What to Expect 


1134950(Hungarian National Gallery)

On Monday, Britain’s Royal Family announced that Prince William and his Princess Kate are expecting their first child. Apparently the announcement came sooner than planned because Kate had to be hospitalized for dehydration and exhaustion–simply put, she is in the throes of severe morning sickness and is puking her guts out. And suddenly we realize that all it takes to shatter the illusion of a fairy tale life is a bit of hyperemesis gravidarum.

Ironically enough, the royal announcement came on the first Monday of Advent, the season of the Christian calendar that marks a time of preparation for the coming Christ Child. Traditionally Advent is spent (much like Lent) in quiet reflection, fasting, penitence, and longing for not only Christ’s birth but for his return to earth. We know folks who strictly observe these weeks—meaning no sweets, no parties, no early Christmas presents… until Christmas Day when all heaven breaks lose. Feasting in abundance and presents every day for the next twelve days (yes, those twelve days of Christmas) until everything culminates in the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.

But this level of devotion is rare, and Advent is usually reduced to simply a time of busyness and holiday preparation--a seasonal nesting syndrome if you will. Still, even in secular society, there are remnants of the expectation and longing. There are still the Advent calendars dispensing their tiny bits of chocolate each day and what child can’t help but be filled with anticipation at the promise of coming gifts.

This year, the juxtaposition of these two events—the beginning of Advent and the hospitalization of a princess for morning sickness--once again reminded me of how very earthy, how very real this whole season is. So rather than feeling compelled to create some spiritually serene, mystically enchanted Christmas season, maybe it’s time that we remember the realities of the first Advent. For Mary at least, the weeks prior to Christ’s birth were anything but peaceful or silent. For her, the coming of the Savior was marked by swollen ankles and the longing to be delivered—not only from sin but from the weight of pregnancy itself.

It’s been over three years since my last pregnancy so I dug out my What to Expect When You're Expecting in order to remember what those weeks prior to Christ’s birth would have been like. They would have included:

>Changes in fetal activity (more squirming and less kicking, as the baby has less room to move around) >Constipation >Heartburn, indigestion, bloating >Occasional headaches, faintness, dizziness, >Nasal congestion and occasional nosebleeds; ear stuffiness >Bleeding gums >Leg cramps at night >Increased backache and heaviness >Pelvic discomfort and achiness >Increased swelling of ankles and feet, and occasionally of hands and face >Itchy abdomen, protruding navel >Varicose veins of the legs >Hemorrhoids >Easier breathing after baby drops >Increased pressure on bladder after baby drops >Increased difficulty sleeping >More frequent and more intense Braxton-Hicks contractions >Increasing clumsiness and difficult getting around >Fatigue or nesting syndrome (Oh yeah and an 80 mile walking trip. And a stable.)

So often during the Christmas season, we’re looking for some kind of transcendent experience; we’re looking for some deep mystical truth; and we become so fixated with finding the wonder that we end up missing the reality. We end up missing the wonder of the reality, we miss the joy of the mundane. By sanitizing Advent in our minds (and our practices), we miss the beauty that God used a bloated, tired, moody, helpless, pregnant woman to bring His Son to this earth.

And suddenly there's hope for us--especially when you remember that (according to What to Expect) Mary's emotional state would have included

>More excitement, more anxiety, more apprehension, more absent mindedness >Relief that you’re almost there >Irritability and oversensitivity >Impatience and restlessness

Now we begin to recognize ourselves. Now we see the true emotions of Advent. Because as any woman can tell you, this is exactly what prepping a family for the holidays feels like. The same excitement mixed with anxiety, the same irritability mixed with joy. And yet remarkably, in His wisdom, these may be the very emotions that we need to experience in order to truly desire the coming of the Christ Child.

Because when you find yourself exhausted in the preparation, when all the baking and the buying and the cleaning and the visiting and the wrapping and the decorating suck the last of your energy and you find yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained; when you reach this point—here in your weakness, in your inability, in your desperation, in your limitations, in your longing to be delivered from it all--you’ll finally experience Advent as Mary once did. And here, you will finally understand why we long for Emmanuel to come, why we long for Him to deliver us, why we need Him to give rest to our weary bodies and our even wearier souls. And maybe it's here, in the longing and the expectation that comes only from human weakness and from having spent our last reserves, that we can truly find meaning in the birth of our Savior.