Advent has long been my favorite season of the liturgical year. As the earth enters into its state of winter slumber, patiently waiting for the warmth of spring to return, so we wait and prepare for the Christ child to enter our lives once again. But what, exactly, does it mean to wait for the coming of Jesus in this season? How do we prepare ourselves for the arrival of the one who was born as a baby, yet was also the savior of the world?
Three years ago, the waiting and preparation of Advent took on a new meaning for me. At that time, I was expecting my first child, due on December 16 (he actually arrived on December 9). During that season of anticipation, I began to understand in a brand new way the challenge of preparing for such a momentous event. My spouse and I, of course, had done all of the things that our culture expects of new parents. We had purchased and set up a crib; we had washed and put away all the baby clothes; we had stocked the nursery with diapers, wipes, and every other thing we could imagine needing during those early days of our son’s life. We had even managed to go out on a few dates, realizing that once the baby came, it would be much more difficult to arrange such things.
And yet, once our son was born, I came to an unexpected realization: all the preparations we had made beforehand were important, but they did not actually help us to get ready for the complete change our child would bring into our lives. I’m not sure there is really any way to prepare for such a change; it’s something you simply have to live into, one day at a time. During those first weeks and months of parenthood, I came to understand that the preparation we most needed to make did not involve buying things or decorating the nursery, or even arranging for child care. What we most needed to do was to make room in our lives for this new person. We had to find a way to allow his presence to shape every decision we made. We could no longer go on living as if nothing had changed. Instead, we had to acknowledge that almost every single thing about life as we had previously known it would be different, and that new things would be required of us.
I know I’m not the first to draw this analogy, but I think that the Advent call to welcome Jesus into our lives is very similar to the experience of welcoming a new person into a family. Preparing ourselves for the coming of the Christ child involves getting ourselves ready for an enormous change. It means allowing Christ’s presence to change everything about the way we have been living. It means accepting that the birth of God’s son into our lives will make demands on us that we could never have anticipated and that, sometimes, we’d rather not acknowledge. It means making room in our lives for Jesus – for all the ways that his presence comforts, inspires, and challenges us. This Advent, I hope that, as individuals and as a community, we will find new ways to welcome the Christ child into our midst. And I pray that, in so doing, we will come to understand more deeply how our lives have been changed by the birth of Emmanuel, God with us.
Written by the Rev. Dr. Leanna Fuller, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary