At this point during Advent, Gaudete Sunday, I always remember one particular early dawn. Or rather, how it felt to see that day dawn. It was the day our first child was born.
I’d been admitted to hospital the afternoon before, to have labour induced. My mum and husband had stayed while I had dinner and left with promises to be back the next day, unless something happened in the night.
The baby wasn’t expected to make an appearance until well into the next day. My obstetrician and husband both planned to arrive at the hospital around 9am – after going to the early weekday Mass nearby (God bless them!).
I was in increasing discomfort during the night, and was awake for most of it, lonely and nervous. Wondering if I should buzz the midwife again to check how far labour had progressed. Wondering if Peter would get back in time to help me through the worst of it. Not wanting to disturb his sleep with anxious text messages. That was probably the last time I cared a whit about my husband’s sleep.
A midwife checked me out and said she’d take me to the birthing suite first thing in the morning. To try to rest. I tried not to recall the horror birth stories I’d heard from friends and read on the Internet. I mostly failed. In the end I just sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for the rest of the night to be over as those first pains steadily rose and subsided.
I remembered the psalm in my breviary about rising before dawn and crying for help. Eventually I noticed the darkness getting thinner around the edges of that window.
I had never been so grateful for the dawn! I suppose I had never so suffered through a night. This first lifting of the darkness in that room felt like a promise that evening would find us peacefully enjoying our little one.
There have been other restless nights since then, and other welcome dawns. But that’s the one which offers me an insight into the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, the day of joy before Christmas Day. I’d been sitting in the dark, waiting and longing for daybreak which was the signal that my help was really on the way, and my baby. I was about to go through the worst pain of my life but at that moment felt only joy and gratitude.
How precious are those little, intense, previews of joy we’re given at different times of life? They come in the midst of hard times – reminders that God is still coming to our aid and hasn’t forgotten us.
Mass this Sunday starts with the words: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.”
What is the meaning of Christmas? That God has come into the world, at a specific place and time, to save us, yes. That God is ‘Emmanuel’, with us now, yes. To celebrate all that Jesus has done for us, and his mother, and St Joseph, yes.
But what all that means, if you (to paraphrase TS Eliot) squeeze the universe into a ball and roll it towards one overwhelming exclamation, it is that God is very near – has both already come and is right now coming to the rescue! And this is the moment when we see the first light, hear the first sound of God’s imminent approach to us – to me. And we have no need to fear, anything at all.
All the tinsel and lights, feasts and parties and gift-giving, all the warm-and-fuzzies and great things we love at this time of year spring from this collective joy of rejoicing in the sure approach of our rescue.
Indeed, the Lord is near!
First published in The Catholic Weekly.