LIVING IN COUNTERCULTURAL EXPECTATION
Boomerang and suddenly it’s December again. For some people, the end of a year can evoke melancholia over dreams and plans not realized and missed opportunities, not to mention the stark reality of the rapid passing of time. For Christians the Advent season that we enter into in the weeks before Christmas is in fact supposed to be preparation for Jesus’ “coming” at Christmas and it’s the start of a liturgical NEW year. New, not old or ending, but, in fact, we are beginning.
The Thanksgiving turkey carcass is barely soup and the twinkle lights have to go up, red and green everything has debuted, the carols are on a continual loop, a mad rush to get homes and apartments decorated, and finally bedeck ourselves in extra glittery get ups. It seems everything we do now in the world is cloaked in the instantaneous because of the rapid growth of technology and our ability to know, relate and consume more and more faster, sooner, always. Insta-everything is not always #Instagood. Plus social media is like a zoom lens into seemingly how much grander everyone else is living which sometimes perpetuates unhealthy coveting and competition.
Growing up my mom told us about how they wouldn’t really see evidence of Christmas until Christmas Eve when the tree would be decorated and their home would radiate at last the delights of the season. A generation older, my grandmother would never see evidence of “Christmas” until Christmas morning when their family would awake to a dazzling display of a fully lit and decorated tree, smells of cooking and shiny gifts. Significant of the glory of God’s coming. Significant of His timing and also a memory of a time gone by when we as a people waited better.
If you are already waiting for God’s long awaited promises for your life, more waiting and a season called Advent can stretch your spiritual stamina at just the thought of more waiting with even more preparation that is proposed when the world seems to have it all now. Didn’t we just have Lent? Commercials, magazines and Pinterest lure us to get this party started! And I’m a sucker for the lights and sounds as much as the neighbor next door, but there’s more.
Advent leads us to Christmas and Christmas is the promise of God for the whole world, our salvation and shared destiny for a heavenly home and a plan to live within the family of God here and especially in the next life. Living new in Christ leads us to the universal call to holiness that suggests that each one of us is called to be holy in the manner in which God calls us to live out our individual vocation, be it priest, religious, or laity (married) as our pathway to this destiny – and that by our Baptism we are missionary (sent).
Why I love Mary, the blessed Mother, so much is that she truly is the most patient of all and lived in radical waiting for God’s destiny and fulfillment in her life, all for us. With out her “yes” to God, we would not be having Christmas. It’s her Advent we should examine.
In those moments when waiting can seem like an impossible feat, I look to Our Lady who was such a vessel of grace and purity that she received God’s favor and illumination of things to come. Yes, Mary, set apart, waiting on the Lord, surrendered to His will brought about a heavenly response by grace. In the Gospel of Luke we hear about the angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary to announce ahead of time God’s plan for her life. (So, while we can ask “Mary did you know?” Rest assured, she KNEW). The good news here is that WE can know too. If we follow Our Lady’s example of prayer, sacrifice, and expectancy, God will visit us and illumine our path as well.
Mary lived in the prophetic. She was an open vessel with a disposition toward the Divine and was in relationship via prayer. Relationship necessitates communication and communion. Here’s what the Word of God says about this act in the life of Mary:
The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
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 Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38
This Advent, if you are waiting for the fulfillment of prayers that have not yet been answered, if the world seems to have turned on you and the thing or person destined to or for you appears to be nowhere in sight, or you suffer with an insurmountable struggle, you need only to wait for your breakthrough. You might be in the moment where the angel has departed. You may have a glimmer of what’s on the horizon, but the details have not been put together just yet.
In these waiting days, the best activities of the season are daily acts where we marry our self-will to the Divine Will of God and with that we communicate trust to our Creator no matter what our situation looks like. Mary’s situation to the outside world was a scandal. The world wasn’t privy to what she knew. Trust becomes a key to unlock the promise. Mary initially said, “How can this be? I do not know man?” And the angel instructed, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” That was enough for her. And her response was “May it be done unto me according to your word.” No further instructions, no further questions.
I want Mary’s Advent to be my Advent. I want her trust to be imparted into the areas of my life that are in waiting for the fulfillment of God’s spoken promises to me. The reality here is that once Mary had this big illumination, the path was not paved with hearts and flowers. She received this promise, it was declared she would be with child (the Savior!)… Joseph had to figure out his role in this Divine plan and also hear from God. He eventually caught up. (Matthew 1:20) She was patient with every aspect of the unfolding of His plan like when God’s collaborators had to be illuminated as well.
This profound knowing that Mary received in the foretelling is the hallmark of the Advent and Christmas season and should be an element of our faith that we keep all year long. Sometimes it may not seem fair that we have to wait. But look at the waiting as a sign of your destiny and a season of great preparation to receive the greater. We should decorate ourselves this Advent in authentic preparation for His coming anew into our lives with a power that is transformative. This Advent we should ask God’s grace to have the confidence to truly know that like Mary, that God has called us, destined us, planned for us, will speak to us, will use us, will instruct us, will make us an example in our trials, will ask great things of us, will send us, and He will do the impossible through us in His time.
If you are slow to get the lights up or whatever, go easy on yourself, Advent on and let His plan for your life unfold in this season of unmatched grace. I will leave you with this from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
Praying for you+