By Fr. Russell Becker, OFM
The picture that you see is a beautiful statue of Mary, pregnant about eight months. It comes from Ecuador. When I saw it, I thought it was such a great image for Advent, which coincides with the last four weeks of Mary’s pregnancy. Just as she waited that last month for the birth of the Lord, so we wait in Advent for the celebration and the challenge we have to give birth to the Lord in our time. Look at the statue and reflect. See how this is the perfect icon for the Advent/Christmas Mystery. Mary helps us to understand this precious time, this time of intense love, faith and sacrifice and how to keep this time as true disciples.
Pregnant. In a time when we want everything right away, pregnancy is a challenge. Nine months is a long time, but a time that is filled with surprises and challenges which make us think and act differently than before. At Mass, we hear the words “to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” But waiting is considered by many people a waste of time, not an opportunity for new possibilities. Pregnant women remind us that waiting is not dull, not a waste of time and filled with surprises, possibilities and moments of profound influence.
When a woman conceives, her life is given over to the new life within her, and nothing will ever be the same.
The energy of her body nurtures and protects that life. There are things she will give up for the sake of her child and there are things she will do for the sake of her child. The child is a totally dependent in the mother’s womb. Nothing will ever make up for that nine months. That child is carried, nurtured, developed, strengthened and protected in that dark, safe place.
Everything that the mother does, everything she experiences, she does with her child and passes along to her child. The child learns so much from this intimate relationship she or he shares with the mother. Most of us realize the bad things that can be shared. Remember when people would say that they are afraid of dogs because their mother was scared by a dog when she was pregnant? Smoking, drinking, eating bad foods, good and bad drugs, fear, injury all can hurt the child. Well, if the bad things that a mother does and experiences can have terrible effects on her child, should not all the good things that she does and experiences also graciously affect her child? So is it not possible that all that a mother does—what she feels, what she speaks, what she touches, what she listens to, what she sees, how she loves, how she forgives, how she shows compassion, how she sings, even how she dances—would have a profound effect on her child? A mother passes along so much to that child so dependent on her in all those moments of intense love, sacrifice and generosity.
When the nine months come to an end, the child is born. The promise of conception is brought to fulfillment and the adventure continues: more surprises and more challenges along with joy beyond all telling.
Mary pregnant. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he told her she was to be the mother of the Savior. Mary said, “Let it be...” Almost the very words God spoke when God began creating. Now one of us speaks those words with God in a moment of intense love. Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit and the re-creation of all begins. Nothing will ever be the same again for Mary and for us all.
Mary’s experience of pregnancy was similar to the pregnancies of all women. Jesus was totally dependent in Mary’s womb. Her life was given over to the new life within her and everything she did and experienced affected her developing child. She was a woman of deep faith. That faith was nurtured by a life of prayer and love, not only for her child but for her espoused, Joseph, and her family. Her sacrifices were not only for her child but for others.
Imagine all that Jesus experienced as Mary cared for those she loved! Her child was with her in ordinary daily tasks. When she went to the synagogue to pray, she brought Jesus with her. When she went to help her cousin Elizabeth, Jesus was there. The joy and the love that they shared must surely have touched Jesus. Surely the anxiety she must have had about the pregnancy, the journeys she made and giving birth in a strange place were also part of the experience. But, from all we know, even these anxieties were faced with great faith and confidence in God. Remember how Jesus could pray “not my will, but your will be done?” In the safe darkness of Mary’s womb, Jesus may have learned that depth of faith in the Father.
Those long nine months came to an end on the first Christmas. The promise of the conception was fulfilled and a new phase of the adventure began with more surprises, challenges questions, difficulties and, of course, joy beyond all telling.
And us? This beautiful icon of God’s faithfulness to us and our faithfulness to God offers us real help to be true disciples. “Who is my mother and who are my brothers and sisters?” asked Jesus as he answered his own question: “ Those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” That can be us. Meister Eckhart, a theologian of the Middle Ages asked this question at midnight Mass: “What difference does it make if Jesus was born 1500 years ago if we do not give birth to him today?” This is the challenge to us that comes still, over 500 years later.
We stand at the beginning of Advent eight months pregnant and capable of giving birth to the Lord in this season. It will take acts of intense love and sacrifice. Jesus becomes dependent on us to save us and to bestow on us the dignity of working with him to establish his kingdom. Though his love and sacrifice have a profound effect on us, we too can nurture his life with our sacrifice and goodness.
Does the Lord know our faith and prayer, as he did Mary’s? Does the Lord know our love and compassion as he did Mary’s? Has the Lord been brought to people in need by us, as Mary did? Can we wait in joyful hope in the darkness of Advent? It is our opportunity to prepare ourselves for that most wonderful moment when, filled with intense love, we will proclaim into our lives, the lives of those we love, and the life of all the world that Christ is born. Together in him, we can have peace on earth, good will for all and, of course, joy beyond all telling.
Questions for reflection
1. What do you think of when you see the image of Mary?
2. How can we hear the word of God and keep it?
3. What does it mean to be a mother of Christ?