We light the first candle as Advent dawns once again, and I find my heart with renewed hope and vigor. The winter is upon us, and I glance outside to lament the last vestiges of fall barely hanging on the withering branches of deciduous trees. This is when my life begins its seasonal descent into hibernation, or rather, isolation, and I dread it every year.
Yet Advent brings me back somehow. It is a season of intention, one that is meant to be celebrated in the thick of the hours of night that bleed into days, weeks, and months. For those of us who live in northern geographical areas, winter can be brutal and dangerous: icy roads, freezing fog, temperatures well below freezing.
The flicker of the candle calls to mind a word I once read in regards to the Feast of the Visitation: “Christ-bearer.” Advent is a time of waiting with purpose, with attunement and vigilance. We do not wait these long weeks before Christmas Day, just to herald a time of feasting and napping and opening hordes of gifts. We wait for light to return to our lives. We wait for the Light of the World.
And while we wait, we watch. There is a shift I notice in myself this time each year, at least the years when I turn toward God with the cry of the depths: “Make me new.” It is a comparable prayer to my Lenten resolve, but with more exuberance and expectation. The waiting of Advent is active and vibrant. It is alive, teeming with growth hidden beneath uncertain surfaces and germinating beneath a silent earth.
The times in which we find ourselves are grim, indeed. Anyone, whether a person of faith or not, can plainly see how hopeless and wayfaring the world has become. Most of us lack confidence in much of anything, much less anyone. How can we trust God when we cannot trust people?
The Blessed Mother ran in haste to greet her aging cousin, Elizabeth. Both women were pregnant with the beautiful fruits that would irrevocably change salvation history: St. John the Baptist to pave the way for our Savior, and Jesus who is our Savior. I’ve often wondered what it meant for Mary to go “in haste,” because haste was always a word carrying negative connotation in my family. “Don’t be hasty” meant take your time rather than rush through something impulsively.
But this type of haste was something else, something greater. Mary’s haste was not impulsive at all, but rather an earnest desire to share her news, her joy, with another woman who received what appeared to be impossible for humans, but not for God. Mary’s haste was deliberate, which is why I reflect on this as we gather as a family around our Advent wreath. I, too, can be a Christ-bearer. I, too, can pray that God will be born in my heart and in my life to revitalize not just myself and my family, but the world in which I live.
Women especially are Advent people. We know what to do with a tiny seed of impossibility and allow it to swell and morph into something bigger, maybe something entirely different in substance. For those of us who have carried a child in our wombs, we understand what it means to bear “fruit that will remain,” because a human soul is the indelible imprint of the Divine that carries on in our progeny and with the fruit of their own lives.
This is why this time of preparation for the birth of Jesus is so vital to our spiritual growth. We are oriented towards growth, not stagnancy. We are meant to be a people of hope, propelling to the ultimate end, which is heaven. I think of this when I consider how I am called, in this day and age, to be a Christ-bearer to those around me.
How can I model St. John the Baptist, the prophet who spoke difficult truth to a people who did not want to hear the message? How am I to be a person of faith in a time when so few seem to maintain any semblance of belief in anything beyond themselves? I can bring Jesus in radical ways, yes, but also in quiet, subtle ways, too.
If I am to fully embrace my womanhood, I turn to the women who carried the promise of hope in their wombs. I carry this promise, too. In a way, though my womb is now gone from my body, I carry the seed of hope and promise in my heart. I do this when I pray, when I offer up silent acts of service for someone in need, when I share in another’s joy, when I patiently wait for the right time of fruition and fulfillment.
In this season of darkness, we are reflections of the Light in all the ways we bring love to those who are hurting, in all the ways we offer healing words to a soul that is racked with brokenness and suffering, or perhaps in all the ways we provide comfort to those who are sick and lonely. We do this, in spite of our own darkness, sin, and struggles. We do this, because of our own darkness, sin, and struggle.
We are Christ-bearers, because we hope in what is to come, what will be, what already is.