Great Expectations: Theotokos

Great Expectations: Theotokos

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My congregation and I are about to embark on new territory for all of us. I am their senior pastor and my husband and I are expecting our first child. It is a pretty amazing thing to me to be pregnant, to be a pastor, and to experience all the joys and expectations in the context of the community of faith.

The congregation is excited. Not only is their pastor going to have a baby, but their pastor is going to give birth to the baby. It is unusual, but they think it is the coolest thing ever, and so do I.

Being pregnant has made me a lot more aware than I was before. Constantly, I am thinking of this little life that has invaded me and is growing inside me and will use my life for hers until it is time for her to get her first taste of air. I think of her almost every moment.

I think of her with every decision I make. Suddenly, when I am walking my dog and a large truck drives by spewing toxic fumes into the air where before I might have been slightly annoyed, now I wonder how this is affecting my baby girl. When I sit down to eat dinner I focus on healthy food because it will help her grow. When I am tired, I rest-something I hardly ever do for myself. But for her, I do it-if I'm tired, maybe she's tired.

I realized early in my pregnancy that I would do anything for this little girl. I would eat anything. I would go through anything-even experiencing firsthand the curse of Eve and the subsequent sleepless nights of babydom. I would, without even thinking about it, die for her and I haven't even held her in my arms yet.

As I have reflected about the experience of another being inhabiting my body I could not help but start to think about it theologically-I am a pastor after all and that is what we do. We draw connections between experience and God, constantly looking for the Spirit in the world.

As I have meditated about this life growing inside me, I have been thinking about the concept of Theotokos-the God bearer. Originally this Greek term was used to describe the most famous pregnant woman ever-Mary. She was ultimately and literally God bearer as she carried the Messiah into the world. 

Theotokos has also been used by Christian theologians as a way to describe the Christian work and experience of bearing God into the situations and circumstances of everyday life. It describes the act of birthing the Kingdom through the love and hope of Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. It became a way to describe not just Mary, but all disciples of Christ, indicating the glorious opportunity we have to allow Christ to inhabit us.

As I thought about being a Theotokos, I started to realize how little I normally think about being that for God in all the circumstances in my life. I realized the stark contrast between how much I think about my baby girl-when I eat, when I sleep (I even have dreams about her), when I wake, when I preach, when I sit down and my back hurts, when I rise up and my back hurts, and so many moments in between.

I must confess, I do not always think of Jesus as often. And yet my job as God bearer to all with whom I come into contact has been in play for far longer than I have been expecting a baby. Far after my little girl grows up and has children of her own, I will still have Christ in me.  

So I began to wonder-many good things come from wondering-what if we, as Christians, thought about God as much as women who are pregnant think of the lives that are growing inside them. What if we thought about Him when we sit to eat and when we awake in the morning? What if we dreamed dreams about the Kingdom? What if we thought of God when we made every decision-from what to eat and how to consume given our place in the world and in the grand scheme of God's justice to where we walk-in the comfortable, sterile neighborhoods, or the out of the way places where the hurting go to hide?

What if, for as long as we had days to live, we took as seriously this job of God bearer as a pregnant woman takes her task of nurturing the life within?

The amazing thing about being a God bearer is that although the first one was a woman, you do not have to be a woman to bear Christ into the world. Although we ladies get all the 'fun' of morning sickness, warping bodies, kicks to the ribs in the middle of the night, and the final terrifying culmination of gestation, men can participate in the bearing of life in their role as Theotokos.

Each of us-male or female-can be thoughtful to the life of Christ in us-which as Colossians 1 proclaims is the hope of glory! My prayer for the Church is that we do each thing with the conscious thought of Christ in us. My hope is that we make our decisions about where to go, what to do, what to say, and how to love based on the fact that God dwells in us.

I am so thankful to be a part of a denomination that is pregnant with the love of God and imagines how it will infect a hurting and dying world with the hope of glory. With Jesus Christ, God is with us, in us, for us.

'I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness--the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory' (Colossians 1:25-27).

Bethany Hull Somers is pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Mount Vernon, Washington. On July 2, she met her daughter, Nyah Ione Somers.

Read these articles in Holiness Today related to this topic:
-Finding meaning in Advent: hXXp://tinyurl.com/2dk3fxm
-Meet some exceptional women in Jesus' family tree: hXXp://tinyurl.com/25jhdwf

Holiness Today, November-December 2010