"The darkness of the womb"

A sermon given by the Rev. Clare L. Hickman on December 3, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37

Clare L. Hickman

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale

December 3, 2017—Advent 1B

Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37


“Without darkness, nothing comes to birth.” -May Sarton


Perfect summation of my Advent theme this year


Christmas is one of the many festivals of light that comes in the middle of the winter:

          Statement of hope and faith that the light will return,

warmth will return, life will return.


And so it is a light in the darkness

But there is a danger that we start to see darkness as a bad thing to be chased away

          Associated only with fear and evil and even death

When it is also a place in which things come to be


Take hold of the image of advent as a pregnant waiting …

The darkness of Advent as the darkness of the womb

Advent as a time in the womb

          A time underground, where things rest and germinate,

where they gather nutrients and strength,

where they remember who they are,

counting out the strands of their DNA and perfecting

the memory of the shape of their leaves

What if the darkness of Advent was a darkness like that?


At first, this doesn’t seem to jive with the potent imagery we find in our lessons,

          with the stars falling and mountains shaking and nations trembling.

To our ears this sounds like destruction, not birth!


Maybe that’s because our ears are attuned to expect messages of destruction

But maybe that’s because we forget just how potent and earth-shattering birth actually is.

After all: even seedlings have to break through the crust of earth into the light.

Birth is momentous, and full of promise, and more than a little bit terrifying.

And this IS what our readings are talking about today.

This is what we are waiting for, preparing for, watching for in Advent.

                              The Birth. The rebirth. 


Writer Liz James describes this expectant moment as the “blood spattered pause.”[i]

          A vivid phrase which for me draws the thread

Between the sweetly sentimental talk about baby Jesus,

and the “everybody take cover!” descriptions

of the Day of the Lord in Mark and Isaiah.

                                        Reminding us that pregnancy and childbirth are

“everybody take cover” kinds of things.


The pause Liz describes comes right after that moment when

“you realize that this is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone,

and how did you forget about physics and there is just no way this will work. 

You change your mind, and decide the baby will have to go back. 

And then you remember moms who told you this is what would happen,

and how they told you that the only thing to do at this point is to push like HELL. 

So you do.


“And then, just at the absolute worst part,

the doctor looks up at you from The Valley of Blood and chirps

‘now we're all just going to pause for a minute and let things stretch’.” 


And that, of course, is ridiculous. And impossible.

Because you have a full grown baby stuck somewhere very difficult,

and you’re fairly sure that you are going to break right in two …

and it’s just possible that the entire world is headed the same way.


But, as she says, “That’s how it’s done. There’s no other way. The blood spattered pause. The moment when you are up to your neck in it and there’s no going back, but suddenly you stop.”


Not cowardice and not giving up.

Not pretending that there’s any way to avoid what’s coming,

To avoid what needs to be done for birth to take place,

What needs to be done for great and momentous change to occur.

Just a pause in which “…your mind and soul are stretching.

When you are becoming sure, more grounded, more open.” 

Because “Courage is a thing you push out, yes but courage is also a thing you stretch into. A thing you gather up.”


And then … you push. Because at this point, tearing or no tearing,

something is going to be born.


We are entering Advent. We are entering the darkness of the womb,

which is a place that is full of life and is therefore a place of great trembling.


We are preparing for the birth,

and thus the heavens are torn open like bedsheets and water is being boiled

(no seriously, it’s right there in Isaiah!)

                              We are expecting a child, and so we had all better buckle up

                                        And stay awake


Because from this darkness

          This darkness that is heavy with possibility and potential

                    Salvation will be born.

Let us pause, and gather our strength, and stretch into our courage

          To meet the birth. Amen.


[i] Liz James, blog post, “The Blood Spattered Pause” posted September 27, 2017, https://www.lizjameswrites.com/news/2017/9/27/5s865ue2qa6bj1agkjk7goekds4xql

Clare Hickman