This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Advent day 21: God our midwife and mother

Melissa Florer-Bixler worships at Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. 

“Rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her—
that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious bosom.”
Isaiah 66:10-11

Today’s Scripture reading offers a complex image of God as nurturer; Isaiah prophesies images of God as attentive midwife and breastfeeding mother. At times Isaiah portrays God as entering the birth process itself, as the one who both opens and shuts wombs. God—whose constancy and nurture are manifest in Zion—this God births and then brings her baby, her people, to her breast. Isaiah tells us that there is enough sustenance in God’s body—enough milk, enough comfort, enough life—enough to feed God’s people in abundance.

The people of Zion are part of God’s life: the God who is their midwife, the God who is their nursing mother—someone who provides life-giving milk for them. And not only for them, but also for the cosmos. These images from Isaiah animate the hymns of Ephrem the Syrian from the fourth century.

“Though Most High, yet He sucked the milk of Mary, and of His goodness all creatures suck!” writes Ephrem. “He is the Breast of Life, and the Breath of Life; the dead suck from His life and revive.” God has a body, a productive body, a mothering body, and a body that feeds.

In this same hymn Ephrem writes, “When He sucked the milk of Mary, He was suckling all with Life. While He was lying on His Mother’s bosom, in His bosom were all creatures lying.”

Mary, Jesus’ mother, provides the shape, the texture of God’s life, of God bearing us within his womb, of creation nursing at God’s breast. Ephrem imagines Jesus in the form of Mary—Jesus as the one who offers an abundance of life from his breast—life for the world, the breastmilk of God.

The historian Margaret Miles explains how “a human body’s best show of power, and the evidence of Christ’s fully human incarnation, was the Virgin’s presentation of Christ from her own body.”[1] Isaiah, too, knows the power of this image—how the God of Zion is manifest not in lofty royal theology but in daily life, in the persistent abundance of God made known in daily bread, in healing from illness, and in friendship.[2]  Perhaps this is why Isaiah provides an image in which we can imagine God as a midwife or a wet nurse—someone who comes alongside a mothe, to offer up herself as a partner in nurturing and another source of life alongside a parent.

This Advent I long for a God who looks like this mother—a God of consolation. I long for a God who consoles an infant at her breasts; who has felt that strange pull, the warmth and flow from her glands. I long for a God who does the hard work of pumping for her baby, waking at 3 A.M.; the God who weeps through painful feedings. I long for the one that Ephrem describes as Christ our mother—the one who holds us close, who gives his life that we may have life. “That you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breasts,” as Isaiah says, “that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.”

[1] Margaret Miles. A Complex Delight, 43.

[2] L. Juliana M. Claassens. Mourner, Mother, Midwife, 46.

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