Being pregnant during Christmas, I'm learning, has its benefits: a perpetual holiday glow, an excuse to eat two, or five, cookies, and a legitimate reason to buy new clothes (i.e., presents) for yourself. One thing pregnancy doesn't do, however, is make Advent more spiritually significant.

For as long as I can remember, I've been obsessed with the Virgin Mary. When I realized that my pregnancy would overlap with Advent, I relished the chance to relate to Mary's experience of waiting for Jesus in a unique and profound way. This Advent, I was sure, would be unlike any other.

And so far, it has been. But not because I'm pregnant.

In his book Mary For Evangelicals (IVP, 2006), theologian Tim Perry attributes Christians' fascination with Mary to our fascination with Jesus. Mary, he writes, "directs the faithful away from herself, always to her Son." Nowhere is this truer than in the Christmas story, in which Mary's blessedness derives not from her but from her child. Somehow, I had forgotten this. Using childhood storybooks and Nativity scenes, I had constructed an image of Mary that superseded the child she carried.

Experiencing Advent through Mary's eyes is, indeed, a powerful way to celebrate the season. But because our true celebration is about waiting for Christ - not waiting to go into labor - Mary's experience is one that all believers can share.

You don't have to spend even a few minutes with a child to see that we are innately bad at waiting. In 1972, psychologist Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted the now-famous Stanford marshmallow experiment, which studied deferred gratification in children. In the experiment, each child is offered a marshmallow and two options: eat the marshmallow now, or wait a specified period of time and get two marshmallows instead of one. Professionals and parents alike have reproduced the experiment countless times. A quick look at one parent's version of the test will give you a pretty good idea of how difficult waiting can be when you're just learning how to do it.

Waiting isn't the only way that everyone can connect to Mary. Mary was waiting for Christ. In celebrating his first coming, we Christians also practice waiting for his second coming. Mary's experience of waiting for Jesus gives us a glimpse of what our Advent waiting can look like.

Mary's season of waiting is marked by an active affirmation of faith. When Mary hears that she will give birth to the Son of God, she replies, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said (Luke 1:38)". Perry argues that in this verse, "servant" (in Greek, doule) is better translated "slave." When she embraces the title "slave of the Lord," Mary actively "assents to God's plan and God's authority."Although Mary's faith does not earn her the privilege of bearing Christ any more than our faith earns us the privilege of being children of God, it is a proactive response to the challenge of waiting that we do well to emulate.

After affirming her calling in faith, Mary seeks intentional community. She doesn't immerse herself in the company of just anyone as a means of distraction or comparison (hello, Facebook!). Instead, she visits her cousin Elizabeth, also experiencing her own unexpected waiting. Waiting does not need to happen in isolation. As the church, we can be Elizabeths and Marys to one another—men and women in genuine relationship who can buoy each other up when the waiting weighs too heavily to bear alone.

While with Elizabeth, Mary exhibits the third characteristic of her experience of waiting: praise. Mary begins her Magnificat by praising God. "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant" (Luke 1:46-48). Perry connects Mary's praise of God to her fulfillment of a prophetic role; "she declares that the God who has been mindful of her has always cared for the lowly and, in such care, remembers and fulfills his promise to Abraham and the patriarchs." Like Mary, we can pepper our wait for Christ by praising God for his past faithfulness and prophetically affirming that God keeps his promises.

Mary's final response to that first Advent comes after Jesus' birth. Amid the whirlwind of activity that followed - the angels and the shepherds and the swaddling and the manger - Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Silent, thoughtful reflection is an invaluable component of Advent because it lets us interpret our experiences. Perry quotes Elizabeth Johnson's Truly Our Sister, writing that Mary's pondering is her attempt to "understand difficult matters concerning the lives of those she loves …. Hers is a life in the process of becoming—no final answers yet available."

No final answers yet available—this, to me, is the most refreshing characteristic of Mary's experience, the one I most easily relate to, pregnant or not. Waiting in general and Advent in particular provides a liquid period of time during which we can try, and fail, to piece together our experiences and our understanding of God's direction in our lives. Along the way, we seek community with fellow believers, we praise God for his past faithfulness and affirm his future faithfulness, and we move forward one day at a time in faith. At the end of the wait, we do not need to have any answers. We don't need to fully understand what is about to happen. We merely need to be there.

Like today's community of believers, Mary was charged with carrying Christ to the world. As such, writes Perry, "She is a type of the community that God has by Grace called into being to bear his Word to the world." This Advent season, I'm humbled to remember that my role as a disciple of Christ trumps my role as an expectant mother. As for a special connection to Mary—I now realize I had that the moment I placed my faith in the Christ Child.

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