This Advent has been different. The early push to Christmas decorations in the mall and the early rush to Christmas music on the radio grated, if it is possible, a little bit more. Even one weekend after Thanksgiving, it felt like Advent had already disappeared beneath the avalanche of the rush to Christmas. When I paused to consider my amplified sensitivity, I realized that existing in a state of waiting has become, over the last year, the constant background to our lives. In some ways, ever since my husband and I began the adoption process over a year ago, it seems as if we have been living in a year of Advent anticipation.
Adoption is strange. I fully admit that our way, initially stretching back to a sense of a call to adoption in an orphanage in India over ten years ago, was easier than most. But, no matter how you get there, once you are in the process of adopting, you are cast adrift upon a strange new sea. All of my skills in researching, networking, and making bureaucracies work for me suddenly seemed irrelevant or inadequate. It’s not just the mountain of forms. It’s not just the rehashing of old family stories and the reopening of old family wounds to present as evidence to a social worker in order to show that you know it takes work to be a parent. It’s not simply knowing that the joy of bringing home a baby is inevitably accompanies by the grief of a mother giving up her child and mourning that moment long before it comes.
It’s the waiting for a process that you cannot control to unfold around you in ways you do not see or understand. It’s knowing that the phone could ring in twenty-four hours with a match or not ring for two more years…and there is not that much you can do to make the process go more quickly or more slowly. It’s being involved in something that almost everybody thinks is good or noble, but very few people actually understand, and some, you can’t help but imagine, are possibly, secretly, a little uncomfortable about it.
I wondered, when hearing the John the Baptist readings for Advent I, if his mother, St. Elizabeth, felt something of the same combination of uncertainty and disequilibrium. Unlike Mary, with her perfect, unconditional, and eternal “let it be unto me,” Elizabeth did not receive news of her pregnancy from an angel. Rather, she received only her husband, home from Jerusalem, mysteriously struck mute. The fact that she knew the baby was to be named John in Luke 1:60 indicates that Zechariah was able to communicate something of what was to come, but anything she knew, until the pregnancy was evident, was perhaps secondhand. Even when Elizabeth started to believe she would finally receive the baby she must have hoped and prayed for through so many long years, she was still tentative. In Luke 1:24, a verse I had never paid much attention to before, upon realizing she was pregnant, Elizabeth retreated from public view for five months. While she praised God even in her retreat, there was hesitance, timidity, an avoidance of the questioning eye of neighbors and friends. Even after the baby was born, the questions still come. In obedience to the angel she never saw, she stated his name: John. But the neighbors were not sure. They turned, rather, to her husband, the mute Zechariah, who confirmed the name on a tablet and, in that instant, received back his voice.
Elizabeth’s gift of a baby was never simple, clearly, but what child truly is? However, she has become more than just my model, walking this strange road of trying to praise God in the midst of uncertainty and anticipation, hoping to receive the child God sends. Even in Elizabeth’s own waiting and wondering, she shows me how to wait for the Christ child, as well as my own child. She alone has eyes to see clearly (perhaps she has fewer distractions, living in a home with a silent husband and a pregnancy hidden away) who it truly is coming up the road to visit her. In the midst of her own uncertainty, her own excitement, and her own fear, she can look up and ask, “Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me?” She sees, she confesses, she names, and, finally, she embraces. And the child in her womb leaps for joy.
I’m not sure exactly what it looks like to look up from my own waiting (joyful and yet uncertain), look around and see where my Lord is coming down the road towards me this Advent. I do not know what vessel he may be approaching in, where I will meet him, or what he will ask of me. I simply pray that, this Advent, my own Advent will turn me towards him, rather than away, and that I too, like Elizabeth, will learn to see, name, confess, and, then, embrace.
The featured image is a panel of stained glass in Magdalene College, Cambridge. It is licensed under Creative Commons.