As we set up our Nativity scenes in our homes “just right” with the shepherds here and the three kings there, I am feeling humorous. What the heck did the Nativity scene actually look like?
When I was pregnant with my son, I remember feeling the urge to “nest,” like all expecting mothers do. I had all his tiny baby clothes folded, a giant stock of diapers, and a collection of miscellaneous baby gadgets, many of which were never used.
I must admit, that I had only made preparations for my son but not for myself. In short, like many first time mothers, I knew what to expect of my baby (thanks to stacks of books and zillions of Youtube videos), but I had absolutely no idea what to expect of myself post-partum. I knew, for example, to expect for my baby to wake up such and such times to nurse throughout the night, but I didn’t know how these restless nights would affect me. And there are so many anecdotes am sure we could all share right now of each others’ experiences. One word: mastitis. Who knew? I didn’t.
Take Mary, for example, she probably had her nursery set up down to a T, hand-made baby clothes included. It’s just so insane to me that she just trusted that everything would be okay even whilst leaving behind her entire support system. Good bye doula with whom she practiced her breathing techniques, good bye midwife in whose experience she could trust that mom and baby would survive, good bye familiar faces of friends, good bye nursery, good bye delicious meal trains, and just add your check list to the list and then…TEAR IT UP… and say, everything will be okay. WHAT?! But, that’s what Mary did.
Mary left Nazareth and she traveled with Joseph to Bethlehem when she was late in her pregnancy. She knew she would give birth away from home. And, on top of that, when hospitality to travelers is expected, – especially in a town where your husband has a lot of relatives – no one, absolutely no one, had mercy on her condition to offer a helping hand.
Mary literally gave birth in a cave with a bunch of animals around. She only had Joseph to help her in a time during which men were not involved nor prepared to be of assistance during child birth! This is Mary’s situation so far. On top of that, after giving birth, a bunch of other men (and possibly women…I don’t know, were there shepherdesses?) coming to visit her baby. As well intentioned as visitors are, I don’t know about you, but I did not feel up for holding conversation when I could’ve been sleeping in between nursing nor of having person after person hold my newborn when I wanted to bond with my baby in their first days of life.
As a mom, this is my line of thinking when I think about Advent – it’s the third trimester. And so, since we are called to be like Mary, and give spiritual birth to the light of Christ, how are we, as women, getting ready? Imitation of Mary might help.
Advent is a spiritual pilgrimage for our hearts. Let us journey with the Holy Family. What will it take our hearts to leave Nazareth behind, arrive at Bethlehem, flee to Egypt, and finally return to Nazareth? The following is an invitation to make some effort, as Mary did, and do a spiritual exercise:
DEPARTING FROM NAZARETH: Preparing for a journey involves discernment: What do I leave behind? What do I take with me? What did the Holy Family leave behind? What did the Holy Family take with them? What is God asking me to leave behind? What is God asking me to take with me?
ARRIVING AT BETHLEHEM: After an unfamiliar and uncomfortable journey, the Holy Family was not welcomed in Bethlehem. And so, we, their travel companions, too have not been welcomed. There is an important lesson for us here. Bethlehem did not welcome the Holy Family, but the Holy Family welcomed Bethlehem.
Mary and Joseph teach us the importance of keeping the door of our hearts open even when the doors of others’ hearts have been closed to us. We can look to the life of Christ later on in the Gospel. How often is Jesus invited as guest by men and women, and, yet, becomes the host himself offering a rich spiritual banquet? Wherever we are and whoever we are with, the Holy Family reminds us of the importance of serving and not of being served. We learn to ask not “what can I get?” but, rather, “what can I give?” The Holy Family teaches us to be generous hosts. We must be ready to receive with love those that have not received us in the past but who wish to reconcile with us in the present.
EXILE IN EGYPT: After the birth of the Messiah, the enlightening Light of lights who disperses the darkness of the cave of human ignorance, the Holy Family flees from those trying to extinguish inextinguishable light of Christ. Looking to our own lives, there are times that we must flee those who wish to put a bushel basket over the lamps of our hearts – those who, whether knowingly or unknowingly, don’t want us to shine our unique light. With faith, hope, and love, we must be prepared to be rejected. In these times of rejection, we may even be exiled from the place we considered our “home.” During these times of exile, we will have to leave behind whatever mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual “structures” we were holding unto or identifying with and feel at home within ourselves. Fear not. Take courage. The Light of Christ lights our way toward truth and life no matter where we are or who we are with.
RETURN TO NAZARETH: Our exiles in life, much like the Holy Family’s, have a time stamp. And so, we return to Nazareth as wiser men and women. And, in our wisdom, we choose to live the Hidden Life in the home of the Holy Family, knowing that salvation is worked out in being faithful to the little tasks set before us each day. We live out our vocation by taking up the duty of each moment with loving attention and intention as we fill our thoughts, words, and deeds with the Light of Christ.
Remember – Advent is our spiritual third trimester. Let’s prepare in imitation of Mary.