Advent and Christmas have always held a particular meaning to me depending on the season and space of my life; the way I’ve internalized their meaning changes depending on who and where I am at the time. I’ve been a mother for 13 Christmases now. For the majority of that time, Advent and Christmas have been about making the season magical for my kids in that sparkly, sugar-dusted-self-defeating sort of way. Where puffs of flour appear in the air each time someone opens our door and our calendar is color coded and overloaded. Of course, all this magic-making inevitably stresses me out beyond the point of no return, negating the very magic I try to create. Sure, it’s also been about helping my children come to learn about the salvific birth of our Lord, who came to save the world, teach us to love, and lead us to heaven, and I think (largely thanks to their amazing teachers) they get that. But all of this magic-making has, slowly but surely over the last 13 years, replaced my own grasp of what this season is supposed to be for me.
I sensed this was happening, but my determination to make the perfect Christmas for my kids—with visions of them as adults, recounting our Christmases with a decadent nostalgia—outweighed any urgency to address the problem. Thankfully, the Lord was not going to let me get away with it forever, and I started to feel compelled to pray for a new outlook and a new connection to the season.
The answer to prayer came in the form of a Christmas carol, of all things. Two years ago, our parish schola rehearsed Myn Lyking, a carol by British composer R. R. Terry (1865–1938) based on a 15th century English poem. As we rehearsed the piece, the words—unfamiliar and difficult to sing—unfolded more and more, revealing to me the very connection for which I was deeply yearning:
I saw a fare maiden sitten and sing.
She lulled a little child, a sweete lording.
Lullay, myn lyking, my dear son, myn sweeting,
Lullay, my dear heart, myn own dear darling.
The words of this carol poignantly frame a moment shared by mothers who are blessed with the incredible gift of holding their newly born babies for the first time. It’s that moment when your baby—who has grown in your womb and filled your heart—is given to you, and you gaze into his eyes, and he gazes back at you. In that one moment you see him, you see yourself, and you see love—reflected back to you so perfectly, in a way you’ve never known. In that moment you realize you will never be the same.
Obviously there’s infinitely more to Mary’s story. She gave birth to God incarnate. But maybe, for that one moment, she was simply a mother looking into the face of her beautiful new baby, and his eyes reflected love perfectly back to her. Despite what he was to the whole world before and after that moment, he was her lyking—a piece of herself. Her dear Son. Her own dear darling. And she must have known she would never be the same.
Driving home from rehearsal that night, I found myself thinking about the births of my own three children. It occurred to me that the Advent season we observe aligns with Mary’s final weeks of pregnancy in the Christmas narrative. I imagined, recalling own experiences of this time, how difficult Mary’s last weeks must have been, how uncomfortable and trying to bear that time away from home, in unfamiliar and extraordinary circumstances. How on the Christmas day we celebrate, all of the work and pain of labor and delivery gave her that beautiful moment with her new baby (who just happened to be the Savior).
The awesome, salvific meaning and import of the season hasn’t been lost to me, but who and where I am at this time has given me a new connection. As I work ever-so-imperfectly to prepare my heart during Advent, I find myself walking alongside Mary in her final weeks of pregnancy, praying for her over space and time, and feeling a kinship that all mothers feel with each other over those final weeks of carrying a child.
And, Christmas—Christmas for me has come to include that moment I am blessed to know in own my heart, when Mary finally gets to gaze into the eyes of her new baby and Love is perfectly reflected back to her. Recalling the births of my own children and rejoicing in that moment with her, I am reminded: I will never be the same.
Featured Image: Michael Reiser (1828–1905), Am Abend vor Christi Geburt (1869) [On the Eve of the Birth of Christ]; public domain