Three of our four children came to us by adoption. The first one who came into our arms was completely unexpected. In fact, we were waiting on a sibling group referral from the Philippines. Waiting … waiting … and eight months later the call came!
“We know you’re registered in the international program. But we have a young woman in here now giving birth in three weeks, and she would like you to parent her baby boy. Would you consider switching programs?”
The dots we envisioned God connecting in the constellations from nipa huts in the mango groves of Southeast Asia to bunk beds among toddler toys re-routed in an instant from the suburbs of tobacco-fueled Winston-Salem to a newborn’s bassinet.
To make it even more jarring, his birth mother gave birth early, so in the middle of one of my husband’s soccer games two weeks later, we got a phone call. “Your baby is here! Drive up tomorrow to bring him home!”
The social worker placed a seven-pound bundle of perfection in my arms, gave me a bottle and a diaper (all we had) and said I was his mom. I felt like a wave had wrestled me into its depths of chaos and had thrown me out on a dry, foreign land. Air… and, “Where am I?”
Christmas sermons can feel the same way. For churches that do not align to a seasonal calendar, December sermons might be about Jonah, the book of Colossians, or a theme like “How Jesus Gets Us through the Winter.” But then comes the Sunday before Christmas, and the church finds herself shell-shocked with Mary, in a cave, with a baby in her arms. Exhale (relief)… the Messiah (joy!) … and, “How did we get here?” The sermon typically ends with a rousing invitation for Christ to be born in our hearts, but no one has prepared him room. We’re all sitting there awkwardly holding a newborn like a football, asking if anyone has a diaper.
Advent is pregnancy. Pregnancy is not a gift all parents experience. Yet, those who have children through adoption also experience pregnancy in the process. There are classes to attend, books to read, support groups that offer guidance. There is time to wait that offers room to attend baby showers, adjust health insurance plans, and argue over baby names. Rooms are prepared. Waiting for a baby strengthens the hope, peace, joy, and love, crafting the manger that holds the baby. This is what Advent offers the church.
Advent helps the church transform from the awkward teenage boy in health class holding the baby simulator into a grandparent enfolding their newest grandchild, carefully adjusting the loose swaddle as the newborn nuzzles in for deep sleep. The baby is clutched and cared for, and our faces glow simply because the child has arrived.
There are many Advent sources available if the season is new to you or your church. It isn’t even necessary to use the word “Advent” if it interferes with the church’s journey to Bethlehem. There are passages to read and preach in the Revised Common Lectionary,* and there are the traditional weekly themes of hope, peace, joy, and love that transport the congregation to the baby who changes everything in a way that won’t leave them reeling. An exploration of the Old Testament Messianic prophesies that culminate in a newborn’s wail under a star without a constellation is more than sufficient. With Advent, the church has an opportunity to offer the greatest invitation of the year, but they must be prepared to accept it.
The Spirit prepared Mary. He explained to her what was happening. He gave her an empathetic companion in Elizabeth. Mary transitions from troubled to glorifying the Lord. God slowly stretched her body over the course of 40 weeks to make room for Jesus’s birth. And even then, once the baby arrived, Mary was left speechless by what visitors said about him, and pondered these things in her heart. If Mary was a bit overwhelmed after nine months of preparation, the least we can offer our congregations is 25 days. And what potential there is for life in those 25 days!
May the birth of the Savior—the one who came, is come, and will come again—be received in prepared hearts this Advent season. O come, O come, Emmanuel!
*Vanderbilt has a wonderful collection of lectionary resources.