Gideon Heugh reflects on how the birth of his own daughter gave him a fresh perspective on Advent.
At 4.37pm on Sunday, 23 September, my daughter was born. And it was the most astonishing, beautiful, messy, wonderful, transformative and terrifying moment of my life.
Birth is one of the most natural things in the world. Yet there is an astonishing depth to it, a sanctity – labour rooms practically hum with holiness. What could be more sacred than new life coming into the world?
During Advent, we look to the new life that is ‘the light of all mankind’ (John 1:4). Yet our images of the nativity are often sanitised. Where is the blood? The sweat? The tears? The terror?
Perhaps our ideas of what holiness is have become sanitised too. We often see the sacred and extraordinary as being elsewhere, out of reach, separate from our everyday lives.
The weight of heaven
But what the story of incarnation shows is that this isn’t true. Jesus’ birth was the divine colliding with the dirt, the mysterious entering the mundane. You will have experienced moments of incarnation in your own life. It could have been watching a sunrise, cradling a newborn child, or holding the hand of a loved one on their deathbed.
Maybe the ground is always holy. Maybe the sacred and the everyday aren’t so far apart. Maybe ordinary things can be charged with the extraordinary. In traditional rabbinic teachings on the book of Exodus, the bush that Moses encountered was always burning. It’s just that he happened to notice it for the first time (Exodus 3).
This is what I experienced when I held my daughter. Something so simple, so natural – so messy – yet with all the weight of heaven. A miraculous mess.
Shallows and depths
But it’s easy to get distracted and miss the burning bushes in our own lives.
The world does its best to make us live in the shallows: the garish lights of shopping and TV and social media. It wants to drag us away from the deep, rich things of life: faith, family, nature, relationships, joy, grief, wonder.
This is why Advent is more important than ever. It’s a chance to look up from our busy lives and notice the holiness all around. To look to the arrival of the divine. To see that miracles are everywhere.
As we enter the season of Advent, we ask that you open our eyes to the extraordinary, miraculous nature of life. We pray that this will be a time of reflection, of deep love, and of hope. In Jesus’ name, amen.
To receive Tearfund’s daily Advent reflections on the theme of Expect the extraordinary – visit www.tearfund.org/advent