Never mind the baby, here’s Advent?

(Because it’s totally appropriate to riff on a Sex Pistols song title when meditating on the Christ Child. Moving along!)

It has come to my attention that I’ve now put up two posts (here and here) encouraging Christians to place themselves in the presence of Baby Jesus while we’re still waiting for Him to be born. Why would I do such a thing?

I can see how it might be irritating. Advent is the season of anticipation and preparation. It just is. We have a perfectly good liturgical year, and there’s no need to go rearranging it on a whim. It’s like the weather in New Hampshire: If you don’t like it, just wait a minute. Christmas (or Lent, or whatever) will be here before you know it, so let it be what it is.

Well, a couple of things. First, we may be a little too impressed with our current understanding of what is liturgically proper and essential, especially within the domestic church. What we consider essential and incontrovertible warn’t always necessarily so. For instance,

In England, especially in the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry around the “Advent images”, two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny coin was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest.

I wonder what Facebook would think about that! Sadface Angryface, at very least.

The truth is, the no one really knows when Catholics started to observe Advent as a season of solemn penitence. These things aren’t carved in stone, and they’re not moral issues, especially when you’re talking about issues like which hymn to play and whether or not to take a statue out of storage a month earlier than usual. So there’s certainly nothing immoral, or dangerous, or illicit, about putting the baby front and center before Christmas Day actually arrives, either in the physical church or in your spiritual life.

Second, I probably would have been irritated, myself, if I had heard all this premature “baby, baby, it’s about the baby!” stuff many Advents ago.

What changed my attitude? I had a premature baby myself, eight years ago.

She was only just barely premature, at 36 weeks, and she had only transient health problems, thank God. But I thought I had a whole other month to prepare! I wasn’t ready, at all.  No baby clothes washed and sorted, no hospital bag packed, no babysitting lined up, cradle still in storage. I hadn’t even done much nesting yet, and we were still working on names.

But there she was, small and sleepy but very much arrived. She came home wearing clothes and a blanket the hospital had donated, because I had no idea I’d be leaving with a baby that day. Did she care? No, she did not. She cared about her empty belly and her wet diaper, and her need to be held. The due date circled on the calendar meant precisely nothing.

And that was when I learned that being ready is great, but it is by no means required.

What is required is rising to the task at hand, ready or not — or, as I keep harping on, tending to the person at hand, ready or not. It would have been no good to protest that I couldn’t possibly take care of a baby for at least another two weeks, according to the plan. She was here, and she needed to be fed and cared for without delay. And that was how I worked out my salvation that particular year — with excruciating visits to the lactation consultant with six other kids in tow; with painful, round-the-clock pumping and a bewildering assortment of silicone tubing and bitsy little membranes that needed to be sterilized and not lost track of. It was hard, physically and emotionally. But I learned so much more about myself and about love and sacrifice than I would have if I had had that extra month to “prepare.”

So, yes, DO THE LOVE THING NOW is a big part of my spirituality in general, at least for now. For me, “Oh, hang on, I’m still preparing” is just an excuse, and I’m really just goofing off and hoping I look busy. All too often, I’ll try to put my responsibilities off indefinitely, calling it “preparation,” but halfway hoping I’ll get let off the hook, and, when the acceptable hour arrives, I won’t have to do it at all.

Or else, if I do throw myself into preparations, I feel so obnoxiously proud of myself that I become completely insufferable, and give myself way more credit than I deserve. Well, bringing home that dark-haired little baby without even a bag of diapers to our name, I felt God poke me and say, “Hey. If this works out, you’ll know it wasn’t because of you.” Got it!

But that’s just me and my issues. If approaching Advent this way doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. Everyone has a different lesson to learn, different bad habits to correct for, different defects to fill out — and different kinds of encouragement and sustenance that God wants to give you, too. Whatever it is that you need, Advent can help. Or if not, the next liturgical part of the year can. Cycles are great that way.

Now where’s my ha’penny? I was promised a ha’penny.


Photo by Sanjasy via Pixabay

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