Each year my good friend Mark Pierson sends me a copy of his Advent reflections written for the spiritual nurture of World Vision NZ staff. This year he chose the art of James Janknegt whose powerful contemporary images of the Christmas story formed a wonderful focus for my own visio divina meditations each week. This is a prayer tool I discovered while researching my book Return to Our Senses. I find it to be particularly helpful at this season.
Most of my meditations around my Advent theme, Let Us Wait As Children Wait, have revolved around joy, promise, hope, expectation. However, as I contemplated The Visitation I was struck by this fresh image of children waiting that I had not really considered before, the two unborn infants waiting in the loving embrace of the womb, waiting in darkness, waiting in uncertainty, waiting to change the world.
Their waiting must have been filled with a great deal of background anxiety, however. One would be born to an unmarried mother who could easily have been rejected and outcast by her family. The other would be born to a woman past her childbearing age, a wait in seclusion, perhaps because of her embarrassment at this unexpected blessing. Both of them waiting to be born into a turbulent and violent world that would eventually kill them both.
In Janknegt’s painting, the potential of Jesus and John waiting in the womb is obvious – one will become a king, the other a messenger. How many children born today wait for a future in which they will never fulfill their full potential I wondered? For how many is their time in the womb a waiting for an uncertain and vulnerable future? Perhaps their mothers are drug addicts or refugees born into a world that wants to keep them out of sight. Maybe their families live on the edge of starvation and they are waiting to be born only to die before their first birthday. Some wait for a life of abuse and abandonment, others for a life of suffering and pain.
The waiting of the unborn should be a joy filled season of hope and expectation, that is what we most like to focus on at this season. How I wonder, can I make that hope and promise made possible through the child whose birth we await, become a reality for some of those vulnerable ones at the margins for whom waiting holds so little hope.