When you’re pregnant, people often ask you if you’re ready for the new baby to arrive. Each time I was pregnant, I had an easy answer, especially as I approached my due date. Ready? YES. I was tired of waddling around, gasping for air, being moved to tears by greeting-card commercials, and owning only three clothing items that fit.
But on another level, the question always struck me as silly. (Note that this hasn’t stopped me from asking every pregnant friend the same question.)
“How could we ever be prepared for this?” I asked my husband. We were about to encounter a new life, a new person never before known to the world, a person whose fate would forever be entwined with ours by blood and spiritual duty. This new little baby would leave me completely vulnerable in my love for her and fundamentally alter my life forever. How do you prepare for that?
You can’t, really. But my babies came anyway. And on their own time, as babies often do. Without the slightest regard for whether we felt spiritually or materially prepared, they simply burst into our world: loud, chaotic, beautiful, and messy.
Each time I gave birth, our doctor placed my baby onto my chest, and I looked down into that new little face with raw joy and surprise. And each time, I whispered, “Welcome. I am so glad you are here.”
This afternoon, I stood at our dining room table, engulfed in an ambitious craft project, and I asked myself whether I was “ready” for Christmas. I had an easy answer. Ready? Not even close! My to-do list seemed to be growing by the minute; I hadn’t wrapped a single present; and many of my brilliant ideas to teach my toddlers the true meaning of Christmas were still floating in the ether of my brain, hitherto unexecuted.
As for spiritual preparedness, that seemed laughable. It seemed the best I had been able to muster this far into Advent was half-finished rosaries scattered throughout the day. And admittedly, the subject of my intentions was more often “dear God please let these children nap” than “dear God prepare my heart for the coming of Christ.”
But as I resumed my craft project, even after admitting I was logistically and spiritually unprepared for Christmas, I felt suddenly close to the Christ child. Gluing together little wooden statues of Baby Jesus as gifts for friends and family (please don’t be impressed; several people have asked me what they are), I was struck by the vulnerability of the Savior of the world, moved by His humility and sacrifice.
And just like that, I was sitting there at my dining room table with tears in my eyes, thanking God for the gift of his Son.
On some level, putting pressure on ourselves to be “ready” or “prepared” for Christmas is as silly as expecting a pregnant woman to be “ready” to give birth. Of course we should pray and contemplate and complete the tasks required for us to celebrate together, the same way a pregnant woman should probably pray, meditate, and do practical things like buy a car seat or a crib.
But on another level, just as we can never be truly prepared for a new baby, none of us can be truly prepared for Christmas.
Like the birth of a new child forever alters her family, the birth of Christ altered human history forever. How do you get ready for that?
Nor is the Christ child beholden to our schedules. On the calendar, Christ arrives on December 25th. But like my own children, the Baby will be born this season on His own time, timing that is simply not contingent on any of our work or personal preferences.
The Christ Child might meet us this year with the flare of trumpets at Midnight Mass, perfectly timed. But for most of us, especially those of us who will spend those holy Christmas moments wrangling our children, the Babe may arrive under more humble circumstances.
He might show up as we sit at our dining room table, working on gifts for family (as He did for me). He might comfort us when we are at work, trying to meet a deadline, mourning the loss of family time. Perhaps we will meet Him deep in the night, while we are assembling toys for our children, and we’re given the grace to liken our small sacrifices to His big ones.
In fact, to arrive unexpectedly and humbly, without regard to our expectations, appears to be Christ’s preference. He is the King who came as a pauper; the son of God born to a virgin; the Lord of the Universe who showed up as bread and wine.
So we will continue to bake, to wrap, and to sing carols to our children. We will somehow find time to pray, to soak in the Word, and to soften our hearts for His coming. But none of our work causes His coming, and He will come to each of us in His own time. As God often does.
When He bursts on the scene — loud, chaotic, beautiful, and messy — all there is left for us to do is to pull Him on our chest, look down at Him, and say, “Welcome, Lord. I am so glad you are here.”