Advent Reflections 2013
For this Advent season I have two reflections for you to ponder. I encourage you to give ample space to explore each reflection - taking a week pondering each one; spending time with what I have written below, searching the passage the reflection is drawn from, sitting with and mulling over the questions carrying the some of the questions with you throughout your day. Drink deeply from and savor each reflection.
Advent Reflection One (First of two parts)
When I think of Advent my tendency is to rush to the manger craning my neck to see Jesus, to marvel at the tiny hands and feet of the creator of the heavens and earth, to watch as my Lord is tenderly held by his mother as she nurses him. I patiently wait for the arrival of the shepherds, enjoying and entering into their unbridled excitement as they gaze upon Mary and Jesus sharing about their wonderfully terrifying encounter with an angel and relaying the words the angels spoke to them regarding the identity of this child. I watch and listen for the responses of Mary and Joseph to their words, knowing they each have had their own encounter with an angel. But what is lost in my rush to the manger is the wonderful examples of two people of extraordinary faith, whose trust of God is awe-inspiring and unbelievably challenging. For each of them in their own way say yes to God and no to the plan they had for their own lives - they say no to their own plans and yes to God! They each by means of their responses to God's invitation said “Not my will but God's will be done” - the very words Jesus agonizingly utters to God in the garden as He contemplates his journey to the cross and the horrific ordeal that is to come.
In my tradition, unlike the original Christmas story, we have plenty of room for Jesus but no room for Mary and Joseph. We tend to be a little uneasy when pointing people to Mary and Joseph – especially Mary. As a result we have lost the wonderful example they each portray regarding what it means to be truly committed to following God. Their responses demonstrate a level of trust in God, trust of God that sorely challenges me and validates their choice as the mother of God and the “father” of Jesus.
Let’s take a brief look at Mary. She is a young teenager, most likely around 15. She has been pledged to Joseph, set apart for marriage. Joseph is a good, God-fearing, righteous man, a carpenter by trade, so for all intents and purposes they are set up to have a good life together. Mary is poised to be a bride, start a family, a family that will follow the Torah and honor and walk in the ways of the Jews. Yet, suddenly and without warning all that changes, for God has another story in mind. God’s story for Mary will put Mary on a very different path, a unique path, a path of suffering, anguish and gut- wrenching sorrow, a path beyond comprehension.
What happens? An appears to Mary relaying to her the following :The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
“I am the Lord’s servant (bond-slave). May it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:30-38)
Spend some time this Christmas season pondering what new story God may be inviting you into as you head into 2014. How is God inviting you to birth Jesus in and through your life, now and into the new year? Are you willing to turn aside from your current story, the current flow of your life if God invites you to do so? Why or why not? Does this possibility of God inviting on a new adventure of faith, excite you, frighten you, fill you with anxiety or joy – maybe all 4? Spend some time getting in touch with your internal feelings regarding God changing your current story and share that with God. Finally spend time pondering the words of Mary:
“May it be to me according to your word.” Are you willing to speak those words to God not knowing where this new path will take you? Why, Why not?
Advent Reflection One (part 2)
Let’s take a brief look at Joseph. Joseph is a God-fearing man, who is getting ready to marry Mary, a wonderful Jewish girl who loves God and lives a God-honoring life characterized by purity and holiness. He has truly been blessed by God. Yet, suddenly and without warning all that changes, for God has another story in mind. God’s story for Joseph will put him on a very different path, a unique path, a path beyond comprehension.
What happens? Joseph finds out that Mary is with child. His bride has been dishonored and under Jewish law can be put to death for her sin. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Mt 1:19-25)
Spend some time this Christmas season pondering what dream God may be inviting you to embrace as you head into 2014. How is God inviting you to participate in birthing Jesus in and through your life, now and into the new year? Are you willing to listen for and enter into God’s dream for your life if God invites you to do so? Why or why not? Does this possibility of God inviting you to embrace a new dream excite you, frighten you, fill you with anxiety or joy – maybe all 4? Spend some time getting in touch with your internal feelings regarding being open to God’s dream for your life and share that with God. Sit with the words regarding Joseph; “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” Are you willing to say yes to God, to say with Joseph (and Mary) “Not my will but Thy will be done”? Why or why not?
Advent Reflection Two
As I was hanging stockings by our chimney with care, reveling in the blinking lights and ornaments adorning our tree, I became aware of something dancing in my head, -- no not dancing, it was more of an irritation, a splinter in my mind, in my heart. As I paused to consider this, a word began to float to the surface, like a bloated corpse - lifeless, unnerving, a word bearing witness to another reality of this season, namely the brokenness of our world. This sudden intrusion caught me unprepared and everything in me wanted to re-submerge this word, yet I knew this word communicates something often experienced during this season, a word that is no stranger to but is a guest in the houses and around the tables of all too many people. The word was barrenness - a word found in an earlier part of the Christmas story*, but a word lost or perhaps more accurately buried beneath the parade of angels, bright shiny stars, a baby in a manger, the wonder and worship of shepherds, the pondering of a young mother. It seems in our effort to keep this word buried we resort to piling on wise men, donkeys, sheep, even a drummer boy for good measure. Yet this word belongs in the story. Barrenness is a word that described and possibly, at least in part, defined Elizabeth, the woman who would give birth to John the Baptist. A woman who had endured the pain of watching her friends and other families enter into the joy of giving birth, of loving and caring for a child, watching a little one grow and develop into a grown woman or man. She was not one who was granted the gift of co-creation of life, not one who had the honor and privilege of giving birth. Rather she was one who suffered at the hands and by the words of well-meaning friends. Much of what was considered normal life was at times a painful reminder to her of her barrenness.
Yes, I know all this will change for Elizabeth and I know that in the course of the biblical narrative of the Christmas story we will be reminded that God is the God of the impossible made possible, but when we rush to those wondrous and glorious truths we leave others behind - those who have not yet experienced life springing in their womb or who have experienced other types of barrenness, so although I want to ignore this word or quickly wrap it up in pretty wrapping paper with a lovely bow, I resist this. Instead I stay with the word barrenness, owning the truth of the word for my own life as well as the lives of others known and not known to me. This, a word that described Elizabeth's life, a reality many will experience during this wondrous season of the year we call Christmas. For them each Hallmark moment elicits not joy but pain, sorrow, grief. The chorus they hear is not the Halleluiah chorus but a litany of what if, if onlys that leads to despair.
What if this Christmas we asked God for the gift of true compassion, the God-given ability to see and be present (pun intended) alongside those whom we know suffer during the Christmas season. Those whose wombs remain empty, no angel has visited them, those who have lost a child, a mother, father, loved one…who celebrate/endure their first Christmas without them, an empty chair at the table, a symbolic stocking hung by the chimney with care, for those who are themselves or have loved ones entering into this season battling cancer, or some other disabling and life robbing disease, for families where sexual/physical abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse have brought barrenness, for the homeless, the poor, the disenfranchised, those who lost jobs, are caught in the sex trade, are estranged from families and friends, in nursing homes….
Please remember if you ask God for the gift of compassion, that this is not about fixing someone, but birthing the reality of Jesus in their midst (Emmanuel; God with us), by coming alongside, being with, listening to, weeping with, sharing stories…by being a grace-filled, loving presence that acknowledges the pain but doesn't take the role of savior, fixer, defender of God, or pontificator for God. You are there to be with - this may involve a short visit, a walk around the block, a cup of coffee, the bringing of baked goods, an invite for a meal, a small gift…something that says I see you, I know you, I care about you and you are not alone. These are the very truths of the Christmas story. Ask God how you could share something manifesting the love, grace and mercy of God and with whom God would have you share it. Christ have mercy.
*But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. (Mt 1:8)
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