(CNS illustration; photo by Paul Haring)

Imagine the countless moments the Virgin Mary experienced during the months between the Annunciation and the Nativity — that special, private time that she and Jesus shared while he was growing in utero.

St. Joseph was privileged as an intimate and supportive witness in that time of pregnancy, but there are certain quiet moments that a new mother communes with her preborn child in a way that cannot be conveyed to others.

Her times of prayerful preparation and anticipation were literally the first holy season of Advent. Despite any natural physical discomforts or hormonal mood swings she could have endured, the Canticle of Mary gives us a small glimpse into her overflowing joy, knowing the glory of the Lord resides in her own womb (Lk 1:46-55).

I am expecting a new baby, due about a month from now. Over the course of 40 weeks, pregnancy seems to transform everything: My body stretches along with the baby’s development, my home is rearranged to make room for so much baby gear, and my work calendar shifts to manage new priorities and prenatal appointments.

Spiritually, I am transformed by the existence of this little one and contemplate the person inside, and on God’s perfect love for the both of us. It shapes my prayer intentions.

In my dining room there is a framed picture of pregnant Mary, quietly gazing out and resting a hand on her round belly. I enjoy centering on that picture while prayerfully “chatting” with Our Lady about the hopes and dreams she had for her miraculous child as she paused to feel him kick from within.

I ask for her intercession as a woman who can relate to the wonder and grace that is inspired by carrying a precious child of God.

Advent is so very akin to this kind of prayerful anticipation, and the spiritual preparation for God to shift the ordinariness of our lives into new and timeless blessing. Pausing to reflect upon the indescribable mystery of the incarnation fills me with awe and wonder at the Lord’s merciful love.

And yet … all too often that spiritual reflection is overshadowed by the busyness of our physical preparations of Advent. All the baking, decorating, countdowns and shopping lists are distractions from what’s quietly developing internally.

While I pray, reflect and write, a movement of the baby reminds me that I have company. This is a season in which I am literally never alone. But it isn’t just about this pregnancy — we all have the company of God at all times. Faith in that divine presence is what invites us into a joyful overflow of spirit.

Cassandra Palmer is pictured with her children Liam and Annie, December 2019. (CNS photo/courtesy Cassandra Palmer)

Differently from Mary, I already have two young children who are absolutely delighted by the pregnancy and fascinated to witness the development of their new sibling.

My daughter will lay her head upon my belly, whispering loving words to the baby. My son instigated a daily countdown to the due date. Their joyful anticipation in embracing the new baby is like a sample of our church’s communal experience of Advent worship.

We do not simply await the Christ Child as individuals in quiet contemplation. Rather, we come together in prayer and worship, singing carols and evensongs, and we gather to share Scripture and sacraments.

Our preparation efforts are made lighter by the company. Just like with my children’s excitement, our church’s joy is multiplied when it is shared.

It’s hard to effectively prepare the kids for the seismic shift approaching our household lifestyle. Likewise, the Advent season is a reminder that our own childlike faith can hardly imagine what God has in store for us.

The Advent season directs our hearts toward the incarnate union of heaven and earth, and the Holy Spirit beacons our devotion to Christ and his Holy Family. Our own Advent joy unites us with the Virgin whose soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.

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Cassandra Palmer lives with her husband and children in Baltimore, where she coordinates elementary catechesis for Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church. She has a bachelor’s in theology from Mount St. Mary’s University, and is earning her master’s in church ministries from the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.