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Late-Advent Lassitude

Nothing like an unexpected pregnancy to motivate your job search.

At least we had an interview. But we were unknowns. We had no connections. No strings to pull. We weren’t coming out of our denomination’s seminaries. Even more, we wanted to share a job, to be this odd and unknown thing, a “clergy couple.” No sense adding to our liabilities by sharing that we were expecting, since Sophie, my wife, was not yet showing.

When the search committee asked for a second interview, we felt we owed them complete honesty. I told the chair of the committee that Sophie was pregnant. He replied, “We figured as much. Mrs. Brokaw knew immediately. That’s wonderful!”

At the second interview, Mrs. Brokaw—a warm, older woman—greeted us with a pleased and knowing smile.

“How did you know?” we inquired.

“Oh, I don’t know—I just did! Some sort of glow, I guess.”

I’m actually glad that I have no gift for sensing when women are expecting. I suspect what Mrs. Brokaw had is the gift of watching closely, noticing the unnoticeable, seeing with more than her eyes.

jeremiahAmong the best things I read this Advent was “Waiting for God” by Brian Zahnd. There are usually lots of good things written during Advent. But I often feel they are written for the connoisseur, the insider, the illuminati—people like me. They usually tell, in beautiful prose, about the longing and lament of Advent, the solitude and stillness of the season. Zahnd is very much in that vein. He talks of sensing bread rising in the oven, the quiet endurance of those who keep night vigil on the edges of society, the patience of people who gaze at the heavens so diligently they notice when a new star appears. I would add those who are so observant they sense a woman is pregnant before anyone knows.

When I try to bring similar messages in Advent, I usually end up feeling like the fun police. I fear my congregation hears it as a conspiracy to take away the delights of December. If those delights were only vulgar consumerism or the drunken surfeit of offices parties, I would be okay with that. I know, however, that those delights include interminable, out-of-tune sixth grade orchestra concerts, orchestraas well sparkling presentations of great music. They involve making cookies with grandchildren and penning personal notes to old friends, rooms warmed by good company and a roaring fire, caroling at the nursing home and ringing the bell for Salvation Army’s red kettle.

These are beautiful things, probably very Advent-appropriate things. But I’m not sure people hear it that way when I talk of Advent waiting and longing. So I’ve pretty much given up on the “Christ against culture” approach to Advent. I’m not full-on-Christmas from black Friday forward, but I’ve stopped trying to guard Advent and restrain Christmas.

I have observed that about now we hit late-Advent lassitude, the pre-Christmas doldrums. And that is probably a good thing. We are spent from a month of socializing, shopping, and song. Mid-November to mid-December is crammed full. The message of Advent has a hard time finding a welcome home. Perhaps now are the days when we actually do simply wait. Now might be the time when we are at last slow enough to catch a whiff of rising bread or observe ice forming on the inside of our windows. Maybe now we are even weak enough to let Aleppo sear our hearts or to chat with the oddball at the convenience store.

Maybe, if I was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, I could even begin to discern all who are and all that is pregnant—long, long, before new life appears.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is a recently retired minister of the Reformed Church in America. He has been the convener of the Reformed Journal’s daily blog since its inception in 2011. He and his wife, Sophie, reside in Des Moines, Iowa.


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