I remembered it this morning during Mass.
"If you struggle with infertility and are already depressed, it's not a good idea to go to daily Mass the week before Christmas."
We discussed it in my infertility support group back in the day. Because, for several days, the Scriptures tell several stories of women who were infertile, and then got pregnant and had babies who grew up to be someone significant in salvation history.
And no one who is infertile and depressed about it so close to Christmas wants to hear yet another story about a baby.
My days of anguish are years behind me, ever since the positive pregnancy test I had in 2004. My daughter will be 12 next year. She was born the day after we finalized our son's adoption (when he was 3 1/2).
And I hear all those stories differently now, too. The problem is, we all need to learn to feel the anguish in them. What flies by in a few moments' reading needs to be something that hits us all in the gut.
An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her,
“Though you are barren and have had no children,yet you will conceive and bear a son. The woman went and told her husband,“A man of God came to me;he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed. I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. But he said to me,‘You will be with child and will bear a son. (Judges 13)
Both were righteous in the eyes of God,observing all the commandmentsand ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barrenand both were advanced in years.
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah,because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness,and many will rejoice at his birth,for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply,“I am Gabriel, who stand before God.I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talkuntil the day these things take place,because you did not believe my words,which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived,
and she went into seclusion for five months, saying,
“So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit
to take away my disgrace before others.” (Luke 1)
There is an awe, a fear, that descends upon the wife of Manoah, whose name we are not told. Zechariah, on the other hand, has grown old with the pain of barrenness, and the pain has gotten so crusty that he no longer has power to believe. His long pain needed a long rehabilitation -- even longer than Elizabeth's confinement. During that time, his fear of hoping is replaced by joyful faith, magnified in silence.
Longing for a child that cannot be conceived is the strange ache, not of a loss, but of something that has never been. It is a form of anguish, a sense of impotence, of deep inability, of powerlessness. In biblical times, if not now, it was the worst of social shames. One does not belong; one has no people, no future. The fact that God is "the Lord and giver of life" is of deep, distressing consternation. It seems one also has no standing with God.
And yet from the outside, no one can see this anguish. One carries on through a private, intimate humiliation, disappointment, and grief.
Spiritually, this is a place of incredible value, and it is the path along which God brought Israel, making it the anawim, "the poor who depend on the Lord for deliverance."
It is very difficult, especially for powerful, modern Americans, to be in the position of the anawim. It is painful. And like it did to Zechariah, the pain can make one crusty and quick to doubt.
To be brought to this place, and to cry out for strength and to cling in trust to God who is Good, is a priceless gift. We need to help others who are in this situation to persevere in hope and faith, not for the deliverance of their choice, but for their choice of Deliverer.
The message of Advent is: Our God will come and will not delay. He is the Deliverer.
Lord, grant us the grace to open our hearts and to receive You as You are.