Advent is a time of pregnant pause. A time when we imagine Mary jostling her way to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey. Any woman who has ever been driven by car to the hospital while in labor understands the true significance of the word, jostling. Although the Christmas story of the journey to Bethlehem will always warm my heart, as a woman of faith who has also given birth, I find Mary’s interior journey far more intriguing.
If you are like me, I’ve always thought of Jesus as coming into the world on Christmas Day. But in reality, he came into the world nine months earlier. We think of him as being on earth for 33 years, but in actuality it would have been 34.
New science around the interrelationship between a pregnant mother and her child is providing interesting data that gives me pause to wonder why we don’t have a defined Theology of Jesus of the Womb. As the theologian Karl Barth once said, “The true light of the world shines already in the darkness of the mother’s womb.”
We have known for quite some time that a mother’s blood nurtures an unborn baby. Oxygen and nutrients from the mother's blood are transferred across the placenta to the fetus through the umbilical cord. But it’s only recently that studies have shown that cells from the baby also cross the placenta and enter the mother’s body through her bloodstream, where they become part of her tissues. These cells have been found to stay with the mother for decades.
The idea that the cells of Jesus crossed over into Mary’s bloodstream and became part of her body, makes the story of Emmanuel - God with Us – far more physical and intimate than we had previously imagined. I’d like to gather a group of theologians together (a number of them would need to be female) to ponder how a focus on Jesus in utero is a link in salvation history that we have overlooked. I would ask them to begin by considering the following propositions and questions:
1.Thinking of God as a supernatural being “up there,” is the natural inference from many bible passages. It is also the image of God used in much of the language of the Mass. Until recently, most Christians accepted this image of God, and many of the faithful continue to find their faith nurtured by some form of this imagery.
But thinking of God as “up there” has become an obstacle for a number of people today. We have piled so many “extras” onto this image of Divinity. He is male. He is sometimes viewed as a loving father. Other times he is a finger pointer, capriciously choosing which prayers to answer and which to deny. The various “add ons” to a transcendent image of God make it difficult for many today to believe in the existence of God at all. We need a variety of ways to approach belief in God that align with our tradition.
2. The trend toward meditation and developing an interior spirituality is an ancient Christian tradition as well as a popular recourse today for those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. How might this tradition of interiority inform a Theology of the Jesus of the Womb?
3. Before being a viable human being, and long before he shed his blood for humankind, Jesus’ cells crossed over into the bloodstream of his mother. How might this cellular intimacy expand our understanding of an imminent God?
4. With a Theology of Jesus in the Womb, might Advent also be used as a time within the Church to remember all who have carried children, suffered miscarriages, were unable to conceive, or who have had abortions.
5. Taking us back to our own journey in the womb, a Theology of Jesus in the Womb would remind us that God is working in us while we are waiting.
Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.