Week 3 of Advent | Sally Holt
Saturday, December 22
Advent is a pregnant time, filled with waiting and expectation, and the passages in Psalm 113 and in Luke 1.26-38 focus our attention on pregnancy. In both the psalm and the passage from Luke, women who are not expected to become pregnant actually do. The psalm is one of the “Egyptian Hallel” psalms of praise. The barren woman in the text is Israel, and she finally has a home and children. In the passage from Luke, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel, who not only informs her that she will bear the Messiah, he also tells her that Elizabeth, her barren cousin, is with child. Both texts remind us, during this season of Advent, that God keeps promises. Psalm 113 directs us to praise God, because God is fulfilling covenant promises to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah struggled with barrenness, but they had a child and would have descendants, blessing, and land just as God promised them. The Gospel passage reminds us of God’s promise to be with us.
While these passages remind us of God’s promises, they also inform us that fulfillment happens in very unusual and unexpected ways. Barren women do not have children, and neither do unmarried young, Jewish women in Nazareth. In these scriptures, though, they do. The Messiah that comes is also unexpected.
Advent is the season of waiting, watching, hoping, preparing and knowing that the unexpected may come. And like most pregnancies, advent follows a journey through time: four Sundays building with anticipation, like forty weeks feeling a baby grow. To be expectant, to wait and to wonder are what these texts ask of us. Waiting does not mean that we are passive, and it does not mean that life will always be pleasant in the interim. The Israelites waited and wandered in their hopes for a promised land that would be their home. They kept moving. The pregnant woman waiting on the birth of a child surely knows that she is doing something active. While she waits, a new life is growing in her womb every day. Moving and growing are wondrous activities that often also involve pain.
While we wait on Christmas, like the expectant mother or the unexpected mother, we are told to praise and to be. Conception is the promise. Delivery and birth fulfill that promise, but between promise and fulfillment, we are waiting, expecting and planning, and we may feel discomfort, uncertainty and even anxiety. Waiting is hard. Activity is our call, and if God is Being itself, then as we wait, we also are, and each moment has value, whether or not it is one of pleasure or pain. Advent reminds us that we are to praise God for both who we are and who we will become, and that in patiently waiting, and in anticipating, we can learn to rely on God more completely, expecting fulfillment of God’s promises and experiencing the wonders of God’s blessings.
Associate Professor, School of Religion
To download a digital copy of the 2012 Advent Guide, put out by Belmont’s School of Religion, click here.