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Mary's Yes: A Meditation for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 18, 2016

Be it unto me as you have said:
may my heartbeat be his ocean
even as my veins run wet with rain
that he spoke into existence.
Be it unto me as you have said:
that the Word Himself will cry out
for my embrace in the dark
which in the beginning, he named Night.
Be it unto me as you have said:
thus my hands will guide his first step
on the green earth that is turning
safely in the curve of his palm.
Be upon me, be within me,
be over me, be beside me,
be, grow, walk, God:
I am the servant of the Lord.

Advent is a season of pregnancy. It begins a new church year, which walks through the story of Jesus’ life. But when we begin, we don’t start with Jesus' birth. We start by expecting. We start with conception—his coming as conceived by the prophets. Then, the fourth and final Sunday of Advent culminates with the sudden appearance of a celestial messenger to a Jewish girl, bearing the promise of a baby boy. This last Sunday belongs to Mary, and her story is the icon by which we learn to say yes to God.

In Luke's Gospel, he tells us that when the veil between what is seen and what is unseen is snatched away before Mary’s eyes, she is greatly troubled. But she doesn’t run. The angel says that she will have a son. To bear a son in the ancient Middle East was a sign of honor, even success. But certainly not before marriage. It’s perilous, this promise. It’s not without pain.

Who will believe me? she may have wondered. “How will this be?” she asks Gabriel. As a Jew, Mary would have prayed for the advent of the Messiah—the one who God promised would come and save her people from suffering. But to be the vessel by which he emerges into the world? “One day,” was here, and it didn’t look like she expected.

Gabriel tells her more: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." Scholars tell us that the word translated as overshadow is the same word used for the holy presence of God that dwelled within the Jewish temple. Mary was going to be a temple, her womb the Holy of Holies—the sanctum where the very presence of God resides.

Then, comes the part in Luke’s story where my breath snags every single time—Mary’s yes. “Behold,” she says, "I am the servant of the Lord: let it be to me according to your word.”

She doesn’t ask any more questions. She says yes before she knows what her intended husband is going to say. She says yes to being ostracized, to nausea and sore feet and labor, to sleepless nights, to utter mystery, and to unfathomable blessing. She says yes to God. Her yes is a step out of her known reality, setting foot into virgin territory. No one can tell her what is going to happen. Her faith is astonishing. I’m a woman, not too much older than Mary might have been. What answer would I have given?

Maybe we have not seen an angel, but we are offered the promise of Christ all the same. Mary’s yes is a picture of the yes that we can give, too. The church fathers call Mary the first Christian (Christ-in), as she was the first to have Christ within her. If you have said yes to Jesus, like Mary did, you are called to bear him within you and bring him into the world, like Mary did. And just like Mary, your circumstances will be less than ideal. Things will be against you. There won’t be any epidural for the painful process of surrendering your body to God. There wasn't any room in the hotels when God’s mother arrived to Bethlehem, sweating and swollen. I think God could have convinced the innkeeper, if that had been his will—hadn’t Mary been through enough, riding on a swaybacked donkey over rocks, scandalously huge with a baby that’s not her husband's? But Mary had made room for Jesus in her body, and she was willing to bleed for him on the filthy ground if that’s what God’s promise of salvation meant. She would one day watch him bleed on a filthy cross.

May we give that kind of yes to God. May we prepare him room within our hearts, our bodies, within our very lives. May we go to the stable, and then to the cross, believing his promises, saying yes when it makes no sense, when it hurts, when it leads into the unknown. May we surrender ourselves to him this Advent, that we may be vessels of his deliverance, bringing him into the world. And like Mary, may they say of us, “Blessed are they who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to them from the Lord.” Come, Lord Jesus.

Tagged: advent, poem

How to Celebrate Advent as a Family

December 02, 2016

advent

ˈadˌvent/

noun
1. the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
synonyms: arrival, appearance, emergence, materialization, occurrence, dawn, birth, rise

Advent comes upon me suddenly every year, and I feel unprepared to provide a soulful Christmas preparation that is not solely baking and hunting for the best Christmas gifts. We end up doing some meaningful things, but I always feel a little harried.

This year I prepared in advance....maybe because it is the first year in many that I am not pregnant or caring for an infant. I thought I would offer some Advent suggestions for all who may read so that you might be jump started to get ready for this amazing season. Now is the time to make a plan and be ready for that first Sunday of Advent, right after Thanksgiving.

Advent is worth celebrating. Advent is considered the start of the liturgical year, as we prepare our hearts for Christ's coming--both in the end of time and in to our hearts more fully in the same way that he broke into this sinful world. A celebration of Advent saves the season from degenerating into a panicked commercialized circus. It reminds us for four weeks that we are not waiting on Santa, but on Jesus.

First, I would ask the Lord, "What do you want to do in me and in our family this Advent?" Then ask him to lead you to resources that will help make your Advent celebration intentional.

—The Advent wreath is a great tradition, partly because nothing quiets children and adults like darkness and a couple of burning candles. The symbolism of Christ bringing light into the darkness is right there before us. You do not need a specific Advent wreath to do this. I just bought a wreath of greens, wrapped a beautiful purple and gold ribbon around it, put four candle holders in the center of it with three purple candles and one pink one. (The pink one is for Mary, but you don't have to have a pink one). You will need a center candle of white for Christmas Day. We have a special table for the wreath, and on it we put a purple cloth we found at an ethnic resale shop. Along with the wreath, we usually put some nativity scene and an icon of John the Baptist, as the one who called us to prepare the way for Jesus. We let different children light candles, blow out the candles, and lead the prayers.

—This year I am going to use this small booklet you can find on Amazon for $1, O Radiant Dawn. It is a FIVE minute daily guide to lighting the candle, has beautiful selections of individual verses for each day and then asks a discussion question (one for older children or adults, one for younger children). It is good to have a short liturgy to do so that all can enter in. This book recommends learning the hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel by singing a verse everyday. You could choose any hymn. We will plan to do this everyday, and if we get in four days, that will be sixteen times around the wreath as a family. I may choose to do this in the morning starting the day, as it is dark where we live when we get up.

—In the evening, we will read a chapter in the storybook, Bartholomew's Passage: A Family Story for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide. The first one in his series is Jotham's Journey: A Storybook for Advent, which we read for a couple of Advents. I will offer that whoever is reading may have to edit some violent scenes of Essenes defending themselves against marauders and such. This is a fiction series but helps place the nativity story in historical context, and we all learned through the story. Children are usually begging for the next chapter every night.

—Another chapter book that brings me to tears and my father has read to all of his grandchildren, as it is his favorite book, A Tree for Peter, by Kate Seredy. Though it is not directly about the nativity, it is all about opening our hearts to love and transformation, and this is catalyzed in the story by a Christ figure. You could also simply choose a different picture book every night. I will provide a list on another post, if you need suggestions.

—I will also be asking my children to choose one person or family who is in need for them to serve in some way over Advent. This could be making a meal, shoveling snow, free babysitting, writing someone who is lonely. I hope this will help pull them away from a self-focused expectation of Christmas.

—I am still praying about my own personal devotional time during Advent, specifically about what book God would have me read for the deeper stirring in my soul as I wait on him.

—A dear friend of ours brings Advent calendars every year for each child. The anticipation of opening each window is an exciting moment every day. Before we had the generosity of this friend, we all shared one calendar and took turns opening windows. This is a great way to build anticipation.

—Advent will also include beautiful music, and I have to admit that we are not liturgically correct and do listen to Christmas music during Advent. But here is a beautiful Advent collection: Birth of Jesus: A Celebration of Christmas by John Michael Talbot.

—And Advent will include baking, making Welsh Cakes for some friends. This happens throughout Advent with different children helping me on different days as they learn the family recipe and method. Then we all have fun packaging and distributing them.

—Try Joni Eareckson Tada's book of hymns that comes with a C.D. and a story about each hymn: O Come All Ye Faithful: Hymns of Adoration and Joy to Celebrate His Birth. This is a great book to work through over Advent, especially if your family is musical.

Many people use the Jesse Tree figures which you can google and download. These are figures that tell the story of the Scriptures over the whole of Advent and are a great way to review God's work in history leading up to his coming. You can find paper downloads and have children color them. I have a dream of felting these figures someday to hang on a tree, but that would mean getting ready for Advent in January, and I haven't yet gotten that good.

I hope that as you wait on God as to how you should live into Advent you will be able to see it not as a heavy burden, but as a tool through which to open your hearts and your homes to God's light. Remember, do not let perfection rob you of what God could bring. It will rarely be perfect or rarely what you imagined. But it will be full of life and laced with the presence of God himself.