For weeks now, I have tried to write. My computer is filled with half-drafts of mediocre writing on promising topics, all abandoned for lacking sufficient amounts of pathos. I think maybe I’m one of those writers that writes best when in the midst of a bout of drama. Last Advent season, my nerves were afire with a desperation befitting the season and with personal indignations, large and small. (It doesn’t take much.) And I wrote.
But this season is not like that. It is one of those seasons when life is chugging along just, well, fine. Our new baby David is two and a half months old, sleeping (thank the Lord), and impossibly gorgeous, which doesn’t hurt. After the initial shakeup of a new baby plus starting homeschooling (a topic for another post) and a hospitalization within the same two-week span, we have settled into that sort of rhythm in which moderate amounts of productivity are punctuated with the general joys and annoyances of having four kids six and under. If you’re not sure what this means, here it is: one moment, you are having this amazing conversation with your six-year-old on the Book of Revelation (!!), or keeping your overzealous two-year-old from affectionately trampling his baby brother all while he murmurs savagely, sweetly, “Best fwends, best fwends.” The next moment, you are whipping around furiously in your kitchen just trying to get the creamer into the coffee while the newborn screams in his bouncy seat, the three year old spills her milk and you cross to the other counter only to find you are out of paper towels, while simultaneously stepping on raisins. But the hubby put in a shiny new sink this week, so there’s that. In general, I can’t complain.
How is one supposed to write under these conditions?
At this time of year, my thoughts always turn to Mary, the mother mild. Or so says Christmas lore. The Bible tells us that she is “highly favored” – in all our minds this translates to docile, doe-eyed, invariably lovely. We picture her sitting up shyly in her bedchamber (Christmas stories require elevated diction such as “bedchamber”), gazing with maidenly apprehension at the angel Gabriel. Or we might picture her dutifully attending to housework, like sweeping an already immaculate kitchen floor. Mary is tame, and we like her that way.
What I have been thinking about recently is what life must have been like for Mary before the momentous arrival of that angel. How, in her pubescence, she must have been busy with wedding preparations. How she must have been calculating in her mind the tremendous life change she was about to face, going from someone’s daughter to being somebody’s wife, the cost of it, the weight. All the while, she never could have anticipated such a thing as an angel’s arrival, a message from heaven itself, that she would bear the Messiah.
I like to think of Mary as thick-skinned, steely, a fighter. I mean, you’d have to be to live the life she lived, the stable birth, child being the Messiah, all of that. But it’s evident hers was a strength borne of submission to what God was asking of her and a faith in his promise that He would make her able. He said, You’ll get pregnant. Like any of us in her position, she asked, stammeringly, How? He said, The Holy Spirit. She said, Sounds good.
This kind of openness does not happen suddenly. This wasn’t the beginning of God’s work in her life. Mary had been pursued by her heavenly Father since before she could understand it. In her life, he had been working, speaking, forming; his presence was with her, his hand always upon her.
For Mary, her heart had been preparing, all along. Her ears had been attuned to the voice of her Lord. Her eyes had been adjusted to the presence of the light for, indeed, she had been living in it this whole time. Like a disciplined athlete she had trained faithfully through the days and nights, doing the grueling work of obedience that no one ever saw, making herself ready, making herself strong, so that when she finally stepped into that arena she was primed for it. She put her hands to the work in front of her; she immersed herself in the Word; she said yes again and again to the promptings of the Lord in the ordinariness of her days. To be sure, each yes meant a dozen different nos: no to distractions, no to self-pity, no to fear. But it was a wide open yes to wherever God wanted to take her. And when an angel arrived at her doorstep, he was just the visible proof of what she already knew to be true: God is alive and moving here. He speaks to me, he knows me, he loves me so. He sees me. Even in the dark rooms of this modest little house in this backwater town, he sees me.
I remember this as I go about my day, wiping the applesauce off each tiny mouth, picking up the socks, correcting, reproving, reminding, again and again, the rhythm of life’s work in ordinary time. And no, I won’t birth the Messiah, I won’t wake to an angel standing in my bedroom. But that was somebody else’s story, not mine. My prayer tonight is that I remember his presence, working, always working, speaking, always speaking, through the minutes and the hours and the days of this banal, blessed life. And when those eureka moments happen, when that light does break through, I don’t want to be found blinking: I want to be ready for it. After all, that is what Advent is all about.