In this last week of Advent I have been baby blessed. On the shortest day of the year, I held the tiniest child ever placed in my hands. A four-and-a-half pound girl. I held her and thought, You were destined to be, child, because we had to believe that you could live, that you could be born!
The mother who placed the child in my arms had miscarried at four months. A heart-breaker. They thought by four months she was in the clear. There had been other miscarriages. Perhaps they should give up. Then one day they told me, “We’re going to try again.” And I smiled. It wasn’t long before she conceived, and it was her young daughter who broke the news, beaming like the angel of Annunciation. The girl pointed to her mother’s tummy and said to me, “Mommy’s pregmunt!” I was stricken with delight.
The pregnancy continued normally until this fall, when she had to go on bed rest. Still, we were hopeful. But trouble arose at Thanksgiving. A rush to the hospital, an emergency C-section. The uterus had nearly ruptured. And then there is almost never any hope for the child. They can’t get there fast enough to save it. There was gratitude and relief when I saw the mother in the hospital, but also a sense of dread and awe. Of what almost happened. Could easily have happened.
I could not see the child when I visited the hospital, so it was not until I visited the home this week that I laid eyes on her. Mother laid her in my arms. The bundle was large but all the swaddling cloth made the infant seem even smaller, pure white, miniature, a universal human child almost without feature, like a fetus utterly still. I marveled. Felt fear. Could I dare touch this creature? So fragile.
Delicately I handed the bundle back to the mother. She sat on the sofa, her two daughters sitting next to her, her husband in an armchair. “Let us pray,” I said. I touched the child’s pink forehead, my Brobdingnagian hand covering half her body. “O eternal God, you have promised to be a father to a thousand generations of those who love and fear you: Bless this child and preserve her life; receive her and enable her to receive you, that through the sacrament of baptism she may become the child of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
We are waiting, hoping for a birth. If Christmas is to mean anything more than a sentimental season of general merriment and bonhomie, we have to be waiting for something great and awesome to be born in us. Even and especially when that birth seems unlikely, fraught with danger, impossible. Four weeks of Advent teach us to “prepare the way of the Lord,” to ready ourselves for some great coming. Then Christmas arrives, and the “great coming” turns out to be a shivering infant. She who has eyes, let her see.