“Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?” (Luke 1:43, REB)
We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born. – Meister Eckhart
Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. – Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Many of us Protestants have given the “born again” analogy (as we interpret it) such a central place in our thinking that we cannot see the New Testament’s more well-developed and mystical gestational analogy. The latter analogy has become the chief focus of my Advent celebration in recent years.
Here it is: Like Mary, we carry Christ around inside of us. We give birth at our resurrection.
A few moments’ reflection may suggest why this lesser-known gestational analogy doesn’t get as much play in our culture as the “born again” one. Instead of being the child — the focus of attention — we are the pregnant woman with someone else to focus on. Selflessness isn’t the end of it, either, since a pregnancy also requires patience. In the mother-of-Christ analogy, we will never fully experience our life’s purpose.
Until we’re dead, that is. But what happens after our strut and fret means little to us anymore, don’t you think?
The born-again analogy and the pregnant-with-Christ analogy kind of blend here and there in the New Testament, so it’s difficult to really compare them. But I’ll try, since the pregnant-with-Christ side of it is fairly unknown.
The New Testament is so serious about our role as mothers of Christ that it’s not quite right to call it an analogy, really. An analogy attempts to clarify through a comparison, but there is no indication that our mother-of-Christ role is a way of describing anything else. The mother-of-Christ idea, then, isn’t expressed elsewhere in other, more theoretical terms. It is expressed in other analogies, though, most notably in Jesus’ farming parables. In them, Christ (or God’s word) is still the seed, but, instead of a pregnant woman, we’re dirt.
In other words, the New Testament doesn’t say our relationship to Christ is like that of a woman to her unborn child. If you still see our pregnancy as figurative language after reading the New Testament, you might describe it as a metaphor (its expressions in turn standard, implied, and extended) and not as a simile. The New Testament uniformly says that we are pregnant with Christ. New Testament writers know how to use literary terms like “allegory” (e.g., Galatians 4:24), but they soften our pregnancy only by classifying it as a “mystery.” How can you be a little pregnant?
I’ll take a few paragraphs to develop the analogy.
Our pregnancy begins after something like the negotiation Mary makes with the angel in Luke 1. God proposes the pregnancy, and we reflect on its impact. At some point, we accept the proposal. Then, like Mary, we receive God’s sperma (pardon my Greek).
The pregnancy analogy relies on the same idea of seed found in some “born again” scriptures. Peter writes that we have received incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23). It is “receiving” in this sense of receiving seed that John writes about in a famous passage:
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13, KJV)
Though the seed inside us is incorruptible, it starts small and grows. Think of Jesus’ farming analogies, most notably the parables of the sower, the mustard seed, and this harvest parable:
He said, ‘The kingdom of God is like this. A man scatters seed on the ground; he goes to bed at night and gets up in the morning, and meanwhile the seed sprouts and grows-how, he does not know. The ground produces a crop by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then full grain in the ear; but as soon as the crop is ripe, he starts reaping, because harvest time has come.’ (Mark 4:26-29, REB)
The harvest, which Jesus equates in other parables with the end of the world, is like birth. Until our child’s birth, we’re carrying something alive and growing. We’re carrying the “new self” that Paul describes as “being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him . . .” (Col. 3:10, KJV)
We carry the seed of our own hope around in us. “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” as Paul’s letter to the Colossians puts it.
Here’s how the resurrection is equated with birth. In Paul’s writings, Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead.” (Col. 1:18) He is also the “firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom. 8:29) (Paul so equates the resurrection with birth that he uses a gestation verse to back up his assertion that Jesus rose from the dead:
And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. (Acts 13:32-33, KJV))
And we are some of Jesus’ “many brethren” who will be born at the resurrection.
So we’ll give birth to Christ, but, in another sense, we’ll give birth to our true selves. We will become what we’ve always been, just as we wait with Mary each Advent season for him who has already come.
Yes, we’re daughters and sons of God now. But we shouldn’t confuse conception with good parenting. Paul sets a higher standard for a mature child of God: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14, NAS) Paul saw himself as pregnant with some of his pregnant, young charges (“My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you . . .” (Gal. 4:19)). Christ is still forming in us, it seems.
I love thinking of myself as a child of God. But that concept might naturally lead me to want a fuller expression of my spiritual lineage than what I currently see:
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:2-3, NAS)
We’re daughters and sons now, but that really hasn’t been revealed yet. Keep it under your hat. All creation waits for this revelation, Paul says in his letter to the Romans, and the revelation won’t happen until our resurrection (Rom. 8:19). When we’re revealed at the resurrection as daughters and sons of God, we’ll be like Jesus.
It’s more powerful that way. More real. I don’t have to live up to some sort of American Superman ideal in this lifetime. The scriptures about suffering make more sense because many of them are tied to our later revelation as children of God. I carry my hope; I carry what I will become. And, if this pregnancy is real, it will affect me. I will purify myself, as John points out.
Advent was once, like Lent, a penitential season. This heritage comes down to us in the form of Advent’s purple vestments and candles. The lone rose candle in the Advent wreath represents a joyous respite from the heart’s preparation, a respite more fully expressed in the rose vestments and services of Gaudete Sunday during the third week of Advent (“Gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice”).
While the deliberate preparation of the heart is no longer emphasized as much in modern celebrations of Advent, the connection between Jesus’ birth and his second advent is still made clear. According to New Advent’s Catholic Encyclopedia, “In both Office and Mass throughout Advent continual reference is made to our Lord’s second coming . . .”
About ten of us, including some young mothers, were having some fun with this pregnancy analogy yesterday. We considered the first trimester with its wretched morning sickness. We thought of how newly pregnant women sometimes reassure themselves of their pregnancy. We reflected on a baby’s growing evidence and role — even personality — as she comes closer to term. We thought about how pregnant women often become increasingly impatient for birth. We talked about how, when we’re pregnant, we live for two. How we’re weak. How we develop an obscure, occasional communication with our child as time goes on. How others may find us attractive in a way we can’t comprehend. How painful it can be at the end.
We sat around on Christmas Eve, like Elizabeth and Mary before us, encouraging one another in our pregnancies. We waited together.
[Elizabeth and Mary] created space for each other to wait. They affirmed for each other that something was happening that was worth waiting for. . . . The visit of Elizabeth and Mary is one of the Bible’s most beautiful expressions of what it means to form community, to be together, gathered around a promise, affirming that something is really happening. . . . Waiting together, nurturing what has already begun, expecting its fulfillment — that is the meaning of marriage, friendship, community, and the Christian life. (Henri Nouwen, Weavings, January 1987)
[The picture above is of Victoria, at right, pregnant with B and waiting with a friend.]