A few weeks ago our advent bulletin read, “The Angst of Advent and the Coming of Christ.” I must say that I was excited because I have plenty of angst in December. But I also have to confess that it is most often not connected to Christ’s coming but instead to everything else that occurs this month.
And somehow that is what made me wonder about Mary. She’s certainly a December heroine who had to deal with advent angst and the coming of Christ in ways that we can only imagine! Are we so familiar with her story that you might be wondering if there is anything new to know about her?
Perhaps nothing new, but just a reminder that our hearts – as hers – will always be filled with longing and very often we will receive something very different than what we expected.
One thing I’ve been pondering about Mary’s story is that she was familiar with other stories. As a very young girl, she knew the story of Hannah well enough that Hannah’s words show up in her own song of praise. Her amazing canticle, the Magnficat is partially cut and pasted from Hannah’s song.
How did that happen?
Well, we can’t be sure but it’s not hard to imagine that in the stories of the Old Testament women were familiar to the Jewish women who shared Mary’s life and that she had heard those stories often enough that the words came easily back to her.
I fear that some of our problem identifying with women of the Bible is that we come to their stories thinking we know all the details and we could never be like them anyway! Perhaps we even fear that the point of their stories is that we should be modeling what they displayed. Doesn’t that take us toward making their stories a law for our stories? “We should have the prayer vigilance of Hannah, the compassion and daring of Ruth, the faith of Mary – to name only a few. “
What if it isn’t so much about what they did but more about what they received and believed that we are invited into?
Their stories and our stories are written with longing – either expressed or unexpressed. In December especially we get the idea of longing, and we look toward more health, more wealth, more time, more beauty, more romantic moments, more to give to others, even more sleep. It’s a long list that even contains good things.
But what set Mary’s story apart is that though her young life must have felt like it was careening out of control, she not only received the message of the angel with an open heart, but she believed that her story – in all of its incredulity – was joining with a story that God had been telling for centuries and would go on telling after her chapter was told.
Ah, that’s a sweet place to go with the angst of advent!
How about adopting a wild willingness to join the story of the ages and to receive again the faith to believe that God is at work in your story! Stop for a moment and imagine that the details of your life are somehow a part of the new creation that Jesus began and God will bring to pass!
But we can also embrace the ordinariness of Mary. She needed something we each need. Mary went almost immediately to a place where we may also find comfort in December. She went and told her new story to another woman, Elizabeth, who as it turned out had a story of her own!!! (I love the way God adds the details just so we can be sure He embraces who we are as women!). Please hear Mary’s visit to Elizabeth as a small plug for joining other women sometime this month to share your angst and longing.
But here’s another thought about longing. When we say that all our longings are fulfilled in Him, it isn’t the case that our longings come to an end, but exactly the opposite. In our lives, we don’t know how to long for enough!!! And yet, we are, as Mary, invited to long for something far beyond the twinkling lights of an ordinary world-class December. The invitation is toward something way more like the cosmic glittering star-filled drama of an immense universe. The Creator God – who holds all things together by the word of his power – has come to dwell with us! Not just with the characters in the gospel account of his birth – but with us… Now! …and Not Yet!
May I invite you into wonder?
May I encourage you to embrace some of the angst you might feel and see where it could lead you? Perhaps you will end up willing to embrace the very waiting that Advent represents? For a few moments in the next weeks, would you allow yourself to long, imagine and even dream of the ‘not yet’?
The story of Jesus’ first coming is meant to invite us toward a gospel-filled heart that dreams of the day that will come and how our stories will join all creation in a song that is even greater than the one Mary composed!
Mary opened her hands, her heart and even her body to receive not only a child, but her Savior. This December we all need our Savior to come to us! We need him to turn our longing into faith and fill our sometimes lonely, angst-filled hearts with His sweet presence.
As Lucy Shaw has so beautifully expressed in her poem,
Made Flesh - We need ”an open door to forever” and Jesus offers that to us today and everyday.