parenting in advent: 4th sunday

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:26-31)

The announcement of a child’s arrival rarely comes the way we planned.

For some it is an utter shock – unexpected, unplanned, unprepared. For others it is the culmination of years of trying – astonishment, delight, but still surprise.

Sometimes the news is revealed in the quiet of one’s own home, a breathless waiting for the lines to appear on the test. Sometimes it is announced in the sterile light of the doctor’s office. Sometimes it breaks into everyday life with a phone call or a letter that the long-awaited child is here.

But the news is never quite as we expected.

When we are far from parenting’s beginning, we picture how the announcement might look, feel, or sound, and how we will share it with others in turn. But the reality – the years of infertility, or the recurring miscarriages, or the “oops!” baby, or the failed adoption – can be darker shades of grey than we ever imagined. And even when the child is hoped for, longed for, prayed for, we still find ourselves overwhelmed by emotions. Joy. Fear. Love. Anxiety. Wonder. Despair. Hope.

Parents often find themselves younger or older than they would have liked. They don’t have the money or the job or the partner or the resources to raise the child in the way they wanted. They ask, “How can this be?” They wonder how they will bear the news. They grieve the loss of their former life even as they prepare for the future to come.

“The world is never ready for the birth of a child,” wrote one of my favorite poets. It has always been such: parents have never felt fully prepared, completely ready, absolutely certain that they knew what they were getting themselves into.

Zechariah was troubled. Joseph was troubled. Mary was deeply troubled. Each had to lay aside expectations of what a child or a family or a parent should look like. Each had to give themselves entirely to trust in a strange and surprising God. Life was never the same after the news.

Is this Advent’s reminder to us, year after year? That Christmas is never quite what we expected, either. That our plans are not always God’s plans. That we can only prepare so much before giving over to trust in our surprising God, for whom nothing is impossible.

Our hopes and dreams for ourselves, our children, our lives all exist within God’s greater dream of love for us. A love which we will never fully understand or grasp or even imagine. A love which will challenge us and demand from us things we never wanted to give. A love which asks us to trust what we cannot see.

May delivery be easy,

may our child grow and be well.

Let him be happy from time to time

and leap over abysses.

Let his heart have strength to endure

and his mind be awake and reach far.

But not so far

that it sees into the future.

Spare him

that one gift,

0 heavenly powers.

 – from “A Tale Begun” by Wislawa Szymborska

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