Christmas Carries Our Hopes, Fears Toward God’s ‘New and Glorious Morn’

The Rev. Joanna D’Agostino, pastor of First Congregational Church of Ripon (Wis.), United Church of Christ, was invited to write the annual Christmas letter in the Ripon Commonwealth Press, where this reflection first appeared. She is a member of the 2016-2017 class of CHHSM’s Nollau Leadership Institute.

Two days before Christmas, during my second year at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, I found myself sitting on the floor sobbing in our cheap, scraggy one bedroom apartment. My sewing machine wasn’t working, and I had gifts to make. When my husband walked in,… surprised to see me so short-fused about sewing, he calmly and carefully suggested I take a pregnancy test.

On Christmas Eve that year, I was the pastoral intern at a United Methodist church. My part in the service was to read Mary’s story from the book of Luke. The readings were interspersed between music and candlelight, from the angel Gabriel’s greetings to the Magnificat, from the Bethlehem journey to the newborn baby in the manger. As I read Mary’s story, I heard my own hopes and fears singing out between the lines. I heard how Mary felt in a new way– emotionally, spiritually, and even physically– as a mother-to-be. I imagined that she, like me, was scared, confused, uncertain, but still delighted and singularly focused on God’s call and her new purpose. On that evening in St. Louis, only my husband and I knew about the tiny life in my womb, and only God knew who she would be. My fears cracked through my voice: finances, healthcare, my education and ordination process, labor and delivery, would I be a good mom, was the world too harsh for her. My hopes steadied my hand as I lit the candles: this baby would be a tiny light in a broken world.

I’ve held life in my womb for three Christmases now. They are Evelyn, Amos, and Suzette Luise. But the human connection to Mary’s story is much more expansive than pregnancy and childbirth. The story of Mary is a story for all of us– regardless of gender, age, religion, or lack thereof. It is the story of what it means to carry hopes and fears within ourselves as we journey through life. Mary’s story is about seeking kindness and hospitality in a closed-off community. It is the story of daring to bring something beautiful into a broken world. But for me, perhaps most of all, Mary’s story is about a vulnerable human being who looks fear in the eyes and says, “You are not the boss of me.”

It seems to me that we often allow fear to take the steering wheel. We’re afraid to take risks, to step out of our comfort zones, to commit, to help others. For most of us, fear will always be a passenger on our journeys. To be afraid of the unknown is to be human. But here’s the thing: when fear is on your road trip, it may be the backseat driver, but you don’t have to let it touch the roadmap, or the radio, or the heat. You don’t have to follow it’s detours and, for God’s sake, you don’t have to let it drive.

On that first Christmas, Mary grew hope within her womb even when so many others were driven by fear. She cried out through labor pains. She held that hope to her breast and fed it as it grew into Jesus Christ, who would teach us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit the prisoner. Hope was born with that little baby Jesus, and it was far, far stronger than fear.

This is the story of Christmas. It is when we dare to love, to give, to sing, to forgive, to laugh, to turn on lights and eat sweet foods and rest in the warmth of the season– and to sing, “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

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