by Marjorie George
It was a dark and stormy night (OK it was a rainy afternoon), and I was squeezed into the front seat of our brand-new 1970 VW Bug as my husband sped to the hospital for me to deliver our first baby. “Come now,” the doctor had said on the phone, “yes you are ready.”
“But I’m not ready,” I kept thinking. Oh, the nursery was properly decorated, baby bottles were sterilized and waiting, the diaper service was on stand-by, and this was sure enough labor. But I wasn’t mentally and emotionally ready for this thing that I suspected was about to overthrow my life. We had been married seven years by then and our little life was pretty settled. I sensed that was about to implode. Turns out I hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.
More than twenty years later, as I drove home to San Antonio from Brownsville after delivering my second child, all grown up, to her brand-new husband who had gone on ahead after the honeymoon, I kept thinking, “But I’m not ready. I’m not ready to let her go.” There was still so much I wanted to teach her about being married, so many things I had not said, so much explaining to be done, so much between us to still be shared.
And this week, at the grocery store, in the mall, even in church on Sunday morning, I am hearing, “Are you ready for Christmas?” Well, no, I am not. But it’s going to happen anyway, and it will be just fine. That child of the seventies, that young bride of the nineties, they have turned out just fine. What they have learned in the living out of their own lives, their own marriages, their own parenthood, has been exactly the wisdom they needed. And their learning has been my learning.
Advent, we are told, is the season of preparation for the coming of Christ into the world. And it is good that we set aside time and attention to do that. But we will never be sufficiently ready for his birth that becomes our birth. For the birth is not the ending of a season or a pregnancy or a certain lifestyle. It is not to be packed away with the Christmas ornaments. It is to be opened and lived with the Christmas gifts.
Evelyn Underhill, in The Light of the World, explains that this life we have chosen of following the Christ, that begins again on Christmas Day, “is an organic process, a continuous divine action, not a series of jerks. So on the one hand there should be no strain, impatience, self-willed effort in our prayer and self-discipline; and on the other no settling down. [What is needed is] a great flexibility, a gentle acceptance of what comes to us and still gentler acceptance of the fact that much we see in others is still out of our reach. We must keep our prayer free, youthful – full of confidence and full of initiative too.”
Christmas is coming, and we have been made ready by the first Incarnation. God Almighty becomes flesh and blood, and ever after a divine spark inhabits each of us. In accepting the gift of Christmas, we accept the possibility of a life we could never have imagined.
We may see it and live it in the silence of a humble stable or the majesty of a kingdom, in the quiet of shepherds on a hill minding their flocks by night or in the exuberance of a thousand angels singing “Glory to God in the highest.” We may live it as mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, in-laws and outlaws, as social workers or teachers or oil-rig operators.
We must never forget the gift given, even if the human experience sometimes offers scant evidence. “When you don’t see any startling marks of your own religious condition or your usefulness to God,” continues Underhill, “ think of the baby in the stable and the little Boy in the streets of Nazareth. There was not much to show for it. But there is entire continuity between the stable and the Easter garden, and the thread that unites them is the will of God.”
“Lord I am not worthy (ready) that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed,” were words in the 1928 prayer book (from Matthew 8:8), spoken before receiving the body of Christ in Eucharist. I would say those same words on Christmas Eve.
No matter. The light of the spirit, says Underhill, “is to unfold gently and steadily within us, till at last our final stature, all God designed for us, is attained.”
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We wish each and every one of you a blessed Christmas. We are taking a break and will return in January to celebrate Epiphany and the light it brings to the world.