I had never so much understood the waiting of Advent until the due date for my baby boy started rapidly approaching. My belly was huge; I could barely put on socks. So excited to feel any contractions that may indicate the start of labor, I had trouble falling asleep. Our bags were by the door, just as the expectant Israelites kept their sandals on and staffs ready for travel.
In Advent, we look forward to the birth of God-made-flesh. I, too, awaited a child. But the similarities felt deeper than that, and the experience pulled me headlong into the meaning of this liturgical season.
An end to suffering
In some ways, I looked forward to the birth simply because it had gotten quite difficult to be pregnant. I was looking forward to walking up a flight of stairs without running out of breath; sleeping on my stomach once again; eating cured meat; and sipping wine. I wanted relief from the constant strain of baby-plus-womb weighing down the front of my body, the itchy and uncomfortable stretch marks, and the slower daily pace. In other words, I looked forward to the birth so that I may be relieved of the suffering inherent to my pregnancy.
So too, in Advent, do we look forward to the ending of our suffering. We meditate with joy on the millennia-long wait of God’s chosen people for a Savior who would transition them from the brokenness of their sin to the promised Kingdom of God. Now, we remember Jesus’ coming with joy, because he leads us from the suffering of sin into the glory of the resurrection.
Longing to see his face
Being tired of pregnancy paled in comparison to the true reason I counted down the days to the due date: I wanted to meet my son! I had been getting to know him over nine months through his sweet little kicks, his nighttime stirring, and the way he snuggled up during my ultrasound, refusing to move to give us a good picture because he was just so comfortable right where he was.
The ways that I knew my son at that point were real, but my knowledge of him would be so much more full the moment I saw him and held him in my arms. This is the way we experience Christ on earth. God makes himself present in our lives, through Scripture, the Sacraments, in private prayer, and—of course—in our experiences of everyday life. I am so grateful that God has forged a relationship with me through all these measures, but I know that my knowledge of him is minuscule compared to how well I will know him when I see him face-to-face in heaven.
I longed to see my son, and the longing itself was so sweet and meaningful that it made me want to long like this all the time. In Advent, we prepare for Christ’s coming. This waiting to meet my son inflamed my heart to await the meeting of Christ face-to-face with the same hopeful desire.
Experiencing the loving gaze
When labor finally came, it was hard. Harder than I expected. Longer than I expected. And facing my suffering, no one could do it for me, just as in many sufferings of life. And then—
When my child was born, I was too weary to hold him up and gaze into his face, so I brought the naked baby immediately to my warm chest and cuddled him there. The first thing I saw was the top of his tiny head. I will never forget his weight on my skin.
I love him.
This must be Christmas then; this must be Heaven: this long, untranslatable sigh of love. This gaze, so joyful that all is, at once, completely silent and jubilantly harmonic.
Because of my pregnancy and labor, I have tangibly experienced the hopeful waiting described in the Gospels. Because I have met and held my son, I have a foretaste of the all-encompassing joy of encountering love face-to-face. With these experiences, Advent is no longer a theoretical reflection on history, but a chance to understand the meaning of present suffering and to look forward with joy to the heavenly meeting that will be as real as the weight of my newborn in my arms.