She watches and waits, a secret that is hers alone rests within. Someone is coming, that someone has already arrived. Her focus goes inward: to growth, to new life, to pain, yes, and to sadness, and above all to indescribable joy. The beauty lies in the blending of the good and the bad: loneliness and connection, sorrow and comfort, moments of impenetrable darkness followed by bright blinding light.
So it must have been for Mary, traveling with the burden of a full womb across distances great and far, to reach the land of her forebears. Our Blessed Mother experienced the first Advent as a physical manifestation of the thousands of years the Jews awaited their Messiah. During these moments of waiting for our Savior’s birth, it’s clear to me that God knew what He was doing when He gave us the gift of Mary.
“Jesus is the sun, and Mary is the dawn that announces His rising.” – Pope Francis
Advent is not unlike the heart of a mother. A pregnant mother may tremble in the darkness, knowing her time has come. And yet, and yet, there is a pinprick of light, of hope. The time she awaits is at hand while on the other side of it, though she cannot fathom the depths nor the distance between here and there, the darkness will be like a distant memory. What was it like… before?
The liturgical time of Advent is not only holy and profound, it is necessary. What is light if there was never any darkness to fear? What is joy if there was never any sorrow? So too must a mother wait in darkness, never knowing how her life will be changed with the arrival of her child. Nine long months, sometimes much longer if the child is adopted, can seem an interminable length of time. Yet a mother knows that the waiting is necessary.
As Catholics, we celebrate the time of Advent by rejecting the cacophony of the “holiday season.” We retreat inward, as a mother does, preparing our hearts and our homes for the arrival of A Very Important Guest. There is time enough to rejoice when He arrives! Now is a time of solemn wonder and awe.
Advent can be celebrated as many different ways as there are families who observe it. For our family, these celebrations include a Jesse Tree, an Advent wreath, decorating our home for Christmas slowly and with reverent intention, and a simplifying of our outside obligations. We spend more time together and less time running around, more time reading and less time doing. Each Sunday we spend some time preparing our home: on the second Sunday of Advent we we buy a Christmas tree, the next we add lights, and on the final Sunday of Advent we add ornaments. All with the purpose of receiving Christ as His people, ready and willing.
And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on all ages will call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” – Luke 1: 46-49
Advent is a time of darkness, of candles and whispered hymns. O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. The world is waiting with bated breath. People look East and sing today, Love the Lord is on his way! The anticipation builds as the days draw nearer to Christmas. Even our smallest child knows that something wonderful is approaching. As a mother, the anticipation of what, of whom, we shall receive on Christmas Day resonates within the chambers of my heart.
But no matter if you are mother or father, single, married, or ordained, I invite you to spend Advent preparing to receive Jesus the way Mary did, by offering the gift He longs to receive above all : your heart.
image: The Annunciation, a 13th Century mosaic by Pietro Cavallini in S. Maria in Trastevere, Rome/Shutterstock