It’s Advent, and I’m waiting for a baby.
I don’t feel ready for this baby at all. I still haven’t watched the childbirth and breastfeeding classes my OB keeps reminding me about, and I haven’t found a pediatrician yet. I haven’t pre-washed my diapers, I don’t have enough baby socks, and I certainly have no freezer meals stashed away. After getting approved for a breast pump through insurance, it took me six weeks to finally sit down and order it. Why? It was a 15-minute task. The truth is, I’ve felt totally paralyzed when it comes to baby prep, and I think part of it is because if I think too much about it, I’ll have a panic attack. How does one prepare to have a baby in the middle of a pandemic, three weeks after Christmas, when the hospitals will be overflowing from Christmas gatherings and some hospitals aren’t even allowing partners to be present for the birth? How do I adjust my expectations to account for not having a doula, for having to wear a mask in labor, for not being able to have family come meet baby right away? (These are rhetorical questions, please do not offer advice at this time.) It seems ridiculous to plan anything after watching all my other 2020 plans crumble.
But in this season of Advent, I find comfort in identifying with another mom-to-be who was waiting for a baby born into uncertainty and unpreparedness. Away from home and family, no doula but Joseph, no labor & delivery suite but a stable – but if it’s not too sacrilegious to mix the Nativity with the Grinch, “somehow or other, he came just the same.” Babies do not ask politely if all is in order before they make their appearance into the world – which is probably a good thing, because who is ever truly ready? I cannot do enough pre-washing now to keep me from having to do laundry two days after coming home from the hospital – and every other day for the foreseeable future. No matter how many freezer meals and folded socks, one does not learn to be a parent without being taught by the child.
It’s Advent, and I’m waiting for a baby – and I feel just as unprepared to receive Mary’s baby as I do my own. How do we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child without the regular gathering of our faith community, without the candles, the hymns, the Christmas Eve service? How do we live fully into this Advent season when day to day we’re all just trying to get through it? How do we enter a season of giving when we feel so empty and like we have nothing left to give? My heart feels as closed as the inn, my life as messy and unswept as the stable. How can I sing “Be born in [me] today”? I am not ready for him. The world is just as filled with strife and disease and hatred as ever – how can we sing “Let earth receive her King”? We are not ready for him, any more than we were 2000 years ago.
But ready or not, the Christ child is coming, and this is simultaneously terrifying and profoundly comforting. Terrifying because I much prefer to feel prayerful and put-together and happy and Christmasey. Comforting because it strips me of the illusion that Christ’s coming depends on me and my preparedness at all. I cannot stash enough piety and good deeds to exempt me from engaging in the hard work of everyday life. I cannot learn to be a Christian without being taught by the sudden demanding presence of the Christ child, whose cries point me to the suffering of the world and whose hunger requires my attention.
It’s Advent, and I’m waiting for a baby for whom I cannot possibly be ready, until he arrives and shows me the way.