Travailing. Labouring. Groaning in the pains of childbirth.
Whatever you call it, it means long hard work. Patient, painful persistence. For much of history, one of the most dangerous activities a woman could undertake. And still, in our civilised Western world, one of the more unpredictable and undignified things we are likely to do.
At Christmas, we remember the travail of one woman. Mary. How her labour brought forth the Saviour, the long-expected Messiah, and thereby changed the world.
But not completely. Because Advent is also a looking forward to Jesus' coming again. And this time we all have a labour to undertake. Somehow, in some way, the whole of creation is pushing and striving its way towards a new beginning. And we ourselves are involved.
The Christmas story has given us a taste of what to expect - an inkling of the struggle required, a glimpse of the glory attained. Each Advent, we look backwards, to remember, and we look forwards, to the goal. And we find hope to continue with our travail.
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.