All through Advent, I have been held captive by the idea that for nine months, Mary literally carried God around inside.
To the Christian, this concept is nothing new. We know what the Bible says: that Mary, a young Hebrew virgin, was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and thus birthed the Messiah into the world.
For some reason, this seemed to strike home with surprising force this year. I don't really know why. Although I am a woman, I have never been pregnant. But I have listened closely to my pregnant friends and relatives. I've observed them as their lives and bodies have been stretched to accommodate new life. Along with all women since time began, I have wondered if I would ever undergo such an experience, and if so, how I would handle it.
Mary wasn't just pregnant with any baby, though. She was pregnant with Jesus, the physical incarnation of God. Maybe you, like me, have found yourself awe-struck at the concept of Mary carrying God inside.
But should we be so quick to wonder what that feels like?
As if we don't know?
As if we haven't experienced something similar?
As if we, as Christians, do not also carry God inside?
Consider the parallels.
Mary's pregnancy could not be hidden.
We live in a time when hiding a pregnancy is possible; however, living as Mary did in a tight-knit community with a different concept of privacy and personal space, she could not feasibly have hidden her pregnancy. While the early stages might not be immediately obvious, there comes a point at which everyone--even strangers on the street--would become wise to the facts.
Something similar happens with those of us who have God living inside. If our faith is genuine, it is also not easily hidden: it should quickly become apparent to those around us; not just because we tell them, but because it is a fundamental element of our existence which becomes obvious by the shape of our lives.
There's no getting around it: pregnancy changes things. First and most obviously, it changes the body. The bellies extend, skin stretches taut, rib cages expand, lungs (and bladders) are constricted, and internal organs cramp. Some of these changes are temporary, but some are permanent.
Most of these changes aren't comfortable, but they are necessary for the common good of the mother and baby. Likewise, being a follower of Christ and carrier of the Spirit changes us. We are stretched and made uncomfortable. Some changes are only necessary for a season, some are permanent, and all are for the common good and God's glory.
Birthing and raising the Christ altered Mary's life trajectory.
Nothing was left uninfluenced: her relationships, her standing in the community, her geographic location--everything was affected. Within a year, she went from being an "ordinary" young local girl to being a wife and mother living as a political refugee in Egypt. Surely this wasn't something that she had ever imagined for herself, and yet we see how God intended all of those circumstances as part of the greater narrative.
Carrying the Spirit inside changes everything for us as well: our relationships, our aspirations, our choices, our hopes, our expectations.
Surely once all things are known, we will look back (as Mary no doubt has already done) and see how God intended all circumstances as part of something greater.
Mary's pain did not last forever.
Along with most mothers, Mary would no doubt have told you that the pain of childbirth, while difficult, eventually faded. Along these lines, a friend of mine recently stated, "I remember that it was painful, but I can't describe it to you. A day after, I could [describe it pretty closely], but it fades away."
In the New Testament, Paul draws parallels between the pains of birth and the pain of awaiting the fulfillment of the Christian life.
Consider Romans 8:18-28:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience...And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
The pain of childbirth is not an end in itself. Neither was Christ's pain on the cross, neither was Mary's pain when she observed his death, and neither is your pain.
When we arrive in eternity, the memories of this life will fade much as the memory of Mary's birth pains faded when she held her son (her Savior) in her arms.
That life will become reality and this life the shadow.
As we sit here now, anticipating that day -- here in this pregnant pause between the idea and the reality -- knowing that the time of our reunion with Jesus lies somewhere in our future, we seek to remember that this life is not a mere empty blank of waiting, but a pregnant pause during which we eagerly anticipate that day.
We do not sit still, allowing communion with the Spirit to idle. We have no desire to keep him hidden. We welcome him gladly, allowing him to change the shape of our lives. We glory in the stretch marks and the temporary discomfort, knowing that these present pains are working a far more eternal weight of glory.
We look forward eagerly to fulfillment, realizing that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
May God bless you with special grace during this Advent season.