First Advent

I was huge. Not just big — gigantic. Even before I entered my third trimester, well-intentioned old ladies would pat my shoulder encouragingly and say, “Any day now!” as I waddled my way through the grocery store. Considering the raging pregnancy hormones running through my system, I’m impressed that I didn’t slap any of the kind-hearted dears. I was huge.

As the end of November neared, I started wearing flip-flops exclusively because my swollen feet wouldn’t fit into anything else. I think I gave up on other footwear after one particularly bad day when my husband had to help me get my boots off as I helplessly yelled inchoate phrases about being the only woman who would be pregnant forever. My maternity coat didn’t fit anymore by the time it was cold enough to wear it. When I wasn’t at work, I was lying on the couch or in the bathtub, trying to remember what it felt like to be able to see my toes.  But then I would see a tiny limb change position — reminding me that my massive tummy housed a moving, living child.

As December neared and Advent began, I considered this Season for perhaps the first time. I had lighted Advent candles as a little girl, and had been excited about Christmas coming, but had never considered the season as anything except a Pre-Christmas countdown. I came to realize that this is as incomplete an understanding of Advent as a definition of pregnancy as merely the nine months preceding a birth.

While I tried to remember what my feet looked like, I remembered the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I confess that I had never thought much about her before. I had never felt that we had anything in common until now. But as my belly got rounder and rounder and my back got achier and achier, I remembered her. She has done this, I thought. She has felt her child move in her womb, perhaps responding to the sound of her voice or her song. She experienced this miracle of life, taking place within her.

In our modern disenchanted age, we have not completely lost our fascination with the miracle of new life.  Whenever I draggedmy sleepy pregnant body to public places, my experience was different than ever before. Little children looked at my belly, fascinated, sometimes even trying to give my belly a pat or lift up my shirt to discover if there was really a baby inside. Other mothers smiled at me and grandmothers reassured me. My ordinary child, this new ordinary life, elicited such a response of amazement.  I began to wonder, How much more miraculous is the coming of our Lord?

For unto us a child is born.  Unto us a son is given.

I was expecting my son during the season of expectation. The word comes from expectare—to wait, to hope, to look for. I did all these things. At first, there was contentment in the waiting and in the hoping. But eventually, the groaning, miserable discomfort led to a readiness to be delivered and face labor.  A week before my due date, I was so exhausted and so tired of bumping the counters with my colossal tummy and getting up 10 times a night because the little angel had given my bladder yet another energetic punch, that I began to lose it. I couldn’t climb the stairs to my office one more day.  I couldn’t fit behind my desk. I couldn’t sleep.

Until the discomfort crossed a certain threshold and I was struck with a desperate desire to be pregnant not a day longer, the pain of delivery was alarming to me and I remained unprepared.  But in those last days, it no longer frightened me. Anything but this.I started to understand that it is not until we are exhausted, ill with our condition, and miserable, that we are ready for Christ — only then can we really long to be delivered.

I kept thinking about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Was she as desperate to give birth as I was? I considered with wonder how, when her baby boy was delivered, he would in turn deliver her, deliver me, and deliver my own unborn son.

As I waited in joyous, miserable, anxious expectation, I started to understand an inkling of what it must have felt like to wait for the Messiah, Mary’s son. I begin to understand the Joy born to the world on Christmas Day and present with us now as I heard the sound of the first beautiful and strong cry of my newborn son. I realized, in a new way, how to wait with groaning and expectation for our Lord’s return in glory. It was my first Advent.

Editor’s note: This article is from the author’s book, Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year, and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

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Haley Stewart is a writer, speaker, blogger, Catholic convert, mother of three, and wife to Daniel of the big beard and the green thumb. She's a homeschooling, bacon-eating, coffee-drinking southern girl with a flair for liturgical feasts and a penchant for bright red lipstick Haley muses about faith, motherhood, and books at her blog Carrots for Michaelmas and is the author of Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year. She also podcasts at Fountains of Carrots.

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