For most of my life, I didn’t understand the significance of Advent. It paled next to Christmas. And I felt the same indifference for Advent that I had for every other church season.
As a young girl in a strict Lutheran elementary school, the arrival of Advent meant that I was required to attend yet another school chapel service. It meant two extra hours of acute religious boredom, and it triggered the same hyper-awareness of my femaleness that I always experienced in church.
The students sat in straight-back wooden pews, some of us so young that our feet barely touched the floor. A male pastor with a booming voice encouraged us to reflect on our innate depravity. Jesus’ impending birth was celebrated chiefly as the remedy to our shame.
The pastor wore a spotless white robe and important-looking sashes. When he stood, he dominated the room. I always felt very small and very, very female next to him.
His voice filled every corner of the cold, dark sanctuary—it was loud and deep and nothing like mine.
We had three Scripture readings each service—all by men. Liturgy too was the realm of men. I heard male voices of many varieties—the bass, the baritone, and the tenor were all represented. But the female soprano never rang out from the pulpit. Women’s rich alto was also missing from that honored place.
I listened to sermons, hymns, liturgy, and Bible verses addressed to men and mankind, and I wondered if God had anything to say to me in my female body. I wondered if God was present in the feminine, and if the feminine was present in God. I wondered if women had anything to do with the sacred.
It was many years before I first met a God who uses metaphors of labor and motherhood to express divine love. In my late teens and early twenties, I began to reclaim a forgotten kinship between the feminine and the sacred.
This year, I’m revisiting the abandoned ground of Advent. And I’ve discovered something about the season of waiting that I wish I’d known fifteen years ago.
Advent is powerfully feminine, because it’s all about carrying.
Advent is a period of sacred waiting. It is the painful anticipation of something coming but not-yet-here. It is a reminder to exhale with the rising sun as we ready ourselves for a new day. Like an expectant mother takes inventory of her body in labor, we take inventory of our souls. We watch for signs of his arrival, for our bodies to tell us that the carrying is over because the morning is here.
Mary carried Jesus, aching for his arrival, anticipating the coming but not-yet of our impending salvation. We carry with her during Advent, entering into a powerful feminine experience that alters how we receive and understand the birth of Christ.
Mary carried hope between her hips for nine months. We carry it in our hearts, but the spiritual necessity of birth is the same. We, the church, must give birth to the hope that waits within us. We must carry it tenderly into the world.
We often think about Mary’s labor experience and her role as Jesus’ mother post-birth. But we ought to pay more attention to the carrying. During Advent, we focus on the pre-birth story of Mary’s carrying and Jesus’ becoming—a tale of sacred waiting, painful anticipation, and a rising sun.
When Jesus had fully become, she carried him into the world.
During Advent, we all, men and women, carry too. We enter into a feminine experience of sacred waiting, of hope coming but not-yet-here. We are Mary carrying Jesus—waiting, waiting, waiting on him to make all things new. We ready ours souls as Mary readied her body, watching for signs that the carrying is over and the morning has come.
There is a sacredness to our waiting. There is an emotional strength and a spiritual refinement that we gain only through the patient expectation of the Advent season.
It is the waiting, the silent night, that ushers in the joyful morning. It is the expectation that prompts us to take inventory of our souls. It is the carrying that allows for the birth.
First, we wait. First, we carry. And then, when the waiting is over, we give birth.
But the waiting isn’t easy. Carrying is uncomfortable, and we’re all too eager to see the end of that season. And so, many of us look forward to Christmas, blind to how much we need Advent.
I didn’t realize how much I needed Advent until I entered into Mary’s experience of carrying.
I have never carried a child, nor have I ever felt deeply connected to metaphors of pregnancy and motherhood. But God is certainly connected to those metaphors and experiences. Time and time again, God uses the feminine to communicate the sacred. During Advent, we embrace the tradition of our Creator.
God is in the feminine and the feminine is in God.
God does not shy away from feminine images, metaphors, and expression in Scripture. Rather, God authored, embodies, shares in, and enters into the experience of women.
The feminine has always been woven into the sacred. We’re the ones drawing lines in the sand.
Mary’s carrying underscores the theological relevance of the female experience. When we enter into that feminine experience, we gain a deeper understanding of Jesus’ birth, of how desperately we need him. It is the night, after all, that makes us long for the morning.
Advent offers us, men and women, the opportunity to experience the divine through the feminine.
To bear our salvation tenderly, as Mary bore the salvation of the world.
To take inventory of our souls as we do our bodies, asking if we are ready for what is coming.
To experience the birth of Jesus on Christmas only after the waiting of Advent.
To sit in quiet joy as the sun rises.
To celebrate the feminine in God and God in the feminine.
To carry our Hope into the morning.
Yes, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning.