Reflection Dec 10th: Advent

Church Newsletter 121023

 

Let’s pray, a poem from Wil Gafney

We are waiting

We are waiting in the dark

We are waiting in the holy darkness

We are waiting in the womb of God

Between this Advent and the next

We wait.

Amen

 

Yes Advent is a time of waiting. Waiting for Christmas morning and the gifts under the tree or waiting to catch up with family. But probably for the majority of people here we are most eagerly waiting for the holidays to begin and a chance to rejuvenate a little.

 

These are all good things but in the church we are we are waiting for something, for someone, even more profound and holy.

 

This week I was reading an Advent reflection from a prison chaplain named Liz Milner and she said this,

“Working in the jail is a gift, because it places in front of me each day men and women who are waiting for deeply sacred gifts: healing, freedom, restoration, transformation, love. These children of God challenge my all too often frivolous, though fun, anticipations, and show me that this season of Advent holds a deeper gift, if I can pause to look more closely.

 

The inmates I work with have an abundance of something that we outside the jail often lack: time. For many, this leads to anxiety and depression. However, for some, it forces a self-reflection and God-search that can be profound. The writings that follow are by these men and women, reflecting on what they are waiting for as they serve time.

 

I am waiting for freedom

I am waiting for a really Big Slurpy

I am waiting for my Self to see

I am waiting for a better time

I am waiting for the day I meet God

 

I am waiting for hope to shed some light

I am waiting for God to stop saying not yet

I am waiting for the light to get a little brighter

I am waiting for the new me to be fully out

I am waiting for my chance to show God I’m ready.

 

I am waiting for life to begin.

I am waiting for my first friend.

I am waiting for my own words.

I am waiting for my own tears.

I am waiting for my laughter.

I am waiting for love

 

These men and women are waiting, literally, for freedom and life to begin again. Their honesty and hope shines through, and, in my experience, allows the waiting to become an inherently transformative experience rather than just a holding pattern.

 

I hope these words can encourage us, this Advent to wait for that something more.

 

This second week of Advent we are again reflecting on the theme, the question, how does a weary world rejoice?

 

Last week we began by acknowledging our weariness. This week we find joy in connection.

 

Our reading today about the coming birth of Jesus in many ways mirrors last week’s reading about the coming birth of John. An angel appears and announces a miraculous birth of an extraordinary child. For Zechariah and Elizabeth, their advanced age makes it a miracle for Mary it is of course because she is a virgin. However, as this community waits for the birth of two children I am reminded that all birth and life is in fact miraculous.

 

Luke’s Gospel tells us that when the angel Gabriel leaves Mary, she sets out “with haste,” to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth in the hill country.  Luke does not say why Mary leaves Nazareth, but we can probably imagine why a girl in her circumstances would make such an urgent journey.

 

While Mary assents to God’s call on her life, at this point her pregnancy – unlike Elizabeth’s – must to feel to her not so much a gift; but a potential disaster.  Her yes to God is costly, dangerous and potentially very lonely.  At best, it renders her the object of gossip, scorn, and ostracism in her village. At worst, it places her at risk of death by stoning.

 

Ultimately, all the followers of Jesus, since Mary, who have chosen the path of costly disciple follow in HER footsteps.

 

I suspect she does not fully know if Elizabeth and Zechariah will receive her in their home but she takes the risk of the journey perhaps because the angel’s mention of them gives her the hope they might just understand what is happening to her. They might be able to explain some things she does not yet understand.

 

And she is right.

 

On arrival Elizabeth pronounces, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

 

This blessing, however does not alter Mary’s situation. She is still at risk of gossip, scorn, ostracism and death. Her fiancé still might yet leave her, her family disown her.

 

And Elizabeth no doubt has some fears of her own, about the dangers inherent in her upcoming birth and her age and if her husband will ever speak again.

 

And yet despite their fears, these two women come together, exchange stories and confirm each other’s callings with loving acceptance. In doing this they realise that what is happening is truly bigger than both of them and their individual stories. They find joy in their connection.

 

This week I was listening to a conversation between Miroslav Volf and Willie J Jennings on a theology of Joy. Volf is a Croatian theologian from the former Yugoslavia, a country that has seen much conflict over the years. Jennings is an African American pastor and professor. Conflict and the divisions in our world have influenced the lives and work of both these men. However, they have also both reflected and written on joy. And in this conversation Volf asks Jennings, “what is joy?” And he says,

“Joy is an act of resistance against despair and all its forces and all the ways despair wants to drive us towards death and make death the final word, not simply the end of life but death as in all the ways life can be strangled and presented to us as not worth living.”

Volf then asks, “and how does one cultivate joy?”

And Jennings responds,

“you have to have people show you how, people who have made you laugh when you just want to cry, people who have showed you how to sing songs in a strange land, people who have learned how to ride the waves of chaos and say, come I’ll show you how.”

 

This is the joy of Elizabeth and Mary. It is not a cheap joy, given to them by consumer culture. It is a joy they cultivate as a resistance to fear, as a resistance to their oppressors. It is a joy they share. The older Elizabeth, after a long life of yearning shows her younger relative the way.

 

It is a joy rooted in their deep love for each other, for God, in whom at this time they are having to place a lot of faith and trust, and for the children they are about to bear.

 

And they will bear a lot more as their sons grow up to live the unconventional lives they both lived and of course to die the brutal deaths they both died.

 

I have no doubt that the courage and fierce love that their mothers gave and modelled was highly influential to both John and Jesus. I imagine they drew on it through their most difficult times.

 

Luke doesn’t say anything more about the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary, his story obviously focus on Jesus but I hope they were able to continue to support each other through their hard times. To find joy in their connection and strength in their love.

 

This is the love we are all called to. And so now let us sing, a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

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