I don’t remember how Patty Kirk first appeared on my reading radar. Maybe it was through the praise of a coworker who had been her student at John Brown University. Maybe I stumbled across the blog she doesn’t keep any more, or read something in an anthology.
I’m thinking of Patty because on Monday, walking home from work, I detoured past the storage center to pay the December rent on my unit, and I opened it looking for my Christmas wreath, which is in a white plastic grocery bag somewhere. It wasn’t within reach or sight, so I’ll have to go back this weekend and do some excavation to reach it. However, I did take home two things that were within reach, right about at eye level. One was God With Us: Rediscovering the meaning of Christmas, a lovely, hefty hardcover Advent book with daily meditations written by the likes of Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson, and Luci Shaw. The other was a little paperback of Patty’s The Gospel of Christmas: Reflections for Advent.
Her writing should be more widely known. It’s good. Smart, down to earth, thoughtful, personable. Sometimes funny, but never gratuitously. Her little essays are good reading and good study in how to write. I’ve read through this book in past Decembers, and I’ll do it again this year (though I have to say that, just as some mom books are not only for Mother’s Day, this is not only for Advent).
I am always interested in how people become Christians in adulthood. How they come to believe the stories are true, as Andrew Peterson would say. That’s one of the things she writes about in this little book, and in that sleeping blog.
Here’s the beginning of the essay “Stille Nacht”:
The other day, my friend Carli was describing her deep friendship with one of her cousins, a woman her same age who is about to get married. They grew up together, switching off staying at each other’s houses for weeks at a time, and even as adults they share many common interests. Both love to read. Both ended up being lawyers. Both became Christians.
“We have had a lot of the same experiences,” Carli concluded, “so I know her better than I know any other friend. We understand each other. Like Mary and Elizabeth.”
It has always impressed her, Carli said, that God—having first challenged Mary’s faith with a virgin pregnancy as well as the prospect of giving birth to and raising God’s Son and the probable repercussions of these developments in her personal life—immediately thereafter helped her believe by providing someone like Elizabeth.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Mary’s much older relative exclaims as soon as she sees Mary at her door. “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43). Elizabeth instantly recognizes and validates the moral rightness of what should look all wrong: the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of the betrothed younger woman.
Elizabeth understands Mary’s situation because she is in similar circumstances herself. Not only is she too miraculously pregnant—six months along in an old-age pregnancy also announced by the angel Gabriel—but the baby in her womb “leaped for joy” when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting at the door (Luke 1:44).
What sounds so prophetic in the text, the fetal John’s womb-leaping response to Mary’s arrival, is, in fact, the most common of miracles, something every pregnant woman has experienced. My babies leapt and kicked and rolled and somersaulted in my womb all the time. Charlotte surged like a whale within me whenever Kris and I ate banana splits, my passion during that pregnancy. And in my subsequent pregnancy, if I exerted myself in any way—to get up out of bed or run to answer the phone—Lulu was as squirmy as a trout.
But Elizabeth—although she has surely run to the door to greet Mary and perhaps just finished a big bowl of pistachio ice cream—understands the movement of the fetus in her body to be prophetic. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she utters the first Hail Mary, confirming in her bodily experience and her enthusiastic words the very experiences and words that Mary herself must have been struggling to process and accept, even though she was willing to go along with God’s plan. Impossible births. Angel visits. Resulting relationship problems. The mockery of the community. That God provided Mary with such a friend as Elizabeth amounts to, for my friend Carli, one of his most precious promises to his children: In our loneliest and most confusing moments, he will send companions who understand us and can see past the immediate crisis to the truths that might be found there.
Patty also gives me encouragement for this daily Advent blogging thing (which is new and daunting for me in several ways) with her 2013 post, 7 Writing Revelations (and a Couple of Prophecies): What Blogging Daily throughout Lent Is Teaching Me about Writing.
I would have posted this last night, but my Wi-Fi has not been working except for maybe ten minutes here and there, which I could take as an Advent joke on me, something about waiting. More on that later. For now, I’m glad the Christmas stuff was too deep into my storage unit to reach, and this book was at hand.
Daylilies is an occasional column of observations on, and thanks for, the gifts of each day. Right now it’s also a daily Advent blog.