Advent Thoughts: My Favorite Lusoga Word and Luke’s Gospel

When I lived in Uganda, I studied the Lusoga language, and I learned just enough to get by.  I spoke enough to teach simple Bible lessons in village churches and to bargain for tomatoes at the local market.

This is me with Stephen Kirya, as he gave me a ride on his bicycle, and Ronald Bwana is smiling in the background.

I remember the momentous first day when I shared an inside joke with someone, completely in Lusoga.  It was in a conversation with Stephen Kirya, a friend of ours from Bugaya village, and after all my blundering mistakes and  requests for my friends to repeat what they had said – and their requests for me to repeat what I had said, I finally shared a simple, humorous exchange without any hard work on either party’s part –and Kirya and I laughed and laughed, a side-hurting laugh.

And, let me tell you, if there’s Ugandan you want to hear laugh, it’s Kirya.  He’s got a great laugh.  That one joke alone made learning Lusoga worth it.    I would tell you the joke, but it involves so many cross-cultural understandings about chickens that it would not be funny to anyone else.  That’s the beauty of inside jokes.

Learning another language teaches us so much about our selves and our culture. It’s sort of silly to choose a favorite word in Lusoga, but I have one.  My favorite word is alinda.  There’s no specific word for pregnancy in Lusoga, and there are some cultural reasons why it’s not exactly polite to talk about pregnancy.  I remember when I was growing up in Southern culture, I was taught that it’s impolite to talk about pregnancy in mixed company.  So, the word I first heard to describe a woman’s pregnant state was “She’s expecting.”  My mom always whispered it, like it was a secret.  Oh nowadays, in our liberated society, we talk about pregnancy so openly that it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t post pictures of growing bare bellies on Facebook, refer to pregnancy as preggers and prego, and share intimate details of pregnancy with anyone who will listen.  Culture and language fascinate me, and I think that’s why I so appreciate the word alinda.  

It’s a way of describing what a woman is doing when she’s pregnant:  “She is waiting.”  She is waiting to know if it’s a boy or girl.  Waiting for that wonderful smell of a new baby. Waiting to choose a name. Waiting to meet the child she will love fiercely.  Waiting to nurture. I love it!  It so describes my experience of pregnancy, the anticipation, the longing to hold a child I’m already holding, but in a whole new way.

In this week of the Advent season, Christians remember anticipation in the story of Jesus, and it’s Luke who tells it so well in his Gospel.  As we read about a pregnant woman in Luke, we often think of Mary, and we certainly shouldn’t miss Mary!  But, if we skip to Mary, we miss another pregnant woman, Elizabeth.  And Luke doesn’t want us to miss Elizabeth!

Read through Luke chapter 1 and see Elizabeth, Elizabeth as she waits, Elizabeth alinda.

Elizabeth’s waiting had been a long wait in which the light of hope had almost been extinguished.  She had waited month after month for the telltale sign that she would give birth, but every month held new disappointment.  Her waiting was an anguished wait, a tortured ache, a grief-filled longing.

Luke wants us to put together Elizabeth’s longing ache for a child and Israel’s ache for a promised Messiah. 

In the Old Testament, we read that God spoke to his people through prophets.  Their role was to listen and then speak God’s heart, plan, judgment, and promise to the people.  The prophets relayed God’s anger and grief over their sin, as well as the consequences they must face.  But they also told people not to be afraid, to remember God’s love for them, to remember the promise that something big would come, something so big that it would change everything.

When the people doubted, they whispered the promise that had been delivered through the prophet Isaiah: Immanuel:  God with us.   The prophet Malachi eventually delivered what became the last words of prophetic promise for a long, long time. And in the long wait of silence for over four hundred years, no living person could remember what it was like to hear a prophet relay the words of God.

They held onto that promise in tightly squeezed fists.  Even when they got tired of holding on and wanted to give up, they passed the hope onto their children and grandchildren, asking them to hold it for them.  All they could do was wait, and it was an anguished wait, a tortured ache, a grief-filled longing.

Most of us are terrible at waiting.  Many of us can’t even wait until Christmas day to open the gifts under the tree.  And we impatiently skip over Elizabeth at this time of year and focus on Mary.  But, Luke didn’t write it that way.  Luke wants us to remember how Israel waited, and we’ll learn something about how to wait here and now when life is often filled with the pain of anguished waiting.

Birth of John the Baptist
Artist: Jacopo Pontormo, 1526
Gallery: Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

So when we light the hope candle of Advent, we are supposed to remember that even during the pain of the long wait for the Messiah, God’s people held on.  Their faith could not be extinguished.  They never stopped believing God’s promises and they hoped, perhaps an imperfect hope, that God would shatter the silence with the Promise.

This week, as you or your family rush through the first week of December, don’t forget to stop and hope.

Here are a few simple ways you might remind yourself, your children, and your community what it means to wait:

-If you want to celebrate Advent practically, try this– before you light your tree or wreath or Christmas candle, stop and wait a few minutes.  Spend time in silence, listening, remind yourself of what it means to hope in Christ or Journal about what you are waiting for spiritually.  How do you hope God will break into your life in new ways this Christmas season?  How tightly are you holding hope?

-If you have children, allow them to remove an ornament from the tree that reminds them of the Christmas story.  Put it in the middle of the dinner table, but tell them they have to wait to pass it around at the end of dinner – talk about waiting for Jesus, getting excited about his birth.  Or, as you enjoy Christmas candy with your children, tell them that you are going to wait a few minutes before eating it – talk to them about how hard it is to wait for something, and remind them that God’s people waited a long time for him to fulfill his promise.

-If you have teenagers, take some time to tell them what it was like when you were waiting for their arrival either through a pregnancy or adoption.  Share with them the hopes and longing that accompanied their own birth into this world.  And talk about the reality of infertility as we see in Elizabeth’s life, teaching them compassion and understanding for a situation they likely have not thought about in depth.  Or, as you drive your children home from school or sport activities, simply turn off the radio and encourage them to ride in silence, thinking about how God can work in silence when we turn off the noise around us.

The creative ideas for exploring hope are infinite.  We often become frustrated with ourselves for arriving at January 1st with the realization that December flew by quickly and with so many activities that we failed to celebrate the season.

May this Christmas be one filled with the hope of Christ.

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About Sara Barton

I’ve long loved God’s Word, and this blog will express a life immersed in God’s ongoing story. I’m thankful that my husband, John, and my kids, Nate and Brynn, are in the story with me. I teach Religion and English courses at Rochester College in Michigan. Before moving to Michigan, I served on a church-planting team in Jinja, Uganda. My book, A Woman Called, was released May 2012.
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