Over the years I have come to appreciate Advent. The expectant waiting and hopeful preparation combines in a longing for what will come—what is possible.
Of course as a child this season was marked by a little calendar my Mom set up in our dining room where each day my sisters and I opened the little square cardboard tab to reveal a Scripture passage or saying. These calendars have changed over the years, perhaps to make Advent more enticing—a little less about waiting and a little more about extending the commercialization of Christmas, to the point that a few weeks ago I noticed our local Starbucks selling them although coffee-laden chocolates now replace the biblical phrases.
Still, I am easily drawn into reflection during this season and therefore eagerly read what others have to say about Advent. One such article caught my eye recently as I perused the Her.meneutics blog.
There Liuan Huska has a post called Let Advent Break Your Heart. It is a wonderful piece and in many ways spoke to me about this special season. Huska reminds us that this waiting is not easy not just because it involves a delay to our desires, but because it is painful. The paradox that we find not only centrally in Christianity but in many other traditions as well is that new life emerges from death. It is only in the dark night that we begin to welcome the first light of dawn.
Huska captured this image of painful waiting so well because she connected Advent to her experience as an expectant mother, full of trepidation for the young child she is about to bring into this world. Even without the shared experience of pregnancy, I felt her anxiety and eagerness as she remarked that she could now understand the over-protected tendencies of her own mother.
And then in the course of one paragraph Huska’s metaphor completely unraveled and I wondered why she failed to see the problem of using exclusively masculine language for God.
Here is what Huska wrote:
Our God did what every mother would shudder to do. He sent his child directly into the heart of evil with no protection, save faith, hope, and extravagant love. God the Father did not shelter Jesus from the terror and loss of living in our broken, bleeding world. He chose instead to be present with us, to enter into our pain.
Here is what I wished she had written:
Our God did what every mother would do. She nourished the life within Her as Her very own. She willingly endured the long hours of waiting and wondering; She changed all of Her normal patterns of sleeping and eating to accommodate the little one growing within Her; She sang and danced and also worried and fretted; when labor came She embraced each wave of pain with Her strength and endurance, willing to endure the worst in order to welcome Her child into this world.
And when Her child emerged from Her womb, She was so full of joy Her heart could hardly be contained. She called all of Her friends and neighbors inviting them to hold and cuddle Her precious child, to share deeply in the miracle of new life.
Maybe Huska’s mixed metaphor doesn’t occur to her although later in the piece she refers to God not as Father but as Parent—perhaps an opening in her imagination. So, I’d like to think maybe Huska is in the process of beginning to wonder how her exclusive image of God as masculine is cutting off for her enormously powerful and meaningful aspects of our Divine reality.
For too many Christians this refusal to take seriously our language for God creates an imaginary line in the sand where crossing over it by acknowledging God in all Her fullness and mystery is akin to some heretical error whose punishment is hell or at least the shunning of good Christians—those on the other side of the line—who know without a doubt God is neither male or female just as certainly as He should always be referenced with masculine language, even in places where it is obvious the feminine metaphor is more appropriate. For instance: in giving birth.
So as long as we are still waiting and watching this Advent season, I, for one, am going to adopt Huska’s image of our Divine Mother in labor. In the final days and hours of Her long pregnancy, I imagine She has much She is willing to share with us as we gather around to wait and see.