I have had two untouchably perfect moments in my life. One was running down the aisle with my new husband on our wedding day. And the other was when they put baby Zach in my arms, and our eyes met, and it was like a conspiracy of perfect adoration.

Two months ago, out of the blue, I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, and so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what perfect moments God brings through suffering. And the story is Advent, and its promise of Peace. Hope. Love. This is my season. This is our season.

Hail,_Mary_by_Luc-Olivier_Merson,_ca._1885,_High_Museum_of_ArtThere’s a gorgeous painting in the High Museum in Atlanta of Mary, the mother of God, standing with what appears to be exactly the same outfit I dressed Zach in for his two-year old Tractorpalooza party recently. Travellers stumble across something surprising on a lonely road. Instead of seeing a statue or a painting or some other shine of the Virgin, as was the custom, they encounter the living, breathing Mary and Jesus. There is a reason why over Christian history that those who are lonely, afraid, lost, or sick turn to an image of Mary the Mother with her boy at her side. When we stumble down a road filled with suffering, we want to encounter a God who understands just how we feel. I am walking a road in which the unthinkable thought is that I would have to be one day separated from my two perfect moments, my husband and my son. So I turn to the Advent story as my story and the story of the church. It is our introduction to a weary traveling family, a pregnant teenager who gives birth in a world of great danger—danger that will be confirmed when King Herod begins a campaign to murder infants in an attempt to root him out.

This is our initiation into one of the perfect moments of the faith, when peace, hope, and love radiate out of a world that otherwise causes us to be afraid. This is the great secret of the Christian faith, that in the grand inversion of God becoming a baby, we see that our vulnerability is our doorway into knowing the love and great mercy of God. That we will find ourselves walking down a lonely road, turn a corner, and there He is. He is Emmanuel. God with us.

Written for Duke Memorial Church, the first Sunday of Advent.