The Common Good
December 2012

Pregnant with Possibility

by Donna Schaper | December 2012

Advent marinates us as we prepare to taste Christ's arrival.

THE TASTE OF the election still may be in our mouths—but Advent is breaking in.

Advent is a four-week stomp to Christmas. It is the time when God starts to show. God is pregnant during Advent: pregnant with possibilities that somehow, some way, someday, things will be different. They will taste better. We will know their taste better. We will be able to be engaged in our lives and our commitments and also be at peace. We will be the ones at the birthside, marveling about how God could dare come as a child or send heaven to earth, spirit to flesh, drenching humanity with divinity. The big words for this showing will be “Son of God” and “joy to the world.” The angels will sing, the night will go silent, the people will hark.

This Christmas would be a great time to notice what we have already seen: that when leaders and things get too large, when we put too much trust or hope in them, they revert to a brutal and brutalizing smallness. When we put trust in what we can notice, what we can do and who we can be, we are rarely disappointed. We expect, expectantly, as though we too were pregnant, day by day, with the possible.

For now, there is the waiting, the preparing for an Advent practice that will smell and taste good, that will open doors on more than a calendar.

I am an avid reader of women’s magazines, especially those that have a centerfold of the perfect Christmas dinner. I praise that dinner, hope for it, plan for it, and then eat with vigor what really comes out. A friend has a sign on her refrigerator about the difference between what we usually have and what the magazine announced: “It’s not going to happen that way.” By that sign, she is preparing herself for a day and a life of surprises. She is grooming her “to don’t” list.

I find praise in the act of subtraction, particularly around Christmastime. There is so much of Christmas I want—and so little I can actually afford or execute or experience. For me, preparing to practice Advent is about managing expectations, while having high hopes. I find calm in doing less, planning less, being more.

Thus my pathway to peace and silence is to hark. Instead of working harder, we could just fake it. Take a “well” day. Get the Christmas cards out in July. Or say that you did and the post office lost them. If you are going to fake something, make sure it is not peace.

To have a different Christmas, we have to get strong pliers gripped tenderly and firmly onto punishmentalism, the theology of the “must,” and lift it out of our hearts.

In the middle of this mess of “musts,” what better time than now to get ready to get ready? Advent’s preparations remind us of marination: eggplant overnighted in tahini, fish swimming in soy sauce, meat given spices. I think of applesauce from those apples we found on that August day. Opening the jar is a good Advent practice, right after an election season that probably did not fail to disappoint—even if we “won,” whatever that finally means.

Donna Schaper is senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City and writes the Grace at Table blog at

Image: Christmas time, Christian Jung /

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