God with an Umbilical Cord: An Advent Devotional
by Lois Wilson
As both mother and midwife, partnering with God to usher new life into the world, Lois Wilson has had ample opportunity to consider the birth of Jesus as a human baby. Her insights into the miracle of the Incarnation provide rich reflections for us during the Advent season.
First Sunday of Advent
Song: "Thou Long Expected Jesus"
Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
Devotional: In December 1985 my husband and I were expecting our first child. Nothing was more fascinating to me than the little life that was taking shape within my own body. My growing collection of books described everything I needed to know about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and parenting. My thoughts revolved around our baby. The sun rose in the morning to shine on my womb!
One book described the week-by-week growth and development of the human fetus. At the beginning of each week I eagerly opened the book to read what would happen in my body to my baby that week. I will never forget the week before Christmas when I opened the book and read these words: "By this time your baby is about the size of your thumb."
Suddenly it occurred to me that Jesus—the God and Creator of the universe, the vast, incomprehensible Maker of all that is seen and unseen—had once been as small as my own thumb! How could this be? The wonder, the humility, the miracle of it all! God reduced to the size of my thumb was a kind of poverty and glory I had never realized before. Now, years later, I am still filled with wonder at the thought.
Prayer: Creator and Sustainer of all things, how can it be that you stooped to make yourself so very, very small on our behalf? Yes, you became poor for us, poor in ways we cannot begin to comprehend. Help us to understand, this Christmas season, the mercy that made you small. Fill our hearts with wonder and gratitude, we pray. In Jesus name, Amen.
1. In what ways did God become small on our behalf?
2. What other scriptures come to mind in relation to this thought?
3. How can I apply this insight my life today?
Second Sunday of Advent
Song: "Oh Come, O Come, Emmanuel"
Devotional: Immanuel. God with us. God with us. These words took on new meaning in my life with the birth of my youngest child, Elijah. When Eli was diagnosed with autism in 1999, I felt as though the bottom had dropped out of my life. I was capitulated into grief. I cried every day and wondered what I had ever cried about before. I doubted I would ever laugh again.
In the dark days and months that followed, I would sit in my kitchen and rock Eli in our rocking chair. All I could do was hold him and weep. And God met me there in my kitchen, staying with me and surrounding my dear child with his holy presence. God with me, in my grief, in my tears. Immanuel.
And though nothing about Eli's situation changed, I was changed. I came to realize that grief could not kill me because God was with me. Immanuel. Because God's presence—in the end, when all else had failed—is really all we need and ever needed. Immanuel.
Prayer: Immanuel, draw near to us. Help us to see you, to hear you, to feel your presence. Forgive us for thinking that we can find our comfort somewhere else. Thank you for coming to sit with us in grief, in confusion, in fear, in darkness. Thank you for bringing us comfort and light. Immanuel, God with us, convince our hearts this Christmas season that your dear presence is all we need. In your precious name we pray, Amen.
1. In what ways have you experienced the presence of God, Immanuel?
2. Discuss the statement: "God's presence—in the end—is all we ever need and ever needed."
3. Pray together for one another's needs. Ask Immanuel to be very near to you and those you love and pray for.
Third Sunday of Advent
Song: "What Child Is This?"
Scripture: John 1:1-18
Devotional: One day Eli and I sat on our porch swing together. I was singing songs to him—hymns and Christmas carols, mostly. Eli and I worshiped the Lord together—I through my music and Eli through his silence. For Eli, at the age of 4, had no words.
I sang the familiar Christmas hymn "Good Christian, fear, for sinners here the silent word is pleading."
The silent Christ Child pleaded for us without words. His presence was enough. His presence pleaded for us. Words were not necessary. I could see Jesus just behind Eli's gentle eyes: a silent child full of grace whose mere presence was the beginning of our way back to God, a helpless, silent baby whose birth ushered in the kingdom.
There is wonder in the wisdom and grace of God—that a baby in a cave in Bethlehem pleaded silently for me, and for all of us.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you plead for us still. Thank you that you speak for those who cannot speak for themselves: the small, the weak, the silent. Thank you that when we have no words, you who are the Word fill our hearts with love and truth and peace. We worship and adore you. In your strong name we pray, Amen.
1. In what ways do you experience the work of Jesus pleading on your behalf?
2. How can we as disciples of Jesus please on behalf of those who have no voice?
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Song: "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"
Scripture: Philippians 2:6-11
Devotional: It was mid-December, and I was driving to a birth in the Pocono Mountains. It was late, and light snow was falling. I searched for a radio station and found one playing Christmas carols. As is my habit on the way to a birth, I began to pray for a smooth, uncomplicated labor and a healthy baby.
As the carols played in the background, I prayed aloud, "Please, Lord, let the baby be born without any cord complications; let the placenta come out without difficulty; please, no extra bleeding…"
As I prayed, the words of the carols and my thoughts about the very real process of childbirth merged in my mind. I found myself imagining the birth of Jesus, his tiny head squeezing through Mary's birth canal, his fragile body still warm from Mary's, the way he must have "rooted" at her breast, the umbilical cord reaching from his body back up inside his mother, connecting his life to hers. God with an umbilical cord. I pulled over to the side of the road as my eyes filled with tears.
God with an umbilical cord. That is the Incarnation. That is Christmas. Our Christmas cards are so unlike real childbirth. Mary is clothed, serene. She looks as if she never even broke into a sweat. The infant Jesus appears to be about 6 months old. There is no blood. No placenta. No umbilical cord. None of the pain of Incarnation.
But God really did make his way into the world by squeezing through the narrow doorway of a woman's bones. And when we can pause in wonder and worship of that fact, we have come close to comprehending the real meaning of Christmas.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you embraced humanity to its fullest—in all its pain and beauty, all its suffering and joy. Give us the courage to do the same, to celebrate Christmas by reaching deep into our own hearts and into the hearts of others, to live the life you've given us to its fullest, for your glory. In your name we pray, Amen.
1. What does the phrase "God with an umbilical cord" evoke in you?
2. How can an "earthier" understanding of the birth of Jesus impact our faith/theology?
3. What do you want to thank the Lord for today?
Song: "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful"
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
Devotional: There is something special about a home when a baby has just been born. There is a kind of holiness, a hush, a sense of the sacred. It lingers for weeks, and all who enter can feel it.
One midwife I know says that there is a little bit of the Christ child in every baby, and whenever I hold a newborn baby in my hands I sense that her words are true. He is in every baby in this sense that every baby is a reflection of him. He is not just like us; he is one of us. And he came into the world exactly as we came.
Somehow, by humbling himself and becoming a human baby, God the son also honored all of humankind. He affirmed our worth not only by dying for us, but also by being born as one of us and living with us. The beloved Christmas hymn expresses this thought with the words "True God of true God, Light of Light eternal, lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb."
God's first "dwelling place" among us was Mary's womb and then Mary's arms. The God of creation entrusted God's self to the care of a young Jewish girl and fell asleep his first night on earth to the sound of her beating heart.
Prayer: Oh, God, what grace! What wonder! You have blessed us forever by coming to us, Immanuel. In your birth and in your growing, in your life and in your death you have proven your love for us as your people. Open our hearts this Christmas Day to receive your love. And, once receiving, may we become fountains of your love in the world. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Lois Wilson is a graduate of Palmer (then Eastern Baptist) Theological Seminary and has served as a childbirth educator, labor doula, and traditional homebirth midwife since 1988. This article appeared in the Nov/Dec 2001 issue of PRISM magazine.