Written by: Nancy M (Nan) Smith
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10 NRSV)
When my son was a week old, he developed an infected belly button and ended up being hospitalized for a week, so that he could receive strong antibiotics intravenously. This infection was nothing to mess around with. It wasn’t until my son was ready to be released from the hospital, that my pediatrician told me, that including my son, he had only seen four cases like this and of those four babies, two had died.
I stayed with my son in his hospital room. During that time, I have never felt as helpless as I did then. It was hard to bear seeing my son hooked up to IV’s. My birth hormones were in full force, my mother’s drive to protect was in full gear, but there was nothing I could do to make things better for him. I spent hours, both day and night, rubbing his little fingers and stroking his cheek in an attempt to calm him down. Our days and nights became filled with blood draws and trying new antibiotics. Even nursing him became a nightmare, because he was so sick.
By the third day, after yet another sleepless night for both of us, we were exhausted. The worry and lack of sleep had certainly taken its toll on me. That afternoon, as he laid in his crib whimpering, clearly uncomfortable, I just started to cry. The nurse suggested that maybe I should just hold him continuously and so I picked him up and sat back in the recliner and laid him against my chest, so that he could hear my heartbeat. Immediately, he settled and slept and I settled and dozed in and out for the next four hours. The frenzy of the hospital, the anxiety, the stress, and the exhaustion -- all of those things were pushed away and my spirit became calm and peaceful. In the quiet of that afternoon, I felt the Spirit of God hovering around me.
Anxiety, stress, and exhaustion is what comes to mind when I think of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. Visits from angelic messengers, an unexpected pregnancy under extraordinary conditions, a long and unwanted journey, and a birth under less-than-ideal conditions threw their lives into absolute chao. I resonate with Mary and what this holy family endured. Theirs’s was an emotionally-charged situation that was anything but ordinary. I wonder, if like myself, this new family was hoping for some calm and peace; if they too felt surrounded by the hovering Spirit of God.
For me, this is a gift this Advent season holds out. Both as churches and people we too are feeling stressed and anxious. The raging pandemic continues to impact our communities, our churches, and the people. Even as we strive to celebrate Christmas as we always have, we are much aware around how things are different. Emotions seem to be running high, as stress is coming from many different directions. People seem less patient, instead they are more irritable and intolerant. We are worried, grieving, and trying to find what this new normal will look like for us.
The invitation to me this Advent season, is to lean into the waiting that it offers; to lean into the expectancy and reflect on how the coming of Emmanuel changes everything; to lean into what truly matters and still the rest of the noisy chatter in my head. After all, waiting is at the heart of Advent.
When I feel stressed and exhausted, when my life feels out-of-control, when the fears overwhelm, and when the nights are so long, I return to that memory of holding my infant son and letting him sleep upon me. I hear the rhythmic sighs of his small breaths. I feel his fingers wrap around my own. Be still, and know I am God and all manner of things will be well. This is the prayer I am carrying this Advent season.