begun, it’s not yet finished. And so we wait, still, for the fullness of his arrival.
So while advent has always been sacred for me, this year feels especially precious. Even now as I write, we are waiting for the arrival of our own miracle due on Christmas Day. We are expecting a baby boy; one we’ve longed and dreamed about for several years now.
Last year, a few weeks before Christmas, we found out I was pregnant with another deeply hoped for baby. We went through Christmas expectant for what was to come. My perceptive four-year old daughter knew something was happening and we shared with her our exciting news. Then January brought heartache and difficulty, as we found the baby in my belly didn’t seem to be growing. The entire month of January was filled with heavy waiting. A few days after my daughter’s birthday I had a D&C surgery because we finally received confirmation our baby wouldn’t be born on this earth. Prior to this news though, I felt God had given me a verse to meditate on and anchor me:
“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45 ESV).
This particular verse comes from the interaction between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist). Mary had just found out she was pregnant via Immaculate Conception, and went to see her cousin. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit during her interaction and she knew Mary carried the Messiah. Elizabeth spoke these words to Mary, honoring Mary’s faith in God’s ability to do what he’d promised (Luke 1:26-45).
All through January, while we waited for news, I clung to this verse. And then when I knew our baby wouldn’t live, I felt confused and sad. I wondered why God had given me this particular verse? As I grieved the loss, and wept deeply for what would never be, I tucked these words in my heart and kept it written on my bathroom mirror. If for nothing else, this would be one of the thousands of questions I would have for God when I sat before him someday—why did he give me this hope in the midst of such heartache?
Then, just months later, I found I was pregnant again. For us, this felt astounding. Only a year before a doctor had told us our chances of conceiving on our own was about 1%. This meant the baby we had lost had been a miracle too. Surely, we wouldn’t keep receiving miracles?
But we did, along with the support of modern medicine; we did receive another miracle in the form of a new life.
As I’ve reflected on this year, after many breaths and moments and tears and pauses—I see God’s hand of faithfulness in my waiting. Not because I’m finally receiving the longing of my heart, but because I realize again how he loves us and blesses not according to our timeline or expectation but according to his.
I also think of Mary, waiting for her son Jesus. It seems Mary knew goodness and hope was growing in her, but I do wonder if she knew just how much the life inside of her mattered? I wonder when she was with Elizabeth, had she just begun to see a glimpse of what was to come? And yet all the while, she trusted God would fulfill his promise in the best possible way.
Advent in all its bittersweet beauty represents this blossoming hope of what is to come. We know in part, here on earth, how Jesus saves and loves us. But still, we continue to wait in faith knowing there will be a day when he will bring our hope to the fullest completion. For now, may we be like Mary, honoring what we know and expectant of what is to come.