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The challenges of giving birth to Jesus today
It’s nice to say we want to give birth to Jesus during Advent, but when the rubber hits the road we have a lot of limitations in how we can do that. We can’t seem to create a vacancy for Jesus, we don’t seem to trust that he will actually fill us and satisfy us, and even if we have him inside of us, we cannot seem to get him beyond our own minds and hearts. We can’t seem to share him with someone else.
It seems like we max ourselves out. Our credit cards, our stress level, our schedule, our relationships. We go as hard as possible and then have no more to give. No generosity, or flexibility. How much vacancy do we actually have? If we don’t have any, how will Jesus fit?
Of course, we long, we yearn. We have desires. The economy that we are in assures us that our desires will never be fully satisfied. If they were, this consumer-based economy would come to a halt. So you might feel a vacancy and you might also feel a level of “fullness” that makes you quite done. It might feel like getting full on Christmas cookies and egg nog, which is my propensity, to be sure. Totally unsatisfied, but completely full.
I think I say this a lot, but we get filled so much with just random stuff, we miss the opportunity to be vacant. This holiday season and your holiday schedule is so busy and full. Of what? Parties, gift exchanges, light shows, shopping, family drama! We get so full, we can’t pay attention to the real stuff.
We start complaining about the inconvenience of a protest. The ills of the world are just another distraction. We ignore that the CIA tortured people and that the former Vice President said he’d do it again. We get full of the wrong stuff and then ignore the stuff we need to pay attention to.
Jesus warned the hypocritical leaders around him of this exact syndrome. He told them they strain out a gnat—they get everyone on their shopping list a gift—and they swallow a camel—the fact that refugees in Iraq have keys to their home, but are nowhere near it.
Our desire has such a huge magnitude and an endless appetite that we do not think the baby Jesus can actually fill it up. Some of us come to our Circle of Hope public meetings, for example, and expect to be filled and are disappointed when we are not. We think our prayer life should be automatically satisfying. Or that our marriage should work without effort. We think that the solution to really loving ourselves is found in another relationship.
For some of us, Jesus was part of our childhood, or we were just attached to him while we were attached to our parents. Then our academics filled us up, a relationship filled us up, something else met our needs in a way that Jesus seemed not to. We didn’t mature our faith, we just matured out of it.
For others, we kept our faith and evolved with it. But we kept it inside of us. We hide it. We are afraid to get the baby out because it might embarrass us or it might get sick. We are overprotective of our faith or ashamed of it. But, if we are indeed treating Jesus like the baby he is this season, we know, deep down, that both of those things are going to ultimately hurt him and our faith in him. We can’t have Jesus in us and not share him with others. The baby can’t stay in the womb forever. It needs to be born. It can’t stay in our home forever. It must be released. It needs to get out.
Mary was empty. She was a virgin. She was not taken, even by a husband or a lover, when the angel approached her. She was prepared to be filled by the Spirit of God. She was available.
Mary creates a vacancy for God to dwell in. Perhaps God was looking for someone just like Mary and throughout history before her, and one never showed up. Maybe he is looking right now for someone.
Mary is afraid but her fear isn’t defining her. The anxiety that surrounds her might be the result of the cultural expectation to not be pregnant before you were married, but God changes that. He alters the way we approach our whole culture. He challenges the assumptions and brings us something new. Mary isn’t so full of the stereotypes of her culture that can’t receive it.
For Jesus to fill Mary, she needs to have faith. She needs to believe that the Holy Spirit can do it. When she doubts, when she doesn’t believe that God can fill her, the angel gives her evidence—your cousin Elizabeth is getting ready to have a baby too, which is equally implausible.
Her posture is humble and ready to receive. She’s the Lord’s servant. Truly, she is one of the most exalted and venerated and brave people of all time, and she humbly receives this offering and is God’s servant. She doesn’t get tripped up in power dynamics or making sure she gets accolades. She does an incredibly risky thing almost without a guarantee of success of a reward.
The Mother of God liberates us through her birth. She frees us. And she inspires us to go through the pain. Being filled with God is not easy. It hurts, it is tiring, and it wears you out to deliver him sometimes. But Mary actually does it. She gives birth to Jesus. The whole universe changes as a result. God is now with us. God dwells with us. The word becomes flesh. The light pierces the darkness. And here we are again, ready to receive the greatest gift ever.
You might need to create a physical vacancy. Literally, consume less stuff—don’t let your materialism fill you up so that Jesus can't fit into your life and so that you can’t deliver him.
You might need to create a social vacancy. Don’t fill every waking second of your life with friends and connections. Come home a day earlier from your holiday travels and be with God. Go on a retreat during the busiest time of year and see how God moves in you.
Maybe it’s an emotional vacancy. Don’t let your anxiety make decisions for you. Resist the over-stimulus and try to just be calm. Feel your sadness but don’t let it overcome you.
When you have your vacancy, the space necessary to let Jesus dwell in you, be filled. Be filled with the Holy Spirit, so you actually have something growing inside of you that you can birth.
Be filled with Jesus and trust that he will fill you and you will overcome the challenges of following Him. Let him satisfy you. And if your desires aren’t satisfied, don’t be afraid to try and change them and see what God can do with them.
Be filled with Mary’s humility. Her humility to serve without rebelling. Her humility to submit to something that didn’t make a lot of sense to her.
Finally, give birth to him! Share him with the world. Push yourself to be known. Let your story resonate as your narrative reflects the ultimate narrative. Tell people the story and help them to feel the same hope. Mary had plenty of excuses to refuse to do it, but she didn’t. I want to have the same strength, intensity, and willingness. The same flexibility, humility, and grace. I want to be like Mary and birth Jesus like she did.
This Advent, be pregnant with Jesus like Mary was, and deliver his Good News to the world.