When I was pregnant with my first baby, a little girl, I went eleven days past my due date–and even then, she only vacated my body thanks to the help of an IV drip of Pitocin. I loved being pregnant and was understandably nervous for all that motherhood would entail, so at first I didn’t mind the extra wait.

By six days past due, however, I was all but climbing the walls, urging this baby to get out. Every minute felt like an hour; every hour, a day.

Each day that brought me closer to childbirth also brought me closer to the start of Advent, which would begin thirteen days after my due date. Advent is the church season leading up to Christmas, a time marked by waiting and preparing for God to arrive, incarnate in the form of a human baby.

Waiting for my daughter to arrive felt a lot like a personal Advent: I knew my life was about to be divided forever into “before” and “after,” but I didn’t know when the before would end or what the after would look like. I couldn’t quite imagine how the transition would go, except that I knew it would be saturated with agony and expectation at a level I hadn’t experienced before.

This is what I find most mystifying about Advent: the period of waiting ultimately ends in great joy, but we can’t get to that great joy without intense, active, unbearable pain. In Advent we sense the mingling of anticipation and anxiety, excitement and disappointment, joy and pain, hope and fear.

On this side of history, we have the luxury of waiting with great hope, great joy, and great expectation. We know Jesus will be born, we know he will save us and redeem us, we know he will die and rise again, and we know he will set all things right one day.

But before Christ came, Advent was dark. It was lonely and unknown, as the Israelites waited in faith to hear from God, and all they got was… nothing. Silence.

Isn’t this more characteristic of the waiting we usually do? The waiting seasons of our lives are less often marked by joy and hope and more often marked by pain and fear. They are not often cozy or comforting but difficult and dark and even laborious.

We wait as a pregnant mother waits for her child to be born—there’s a vision of the joy to come, to be sure, but in the throes of gut-wrenching labor pains, we think we might actually die before we see that joy fulfilled. After a long season of pregnancy, when the fullness of time has arrived, the advent of labor ushers in the real period of waiting—and it is active and painful and raw. I’ve been thinking a lot about this phrase, the fullness of time. 

We read it in Galatians 4:4-5:

 “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

The fullness of time makes me think of a perfectly round, fit-to-burst pregnant belly. That mom is aching for sweet relief, for new life. How often I try to skip ahead in my own waiting—to end the wait at the halfness of time, or the three-quarterness of time—because that last bit of waiting… it is the most painful of all. We’ve been stretched all we can be stretched. We’ve been made to stand all we can stand. And then we’re called to wait some more.

Advent is that sacred space: the anticipation that comes in the space between pains, the catching our breath and readying our bodies and hearts and minds for what’s next. It is holy and hushed, sweetly relieving. It propels us forward in time toward the main event, to the wholeness and the healing, but in the fullness of time. Not by our own clocks or calendars but by the divine hand of the Lord.

This Advent, we find ourselves in an especially agonizing season of waiting: for relief from COVID, for a sense of normalcy to be restored, for the touch of a loved one.

As we join with creation to await the coming of God, may we sit in heartbreak of Advent, remembering that in order for our weary world to rejoice fully, we have to steep in the sadness. To appreciate the coming of the light, we have to endure the darkness.

May we look toward the birth of Christ with great anticipation, with great hope, and with a new appreciation for the fullness of God’s time.

May we hold space for the collective and individual pain our world is enduring as we wait for another advent, another coming of Christ.

Bifrost Arts Music puts it this way:

“In labor all creation groans till fear and hatred cease,

Till human hearts come to believe: in Christ alone is peace.”

This is what we’re waiting for: the calm after the coming, the peace after the pain. We’re waiting for the fear and division and pain of being broken open to subside and give way to unity, healing, and wholeness.

Let us wait well and with great expectation this Advent season.