by Lisa A. Smith
THE FIRST TIME I BECAME PREGNANT, I found out early Christmas morning. Perched on the side of the bathtub, I held my breath, waiting to see how many lines would appear on the test stick. There were two lines! I was elated. I told no one. I had stuff to do. I buttoned up my clerical shirt and went off to lead Christmas Day worship.
As I preached and presided at the worship service, a separate chatter buzzed inside my head. I thought of how long I’d waited to be a mother. I thought about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and how she, too, was full of emotion. I thought about how I would tell my husband. (Later that day, when he opened the last box under the Christmas tree, he found a slip of paper that said, “You’re going to be a dad!”) But mostly I thought about all the things I had to do.
NO TIME TO SAVOR
Parenting was a verb and I flung myself into it— honestly, I still do. Those early days of parenting had me reading parenting books, googling strollers and cribs, shopping for onesies, and cooking and freezing the meals that everyone said I’d appreciate later. (They were right!)
Since then, I’ve been pregnant two more times, during Advent and Christmas. Those seasons, I took a bit of time, but not much, to savor being pregnant. I patted my belly during the readings about Mary’s pregnancy. I wept with joy and anticipation when we lit the candles and sang “Silent night.” But mostly, I recall Advent and Christmas as frantic seasons of preparation amid a frantic season of preparing for another child. I thought about Mary and wondered if she felt this busy during her season of preparation. Was parenting a verb for her, too, before it even began?
Advent and Christmas can also feel like verbs. Adventing? Christmasing? Even when I’m not pregnant, those seasons feel like one long sprint to do all the things I feel I have to do, should do, and (sometimes) want to do.
A girlfriend jokes that moms make Christmas magic happen. Sometimes I feel that in my bones when I’m up late ordering gifts online, wrapping packages, hunting for last-minute teacher gifts, frosting yet another round of cookies or hauling out boxes of Christmas decorations from the depths of a closet. Sometimes it can feel as though all of it depends on me. Did Mary feel this way? Or did she have some deeper wisdom?
CALLED TO BEAR GOD
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Mary has the title of Theotokos, a Greek word meaning “the one who gave birth to one who was God,” or, as it is often translated, “God-bearer.” Mary is the God-bearer, the one who with an aching back and sore feet, carried Jesus in her womb, then pushed him into this world in a rush of pain and blood and water. God-bearing was hard work!
Many Christian writers have expanded on this tradition of Mary as God-bearer, suggesting that since we all are created in the image of God, we are all bearers of something of the divine. Each of us can be the one to bear God, carrying words and deeds of love, mercy, grace and peace into spaces of pain and despair. We are all called to be God-bearers. To me, this sounds holy, but also like a lot of work.
Last Advent, amid my usual rush to do and bear all things for God and my children and whoever needed me, my colleague Shelley Wickstrom, Bishop of the Alaska Synod, wrote a reflection that framed the season quite differently. She told about becoming an aunt for the first time and all the things she wanted to rush to do, to manage, to control. She was even planning ahead, and ready to provide a bunk bed, guitar and a keyboard for the child. (She later noted diapers and freezer meals would have been a better start!)
WAITING AND PRAYING
But in the end, being an aunt isn’t about being in charge. When you’re the auntie (or uncle, or grandparent), Bishop Shelley said, you’re not directly responsible. You can’t rush the process. Your job, she said, is to wait, pray, support and prepare. And that’s basically the point of Advent.
In my haste, I know I’ve tried to rush the process of God’s timing. At times, I’ve run over other people’s ideas or just taken over when no one else stepped up or I thought things were moving too slowly. Advent’s counter-cultural message is that we can’t rush God’s timing. You and I are not directly responsible for Advent or Christmas. We’re not even necessarily the God-bearers (at least, not all the time). Sometimes we are the aunties or the uncles or the first cousins to what God is trying to do. Our most important job might be to slow down, wait and notice. Instead of bearing it all, we can bear witness. We can wait, pray, hope and prepare our hearts for the absolute best thing—the gift of God dwelling among us: unearned, unbidden, unexpected and unhurried.
I am going to be a mom for all the Advent and Christmas seasons to come. I’m told one never stops being a mom, even when the birdies leave the nest. But just maybe, this year, I can be an auntie, too.
The Rev. Lisa A. Smith is an ELCA pastor who loves exploring the wilderness near her Northwest U.S. home. She blogs at http://pastorlisawrites.com.
This article appears in the November/December 2022 issue. To read more articles like it, subscribe to Gather.
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