Expectant Waiting, Adoption and a "death-bearing grave of a God"

Perhaps nothing best embodies Advent waiting like pregnancy.  Obviously, Mary’s pregnancy is the event all Christians are waiting for these weeks–so there’s that–but even more broadly, physical pregnancy is the source of the metaphor of new life, and also points us to new hope and new beginnings.

So, it is perhaps somewhat ironically that I came across two different pieces last week that got me thinking about pregnancy in some new ways.  The first one is from the Winter 2016 issue of Lutheran Forum:  Sarah Hinlicky Wilson’s editorial on “Maria Adoptrix.”  Wilson begins by acknowledging that when we think about Mary’s motherhood, first and foremost, we think of her as the mother of Jesus, the theotokos–God bearer. It’s her claim to fame, after all.  But Wilson reminds us that Jesus is not Mary’s only son (exegesis about Jesus’ “brothers” notwithstanding); in fact, Mary received another son by adoption at the foot of Jesus’ cross, when Jesus created a new family bond between his mother and his beloved disciple:  “Woman, behold your son…Behold, your mother” (John 19:26-27).

I admit that I had never really thought of the disciple as Mary’s “real” son before, which is more than slightly embarrassing to me, a woman who is herself adopted and has written so strongly about the creative power of adoption that is as “real” as the creative power of physical birthing.  So, I was really grateful for Wilson’s insights here, as she lifts up the importance of the act of adoption for the Christian faith, and how transformative the act of adoption can be for Christians and non-Christians alike:  “Believers of all nations must learn to receive their foreign, unrelated brothers and sisters, just as Mary and the beloved disciples received one another at the foot of the cross.”  Amen, sister–and now more than ever.  

And Wilson goes on:  “This is no easy task.  It contravenes every natural instinct of loyalty and exposes the fraudulent posing of the penultimate to be the ultimate. But there is one who can lead the way, one who loved tenderly her own flesh and blood but nevertheless followed the way of the new creation in the Spirit instead.  Here we name with reverence and affection Maria Adoptrix, Mary, the Adoptive Mother.”  Sometimes we are waiting for a new life that comes to us from outside, rather than inside–but we are no less expectant, no less joyous, no less blessed.

The other piece that I read is an article from Modern Theology, by Serene Jones, written back in 2001 (it is from the April issue), titled “Hope Deferred:  Theological Reflections on Reproductive Loss (Infertility, Miscarriage, Stillbirth).”  She begins with a story of hope dashed–or at the very least, hope deferred:  her friend’s miscarriage.  Like everything Jones writes, the article is rich, profound, and full of insights–and the argument in full is much too detailed to go into here.  

So, here is the part that I found most powerful and meaningful.  She uses Moltmann and a theology of the cross to answer the question, “What transpires in the Godhead when one of its members bleeds away?”  [“bleeds away:” that description alone is amazing.]  She suggests that “Perhaps what we find in this space of silence is the image of the woman who, in the grips of a stillbirth, has death inside her and yet does not die. Consider the power of this as an image for the Trinity.” She goes on to say that Christ’s death “…happens deep within God, not outside of God but in the very heart–perhaps the womb–of God.  It is a death that consumes God, that God holds, making a grave of the Trinity.  And yet…this death-bearing grave of a God paradoxically does not die but lives.  And She lives to love yet again and to offer to the world the gift of the future.”  The power of the image takes my breath away.

So, in our Advent waiting and watching for the birth of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us, we also are reminded that new life and new birth come in unexpected forms, and new life sometimes also comes out of death; and that the hope incarnate in the manger comes to us all, often when we least expect it.

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