I recline on the damp gray carpet next to Hei Nay Htoo, the traffic of North Indian Creek Drive rushing like a gasoline brook outside of the open French doors. Thick summer air pours in from the balcony. Baw Baw lies sprawled on the dilapidated couch, provided by some church or resettlement agency, and now the primary home of several colonies of roaches.
“Can I make a doctor’s appointment for you?” I ask. She has been quite sick and not her usual self for the past few weeks.
“No. I will not go yet. I sick like this with Wonderful, Blay Blay, Hae Tha Blay, Ga Pu… ta blaw nya ee dee tho tho.”
“Uh. Ya duh lee.”
Floored, I run to my room to find my English-Karen dictionary, thinking of all of the chaos of the past months while both parents were working, the many challenges of managing four kids, let alone another, and their intention to move back to Comer in just a few months. I flip the dictionary open to the C’s, and finding the page, I turn the book to face Baw Baw, pointing to the Karen word.
“Na thay nyaahh? Do you know?”
Slightly insulted, she nods her head, “Ya thay nyaehh. Yes, I know. But we will have one more here. An American.”
This is the second Sunday in the season of advent, a time of anticipation for the arrival of our anointed one, our liberator. In Isaiah we hear a coronation liturgy for a new king who will restore Israel to glory. The text from Isaiah reveals a culture of expectation for an ideal worldly king, and God meets this expectation with the surprise of a helpless baby born in a feeding trough. The people who have walked in darkness, the darkness of domination, subjugation, and exile, have seen a great light, but perhaps not the light they had in mind. Though this baby is a king, his kingdom is not of this world and so we are not to prepare ourselves as such. The poet Rilke admonishes us:
We must not portray you in king’s robes,
you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.
Once again from the old paintboxes
we take the same gold for scepter and crown
that has disguised you through the ages.
Piously we produce our images of you
till they stand around you like a thousand walls.
And when our hearts would simply open,
our fervent hands hide you.
We hear in the Psalm the way that all of creation proclaims the glory of God. Like the radiant heavens, an infant captures the attention of a people in the way that no politician ever will. As we prepare for Christmas we should be as expectant parents: eager, joyful, and terrified. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us. Before we know it the creator of the universe will be helpless in our arms, crying to be nursed, waiting to be nurtured into being. The birth that we anticipate is inseparable from its inconvenience. The news from the Angel Gabriel announcing Mary’s pregnancy, no doubt surprised her. She knew that this pregnancy would cause her great embarrassment as a young betrothed woman. But she received this news joyfully, as though pregnant with hope itself. She had faith that this unlikely humiliation would become her salvation.
Our scriptures this evening invite us to contemplate Christ coming into the world as a rising sun. The prologue to the gospel of John is reminiscent of God’s speaking the world into being in Genesis. This new light coming into the world illumines everything, enlightens everyone. “Nothing is hid from its heat,” the Psalmist sings. We can rejoice for this new warmth and clarity of vision, but this sun also exposes us as we are.
Thomas Merton writes, “The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.” It is a time of preparation for our journey with the infant king into Lent. The birth of this child will completely reorient our lives, much as it did for his parents. We will grow together with this child. He will become a mirror for our condition and perhaps as he learns to crawl, walk, and speak, so will we also rediscover these simple pleasures and forget the complexities of the world with which we tire our spirits. A new parent can anticipate a kind of death in the arrival of a new child, but how much greater is that new life. Through this imminent birth, we realize a new reciprocity in our relationship with God. We are with God as day pouring into day, night pouring into night.
To love the one who comes in this season we must love the way in which he comes: poverty. The message coming to us this advent is one of a simple hope, an affirmation that life is sacred because it opens up infinite possibilities for human love and creativity. The holy interruption of a newborn reminds us of that even in the most impractical of circumstances. How much more so should our God who becomes our very own child, our Isaac, our lamb, our liberator, who in his vulnerability invites us to union with him. We who have become disenchanted with humanity must embrace the spiritual poverty of an infant and search for Christ crying out for us in the stable, the street, the dingy apartment. As we hold him in our arms we are invited into a new reality that Mary knew well. The creator of the stars at night dwells in us.
On Saturday April 14, 2012 I wake up late in the morning still caught in the slump of humiliation from being fired from the chicken plant the day before. Leaving my phone behind, I wander over to the Farmer’s Market. I arrive at Corey and Lauren’s market table and pick out a bundle of asparagus.
“Baw Baw is trying to call you. She said something about her stomach hurting,” Corey says.
I walk over to their little white house behind the gas station and open the door. Baw Baw comes into the kitchen, just barely able to walk, four excited children in tow.
“Ya gaw na ta blu law lee. Na ta paw fone bah duh—I called you many times already, but you did not pick up your phone.
“Sorry. I left it at home. Did you call Sue?”
“Yes, but she come 10:30.”
“Ok. I will call her again.”
Sue pulls up in a van and helps Baw Baw in. We gather towels and clothes for them to take to the hospital, and the four kids and I watch as the car drives away. Russ and Christina agree to watch the kids while I call the chicken plant, and teave a message with Human Resources to deliver to Hei Nay Htoo, who is working overtime, that his son is being born and to wait outside for me to take him to the hospital.