Sing a sweet song of Bethlehem city,
Carol to praise the Babe newly born.
Mary shall wonder, Mary shall ponder,
Angels shall sing this glad Christmas morn.
One of the most common and, of course, apt analogies for Advent’s relationship with Christmas is that of the last month of pregnancy, in preparation for birth. A lot has to be prepared so that the new baby can be welcomed home. The waiting is excited and hopeful. You organize so that nothing need distract you from the more important work of caring for a newborn. Then, the arrival is joyful and hectic. This year it occurs to me that the most common work for the mother of an infant is stillness.
That enforced idleness during the newborn months is one of the crosses by which new mothers are perfected. What do babies need? Time. They need to be held and held and held. They are held when they are fed. They are held when they fuss. If they are like my youngest then they are held when they sleep because, should you dare put her down, she wakes up instantly and fusses. (See: held when they fuss.) Mothers sit with their little children in their arms and look out at all the work they could be doing. Laundry and dishes pile up, the fridge and cupboards grow bare. The vacuum sits silent. This seemingly unproductive waste of time is maddening. Even when there is a moments rest from idleness, and yes, one can chafe terribly under its yoke, when things are finally being accomplished, a mother must be ever at the ready to spring into inaction.
Ours is a world that does not value stillness very highly. We are a society of Marthas, not Marys. Not that there isn’t great virtue in Martha. Of course there is. It was just that her timing was off. She didn’t recognize that, when the Lord is with you, the most important work of all is to simply be with Him. The woman who spent her money on oil to anoint Jesus understood this well. There is certainly nothing wrong with spending our money to serve the poor. But when the Lord is with you the most important work is to adore Him.
A mother is forced by her child’s needs to take time in the day just to love that child. Just to stare at the perfection of God’s creation. We chafe at the restrictions but it is a great work in this phase of life to actively engage in doing nothing.
Surely Our Blessed Mother spent much of the early days of Jesus’ life doing nothing, with Him. These are the images evoked by many a Christmas Carol or painting of the Nativity. Joy and excitement, marvels in the heavens and great movements of people, and at the center of it all a mother seated with her child at her breast. What an amazing gift of time to adore. What a beautiful obedience to simply be still with God.
Which brings us back to Advent and Christmas. If Advent is a time of preparation, then that preparation is not only for celebration. We must prepare also for stillness. We should have arranged life such that there is time in the Christmas season to do absolutely nothing. Not to be lazy. (Although I’d argue there’s certainly a place for pure leisure in the holiday too!) This is the active inactivity of the mother. The work of loving, of being loved, of contemplating and adoring. Make time to hold Jesus in your heart. Find that warm stable where by the glow of a fire Mary beckons you to join her in gazing in wonder at her Son.