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Advent and Christmas: The Work of the Doula

As a pastor, I always look forward to the first Sunday of Advent. Last year, our son’s baby dedication and blessing took place on the first Sunday of Advent. This year, I offered the “Call to the Congregation” at the ordination service of someone who is both a friend and community member.

I look forward to the beginning of Advent not only because of the deep, poetic worship it inspires, but also because it is the beginning of the new year on the Christian calendar. The advent of the Christ child is the advent of all that is new in our Christian faith, and the first Sunday of the season offers us rich opportunity to reflect on the old and the new—alike.

After a beautiful beginning to the Advent season, I couldn’t quite pinpoint this week why I was reluctant to decorate our home for Christmas. Our son, Wade, is now 15 months old and actually able to enjoy the lights and the manger scenes and the greenery and the bows, and yet, I couldn’t get excited about any of it.

Sure, we’ve been remodeling our house, and there was the thought of “one more mess” unpacking the Christmas boxes, and we just had company for the Thanksgiving holiday, but there was something deeper going on. I needed a reason—more than exchanging gifts and listening to fun music and eating delicious food—for hanging the green and lighting the lights.

Why all the fuss? I wondered.

A poem arrived in my Facebook feed with impeccable timing.

In the somewhat frenzied aspects of the season,

and wars and rumors of wars

and pestilence and hope and despair

and engaging the powers

I keep a supporting image of God coming to us as individuals,

or stepping into the midst of conflict,

holding out a swaddled infant to us and saying

“Here, hold this for me, will you?”

-Cam Watts

Aha! The season of Advent is all about supporting Mary through her pregnancy as she walks the road of becoming a mother. Christmas Eve is all about supporting Mary as she births the baby, Jesus. Christmas and Christmastide (the twelve days after Christmas Day) are all about supporting mama and baby and the whole family in the postpartum period.

Advent and Christmas invite the work of the doula, the companion, the supporter, the guide. Advent and Christmas give us a baby in swaddling clothes and beckon us, “Here, hold this for me, will you?”

Another poem by Saint John of the Cross says, “for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.”

Mother Mary and the Christ child shift everything for me.

So, last night, my husband, Adam, brought out the Christmas decoration boxes from the storage room. We listened to Sufjan Stevens’ “Songs for Christmas.” My husband and son danced as I dusted off the manger scenes and hung tinsel on the tree.

We laughed and played and enjoyed ourselves hanging the green, and I paused for a moment with one hand on my belly and one hand on my heart, honoring Mother Mary who, all those years ago, thirty-six weeks pregnant, ankles swollen with low back pain, expectant with hope and terror, carried the child who would show the world a different way.

I can hang some green and light some lights for the Christ child and Mother Mary any day.

I can get on board with all the fuss when I remember it’s about support, breath, presence, and love.

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