There was a support group for mothers of young infants, a chance for adult conversation and to share stories/ideas/hints about that sometimes challenging period of life. One day a new, quite young, mother joins with her young baby. The group goes through their regular routine and then starts to break for coffee when the new mother yells out “Wait! Wait! You haven't talked about it yet”. Seeing how upset she was the group sits back down and says, “OK, tell us what it is you need to talk about”.
"When? When? When?" is all she could say
"When what? What are you wanting?"
“When? Tell me when life gets back to normal?!?!”
Some changes mean life never gets back to normal. In our heart of hearts we know that. But still we have that part of ourselves that wants it to get back to normal again. Even if the change is something wonderful there is a part of us that wants life to get back to normal again.
At its heart Christmas is about birth. Both as a narrative (the story) and as a metaphor Christmas is about something being born. And in the end there are relatively few things more life-changing than birth. And how do we approach a change we know is coming?
Those of you are parents, think back to the day you first learned that a baby was on the way. How did you feel? Was it a long-expected and hoped for child or was it a surprise? Did you think you were "ready" to be a parent (at least as much as anyone is ready for such a task)? And, be honest now, during those next 9 months were there moments when the thought of caring for child left you totally terrified?
There is a commercial on these days with new parents taking their newborn home from the hospital and driving very "carefully" -- in fact so slowly and "carefully" as to be an impediment and danger on the roadway. That commercial always reminds me of a question my (then pregnant) sister asked the first time I called her after Sarah was born. "Weren't you afraid to drive with her in the car?" [For the record no I wasn't. Driving was not remotely high on the list of parenting fears in my mind]
AS we approach Christmas each year we are encouraged to, in the words of the Dead Dog Cafe, "Stay Calm, Be Brave, Wait for the Signs". The Scripture passages we just heard have talked about a promise to be kept, have talked about the world going to be changed, and have talked about the signs to look for. And as we wait and watch will we be calm and brave or will we be anxious and fearful? Do we look ahead to the birth that comes with Christmas with hope or with fear?
It strikes me that hope and fear are two sides of the same coin. I just asked you to think about waiting for a child. So much hope and dreaming goes into raising a child. There are so many possibilities about who he or she could be. The world ahead is full of maybes and unknowns. And at the same time as there are hopes and dreams the thought, if we ever had time to sit and think about it, maybe between feedings and diaper changes and looking after ourselves and working to earn a living, is terrifying. There are so many possibilities and unknowns about the future.
There is nothing wrong with hopes mixed with our fears. That is natural. That is part of being aware of our surroundings. Many years ago I was in a musical version of The Hobbit (one I am sure is nothing like the movie about to be released). At the end of the play Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarves, returns to Hobbiton to give Bilbo his reward. And he says these words:
A fool never cares when he's risking his life,
for excitement or thrills or for fame.
And if he survives other fools call him brave.
to the wise he's a fool all the same.
A wise man knows fear when there's danger to face.
So he's serious thoughtful and grave.
He'll do what he must in the best way he can.
And THIS is the one who is brave.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Today we begin looking ahead to a birth. Today we begin the road that ends with angel song and shepherd adoration as God become human yet again. Today we begin waiting for the world to be changed, indelibly changed. There are signs (there are always signs that birth is coming) to be seen. We watch see the signs and we are filled with hope and know that we can trust in the promise. We see the signs and know that the change means things will never be "normal" again and we are anxious and fearful.
But we can choose which reaction we will feed. Will we choose to feed our fears and fight against the changes being born? Or will we choose to feed our hopes and embrace them, not denying our fears but in spite of them, so that we can embark on a new and exciting adventure?