Babies rarely come when we expect them.
This is obviously the case for pregnancies themselves, for miscarriages, for early or late natural births. But it’s true for each and every birth in all of history. Even out of my five scheduled births, only two actually happened at the scheduled time. Then, of course, there is the unpredictability of exactly how babies will come— in what place and circumstance, with what varied amounts of pain and delight. This unpredictability is part of why birth stories are so fascinating and humbling. They remind us that, in one of the most important experiences of life, we have almost no control.
And yet, mothers would often like to believe that we have more control than we actually do. Some of this is a good thing— a modern return to the empowered, “natural” birth, where a woman understands her body and can read its signals and influence its behaviors. This reversion has reminded us that, while we are not totally in control, we are not totally helpless either… at least, until we are. Which we often are.
I was thinking about this recently in the context of Advent. Mary is generally looked upon as the beacon of feminine power and virtue. How would these qualities have influenced her birth experience? Many people say that she would not have had any labor pains, since she was not affected by the stain of original sin. But I think that can lead us to think that the whole thing was this seamless process, calm and serene and easy.
And yet, like all the rest of us, Mary did not get exactly what she would have planned. Certainly, much like many women today, Mary would have wanted to have a quaint and quiet home birth, surrounded by family and friends. After all, that seems to be what Elizabeth had! But Mary didn’t get to have a home birth. She had to have her baby in a foreign city, in the middle of the night, on the floor of a cave. I think it is easy to get caught up in the Away-in-the-Manger sweetness of all this that is so dear to our hearts, so much so that we forget how shocking it must have felt at first. We love the stable because Jesus’s birth sanctified it. But I am sure Mary looked around with the same feeling many mothers feel in a hospital room: this is loud. This feels dirty. This is not what I expected. And this is nothing like home.
But Mary embraced her lot, as must all mothers of grace. Babies rarely come when we expect them.
And this is why we must always be prepared. We must always be prepared for the New Baby.
As Advent comes to a close, it is easy to feel that we did not properly prepare. That is the cliche, right? That Christmas always takes us by surprise and that we’ll never get done all the things on our list. We’ll never be properly prepared for the Baby.
One response to this feeling is to decide not to prepare at all. To have a sense of detachment. To treat each day as if it is any other day. To not even try at Advent-ing anymore or anticipating. Instead, we can simply live in the present.
And there is a wealth of wisdom to living in the present.
But there is also a place of importance to be given to living for the future. A life fully lived in the present exclusively is a life without hope. Hope gives purpose to the present. Hope directs us. Hope guides us. We hope for the new baby, even though we know not the circumstances or the time or the certainty of his/her arrival. We play with name combinations and we wash baby clothes. We wrap gifts and we cut down trees. And we keep doing these things, even though we know we’ll never really be ready for what’s actually going to happen.
But then, the real solution to never really being ready is always being ready. We must act like the Baby is coming tomorrow whether it’s the first day of Advent or the last— February or December. People talk about treating every day like Christmas, but I think it’s more appropriate to treat every day like Christmas Eve. Christmas is Heaven. Christmas Eve is our anticipation of Heaven. And Heaven is really just around the corner, whether it’s days or weeks or months or years away. When we treat every day like Christmas Eve, we accept our limitations— no, we didn’t get everything done and we never will— but we’ll buckle down with joy and cheer and do everything we can do today assuming He is coming tomorrow.
Because He very well may.