They felt litter thicker than matchsticks in my hands; her tiny fingers seemed like they could snap in an instant. I was mesmerized by her smallness in my arms though her presence filled my entire life. As I held my firstborn in the dark of her bedroom, humming a song to her in the same rocking chair in which my grandmother had rocked my mother and my mother had rocked me, I wept.
I had waited for this for so long, to hold her in my arms. I loved her fiercely as she inhabited my own body, her bottom pressing against my ribcage as I tried to sleep. But now that I held this tiny thing completely dependent on me, I was overwhelmed with her fragility. Her life had just begun and already there was a fear gripping me, the reality that she would be hurt in this life and that one day this life would end. This beginning was the beginning of an end.
In every season of a growing life, there is anticipation and longing for what is to come next. Her life only started and we waited to see her roll over for the first time, for that first smile of recognition at seeing her daddy’s face. We watched for her first steps and looking for her first tooth to appear. The moments fly and they never stop coming whether we eagerly wait for them or resist with all our might.
We barely grasp one tenuous moment before the next is upon us. I can recall just what those precious matchstick fingers felt like in my own palm even now as I wait for her womanhood to begin, watch her hips grow wider and her innocence turns to adolescent anxieties. The beginnings she is experiencing signal the end of her childhood.
They are nothing more than figurines, these images of mother and child that I place around my house every December. I have been collecting nativity scenes for years, enamored with images of the Christ child and the Holy Mother since I was a child myself. Sometimes when I look at them, I can’t help but weep.
The world waited for him for so long, to behold him in our midst. We loved him already as we anticipated the Messiah coming to save us, the hope of him pressing against our chains as we waited to be freed. But then he came, this tiny thing completely dependent on his mother, fragile and weak. His life had just begun and already she knew, as all mothers do, that he wasn’t hers to keep. She bore the reality that he would be hurt in this life and that one day his life would end. This beginning was the beginning of an end.
In every season of the year, there is anticipation and longing for what is to come next. The ink is barely dry on our resolutions when many of our intentions lay scattered on the floor. We are eager to cast off the blanket of winter and look for the green to pierce through the snow. When they appear we are already rushing past new life to the hectic summer that scatters us and we long for the fall to bring us back to center again. When the winds turn cool we exhale relief but remember that the busy holidays will be upon us again soon.
We barely turn the calendar’s pages to a new month before we make a list of what we need to get accomplished next. I can recall just what the precious long days of summer felt like on my skin as I feel that same skin crack under the bitter winter winds. These beginnings I am experiencing signal the end of the days that have slipped silently away.
That’s why this season of waiting, this Advent, is so bittersweet. It is the beginning of another liturgical year. It is the time we attempt to slow down to contemplate what it really means that Christ came to dwell among us. We think about the way he lived on earth, remembering that this is how we too should live.
But we know it is the beginning of an end, as all beginnings are. His death will come too. After that is another beginning, the new life we cling to as the very promise of our faith. But still, there is waiting, another kind of ending. He left the people he came to live among and we wait here without him and groan under the weight of a still suffering world. We don’t wait without the Comforter, without hope. But yet, we wait.
So in every season, as everything continues to change around us—we look forward to the next beginning. We believe that there will be a time when we will wait no more for all will finally be fulfilled. And of that Kingdom, there will be no end.