vVUFMODThis is the second time in my life I have been pregnant during Christmas. With the first, I was only a few short weeks into the process and so mostly just doe-eyed, exhausted, and power-eating Chick-fil-a. This go-round though, I’m at 18 weeks and still running for the toilet every time I eat anything with sugar, change a diaper, or drink liquid with too much vigor.

Nausea aside, being pregnant during “The Season” sheds so much light on “The Reason.” The season leading up to Christmas, what we call Advent, is a season of waiting and anticipation. Easter is probably supposed to be my favorite season but (cards on the table) mine has always been Advent/Christmas. Because deep in the core of my human spirit, waiting is a practice I know well. And promises fulfilled have to be one of the rarest, most spectacular things in life.

Throughout the Old Testament, hundreds of prophecies (promises) depict the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Savior. And so during the very first season of Advent, people knew that the time for His arrival was approaching. They knew where He would be born, and of what lineage. They watched for what the Lord would do, anticipating, hoping that He would come through and deliver them from their suffering. In my current state, I am somewhat familiar with the waiting – will I have a boy or a girl? Will he/she be a musician? An athlete? A scholar? A burnout? Will they give me hell as a toddler? How will my life be altered come the day of delivery? All I can do in the waiting is prepare for the unknown.

We too anxiously await Jesus’ arrival, starting around Thanksgiving (or July in some cases) each year. We watch and we wonder how our lives will be altered. We prepare. First, if you’re like me, you buy the fattest Christmas tree from the cheapest lot. I’ll be honest, for most of my life I haven’t given much religious thought to a Christmas tree. It is primarily a bright and ornate vehicle under which my presents are shaded. The cool thing about a Christmas tree, though, is that it’s the one living tree during a season (winter) when all other trees have shed their leaves and gone the way of the twigs. In a Christmas tree, life continues on. In a Christmas tree, we have eternal life, and it is more lovely and brilliant than anything we could imagine. After we decorate our trees, we bedeck the rest of the house in wreathes and nativity scenes and all manner of things that glitter or shine or prance. All of this in preparation. [Certainly there’s the cultural conundrum of who are we preparing for – Jesus or Santa? But I am also pro-Santa. As a kid, I was promised that (no matter how naughty or nice I was) on Christmas Eve, Santa would come and bring me presents. Because I am blessed with unbelievable parents, every Christmas Eve, that is exactly what happened. A promise fulfilled. When I became a Christian, it was thus easy to transfer this exciting and mysterious anticipation during Advent onto the birth of Jesus.]

funny-pregnant-woman

Ideally, waiting on a baby, preparing for his/her arrival, should be sort of similar. Pinterest-type mothers nest, and they prepare for their little ones with giddy excitement. Since I know this is a safe space, I’ll confess that I’m the sort of mother that braces for a newborn, rather than decorating and giggling. In the months leading up to labor, it’s more like I’m preparing for a hurricane, or a sudden drought or famine. Bottles? Check. Light-blocking curtains? Check. Sound machine? Check. Tequila? Double check.

The truth is, I think a lot of people experience a similar sense of hesitation, dare I say dread, at the coming of Christmas. Perhaps it’s because of money issues, or a difficult family situation, crippling loneliness or the painful reminder of loved ones lost. Maybe it’s even the sting of feeling like a social pariah compared to every.other.person on your news feed. As an expectant mother, I completely relate to how ugly it feels to be apprehensive about a time that’s seemingly so beloved by everyone else. I’m running to the toilet constantly. I can’t sleep or comfortably hold my toddler because of lower-back pain. Heartburn has already kept me from indulging in some of my most burning pregnancy cravings. And what the hell’s this “glow” that everyone keeps talking about? More devastatingly, I am overwhelmed with the memory of the awful pain of labor, and the months afterward of real terror that my son would die unexpectedly. Or that my husband would die. Or that I would die. And then I remember how utterly isolated and lonely I felt as a stay-at-home mom during my son’s first year, living in a city with no family. Or the persistent sense that I was failing at absolutely everything. Let’s not even get into the long nights and the never-ending days.

But, as Lauryn Hill sings, “then He came…”

I think all of this dread and self-loathing points to the birth of Jesus in an even more profound way than if we just coasted through Advent (or pregnancy) high on eggnog and gingerbread cookies. Because that messy, broken, and deflated person (me) is exactly the one whom Jesus came down to save. And it isn’t because I received the most party invitations or behaved super nice all year. It’s just because. Jesus comes in the bleakest hour of our winters and – wonder of wonders – He brings us life and life abundantly.

This is the hope we wait patiently for. And there is even joy in the waiting, because Christmas isn’t just about the day itself, is it? It’s also about the time leading up to the day. Something critical happens then. So often waiting is painful. We are filled with doubt and uncertainty (and heartburn and back pain). Maybe God is not going to pull through for us after all. Here, I am drawn to my knees, unable to escape the terror and the encroaching darkness on my own. For it is in the pain of waiting that our need for God is most evident. And God answers those needs in full on Christmas morning in the person of a tiny baby – a baby who promises us heaven, where all of the sorrow and all of the sadness is gone away, a place where infants don’t cry and moms are the perfect balance of loving and leading.

This is why I can get on board with the over-the-top, often gluttonous or consumer-driven, preparation for Christmas. In between violent waves of nausea, I wearily put out our decorations, transforming the house into something (elegantly) spectacular. I do it anyway, and not because of societal pressures. I actually love the redneck yard displays, and the cookie-making, and the over-glamorous Christmas card photos, even the elves on shelves, and the Starbucks Christmas cups. Because, in a way, shouldn’t we be living every day like this? Celebrating and preparing for the day when our Savior will come again? – The day when life will be one giant White Elephant party that we’re all invited to. I’m convinced that heaven looks a little bit like the Griswold house. And I think, when you’re driving through a well-decorated neighborhood at night during this time of year, that tiny stirring of joy in your tummy agrees with me.

J6mfAxtA perfect Christmas Eve/Christmas Day should be still and quiet and overcast. Driving through town at night, each lit Christmas tree – alive when all else is dead – a light in the darkness – seems like a signpost to me. Like in Narnia, a reminder that winter will end, and it will be Christmas. In each tiny white-lit bulb, I see a small glimpse to when Christ comes again, and all dead things will be living.

During Advent, as in pregnancy, there is this similar sense that something big is coming – and it is strange, and mysterious, and foretold, and nothing will ever be the same again. I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but with every passing day the distant thump-thump-thump of battle drums sounds louder with its approach. This makes my heart pound in the best way possible, because God said He would send someone to rescue me from the mud and the mire of my shortcomings and failures, and on Christmas morning, He did what He said He would do. Nothing else matters.

 

Come, thou long expected Jesus,

Born to set thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us,

Let us find our rest in thee.