I could feel the intent and even apprehensive gaze of the congregation as I sat down on the floor for Children’s Sermon. I knew what they were all thinking, and I was thinking the same thing: will I be able to get back up off of this floor?
I was appointed to the charge back in July, three and half months pregnant. Now, entering my ninth month, the congregation has been able to lovingly as well as amusingly watch my transformation over the last several months. The questions that began with, Where is that baby bump? Transitioned to, Well she’s just poppin' out, isn’t she? And finally, When is your due date again? I don’t think you’re going to make it!
I acquired the nickname “Slim” as some of our more portly gentleman compared their belly sizes with me each week. Just recently did one concede that I finally had him beat. They loved that their preacher became more hot-natured and thus joined the ‘team air conditioning’ group of the congregation that felt the sanctuary was kept entirely too warm. And each Sunday of the last trimester has been an exciting time to come and see if the bulging pastor would fit into her robe for that morning.
The funny thing is that I often forget my blossoming belly despite the ever-present pregnancy symptoms. I am still surprised when I see a picture of myself and the rotund belly. With such a dramatic change in my body over the last nine -- but particularly just the past few -- months, my self-image or how I perceive my outer appearance hasn’t had time to catch up. I have to be careful to negotiate countertops, or give wider berth when I open doors, realizing that my actual body shape and size is drastically different from what I am used to.
It is difficult to come to terms with a dramatic transformation, particularly one that involves body image. Many people have mentioned that after losing weight, they still have to battle with their self-image of being a ‘fat’ or ‘chubby’ person that plagued them for so long.
The psychological, and particularly spiritual, potency of image is one that permeates virtually all aspects of our reality. As Christians, our self-image and our image of God has profound implications on how we live in the world. The transformation one experiences through an encounter with the Triune God creates a new socio-religious imagination. Brennan Manning in “The Wisdom of Tenderness” describes such a re-creation of image in this way:
Every change in the quality of a person’s life must grow out of a change in his or her vision of reality. The Christian accepts the Word of Jesus Christ as the master vision of reality. Jesus’ Person and teaching shape our understanding of God, the world, other people, and ourselves.
(When you Pray: Daily Practices for Prayerful Living, Rueben P. Job)
It should come as no surprise that as created beings we are such image-conscious people. It is reflected throughout the history of our cultures and civilizations. Our very creation was sparked and propelled through the act of God forming the created in God’s own image. It was through the loss of that image in humanity’s own tragic disobedience that a cosmic drama has played out in which God has faithfully and unswervingly sought to restore that image in humankind.
The restoration of God’s image is found in Christ, a momentous occasion we celebrate in Christmas. Advent provides the opportunity for us as individuals as well as a church to re-examine our ‘body image.’ Do we still cling to the old perception of ourselves, relying on past failures or shortcomings as a means to evaluate our self worth? Or with joyful abandon do we allow God to remake us into a new image, a new creation in which we can faithfully live out our witness and faith?
At a recent choir practice, our choir was singing the first and last verses of several Christmas hymns. One of the ones we sang was Hark the Herald Angels Sing. After finishing the final verse, many of the choir members chuckled as they remarked they had never heard of that verse before.
Adam's likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the New-born king!"
The beauty of these lines is how Christmas is a celebration not just of a single birth, but of an opportunity for all of creation to be transformed and revitalized through a renewed image found in the Christ child. Jesus’ very presence as the second Adam (Romans 5:18-21) gives ultimate hope for all to have a relationship with God through a once broken relationship redeemed, and a once corrupted image restored.
As people freed by the knowledge and hope in Christ, Advent can be a time of reflection by the community as well as a time of introspection for individuals. What is our body image? What self-image dictates our behavior in our relationships and the world? To claim the hope, freedom, and joy found in being bound up in the body of Christ is an image that takes getting used to, but one we have a wonderful opportunity to claim, proclaim, and live into as we enter into this new Christian year.
Rev. Nicole Jones D'10 is an alum of the Rural Ministry Fellows  program and pastor of the Gilboa-Peachland Charge in Peachland, N.C.