By Rhody Mastin
I have been thinking a lot about childbirth. For the last six months I’ve been working toward my doula certification. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a doula offers non-medical labor support, and educates her clients pre- and postpartum. In the midst of my certification, I’ve read a significant number of books about labor — its logistics and physiology, how to best assist during labor, and, most notably, the spirituality of labor. And while I have never experienced labor and childbirth myself, the pregnant women I’ve interacted with during my study have stressed several things to me. First, to state the obvious, labor is hard and painful. Second, labor can be a scary prospect. And third, labor, contrary to media portrayals, is completely and totally normal.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about preaching. I took my required preaching class this semester and my professor would often speak of what it means to “deliver” God’s word. We engaged in class discussions about this delivery: how do we deliver a sermon? How should we stand behind a pulpit? What do we do with our hands? How should I read this scripture? And how are you supposed to balance following the Holy Spirit when you have a manuscript, anyway?
But when we engaged in these discussions about the delivery of a sermon, I often caught myself thinking about how labor must come before any delivery. I’ve written and delivered more sermons in the last 8 months than I ever have before and I can attest to the labor which goes into each one. I’m sure anyone who has preached can attest to the hours spent praying, reading commentaries, consulting favorite books, writing drafts, giving up, and starting over, all of which goes into the final delivery of a sermon. The labor of sermon writing is hard and painful — the biblical text often hits me in the gut and forces me to confront hard truths.
The labor of sermon writing can be a scary prospect — sometimes I worry that I will write the Worst Sermon Ever and then embarrass myself, which literally gives me nightmares. And the labor of sermon writing is, finally, completely normal. While it is certainly hard work to turn a word into an embodied, fleshly experience, it’s also one of the most intuitive things I’ve ever done. My body — my hands, my voice — knows how to do this.
These two topics — labor and preaching — have felt quite pressing as we enter into the season of Advent. Advent, after all, is the season which celebrates when Mary labored for and delivered God’s Word. In that way, Christmas Day was the first glorious, graceful, and gorgeous co-mingling of labor and preaching: Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
And so, as we enter into Advent, I have downloaded a pregnancy tracker app on my phone. As I write this, Mary is 36 weeks and 5 days along. Jesus is the size of a large cantaloupe, and will be descending into the birth canal shortly. When I read this on the app’s notification, it struck me that Jesus is not only one step closer to his own delivery, but that we are also one step closer to ours. Jesus’ heart is beating inside your body. Can you feel him kicking?
Rhody Mastin is a CBF Leadership Scholar and second-year student at Duke Divinity School. She currently serves at First Baptist Church of New Bern in New Bern, North Carolina. She earned her bachelor’s degree in public policy from the University of Virginia, and is interested in the intersection of social policy, women’s rights and pastoral care.