Some of you may recognise this picture. It is from the Church of Our Lady of the Expectations in San Thome in Chennai (formerly Madras), in the state of Tamil Nadu in eastern India. As I seem to point out on this Sunday every year there are comparatively few images around of Our Lady pregnant – but those we do have are very powerful: rather better known than this one is the Mexican image of Our Lady of Guadalupe (where Mary is seen as pregnant but less obviously so), whose feast day was last Monday.
While the Mexican image helps us reflect on the rich heritage of Latin American Catholicism, this image of Our Lady from India binds us in solidarity with the Catholic community there (where there are more Christians than there are in England). The fourth Sunday of Advent is always focused on Mary becoming and being pregnant with the Son of God. We have heard Isaiah and the prophets, we have repented in response to the call of St John the Baptist and now, in Advent’s last days, we look to the Mother of God, with St Joseph at her side.
If Our Lady is absent at this time of year, Advent and Christmas can’t be understood at all. She is a guarantee that how we ‘do’ Advent and Christmas will be authentic. This is because of what I have reflected about – her being pregnant with Jesus. The physical reality of the Incarnation is what really matters at this time of year. Jesus was not simply a good bloke, he is God: and he was born as a baby after nine months in the womb of his mother. The sheer audacity of this belief, this claim, is something we should never become blasé about; and thinking this weekend about Mary as a pregnant, expectant mother, experiencing all the challenges of pregnancy which a man can never really write about, helps us take the Incarnation seriously.
It is also instructive because of the continuing sufferings in war, as always, of pregnant mothers. To carry a new human being in your body is an awesome vocation: to have to do this while facing the dark evil of war and violence is truly terrible. How many of the women fleeing death and destruction this week in Aleppo are pregnant? Many, to be sure, may they be supported by the prayers of Our Lady expectant and pregnant this weekend, as we await the coming of her Son and the coming of his Kingdom where war will be a thing of the past.