Advent. It is a time of hope, of waiting, of anticipation. It marks the waiting the world has always known. So many words have been said about Advent. We want to enter it, we want to live it. We want to savour this time-this lead up to Christmas.
Advent is a time where we can step back, and reflect on this peculiar, kind of upside-down story of how God chose to enter our world …. as a baby—His Very Word made Flesh. And its a time that can be about preparing a place inside of us, within our carefully crafted lives, where God might enter, in his upside-down way, in his word-made-flesh kind of way.
As I have read and meditated on the lectionary Advent readings this month, it seems that rather than mark a nice, comfortable path to the end of the story in Christmas, what I think Advent does or can do is prepare us for the the beginning of this new story; these readings take us to an open door more than they lead to a happy hallmark twinkly light ending.
And you can really see this by looking at the whole month of Advent and the scriptures we reflect upon. They have this sense—not just of a Christmastime “hope” but of a deep and very deep prophetic longing—that longing and waiting that speaks to our innermost selves and what we need of God and also somehow it is a longing that speaks to the world. These scriptures, then, are also about offering or yielding or preparing a place for that longing to grow into and then pour out of.
When we look at the the first week of Advent, is all about Crying for God to Come. The Scripture readings center around God’s people, CRYING OUT for God to appear decisively—Scriptures like Isaiah 64 which cry for God to tear open the Heavens, or Psalm 80 where the people are crying out from exile, “restore us Lord”. There is deep pain, the knowledge of deep injustice and yes, desperation for God to show himself that is not in any way lost on us today.
In the Second week of Advent, the scriptures all talk about GETTING READY for God to come—Isaiah 40, a voice is to cry out “Prepare God’s Way” and then in the gospel of Mark with John the Baptist so roughly and unequivocally calling for repentance, for baptism for the forgiveness of our sins and for getting ready for the Kingdom coming. Its such an honest preparing, baring of ourselves to get ready for God to come that the scriptures call us to. Its terrifying, really, that honesty.
Then on the third Sunday of Advent we are finally promised the GOOD NEWS. The nature of this news is being fleshed out in the scriptures of this week. Is. 61 talks about the Spirit of the Lord anointing a prophet who will bring Good News to the oppressed, the Psalm this Sunday is one of Ascent that the pilgrims would sing , returning from exile on the way to the rebuilt temple. And the gospel reading this week is John the Baptist who is pointing to a new and radical kind of Good News—one that is not like himself…”there’s one coming….” Its not like anything they had ever seen.
And then we come to the fourth Sunday of Advent. We read the annunciation and Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1 and and the scriptures all make the point- the Good News is officially announced. And its announced…. to a girl. And moreover, its announced that this GOOD NEWS is coming THROUGH this girl and her baby. The promised end that all these scriptures have been pointing towards is shown to be a real, incarnated beginning—that is in fact, a human life. A small, vulnerable infant, completely dependant on another small girl who somehow made room within her for the BIGNESS of the fulfillment of ALL that deep pain and, deep preparing, deep hoping that preceeded this new life.
And this is the story that we get to live in during Advent. This is where we sit with the God we have known to break into our own lives and just talk about preparing our own hearts for this season of longing, and this season of waiting, and this season of yieldedness, openness and preparation for what God is always doing. We walk through this season and at the end we find there is not a final end but actually a doorway we are invited to walk through.
The following is a modified Lectio Divina on Luke 1. Lectio Divina which just means, “divine reading.” It’s a way of slowing down our reading and engaging and responding to Scripture, to the very familiar words. Read the passage of scripture a number of times and after each time spend some time in silence, holding what you’ve read, letting it roll around you a bit.
As you read the text, hold it lightly. Even with all those words I just said about Advent, don’t try to listen or respond in the “right” way to the text. You can take some time to “THINK” about Advent later. Now is a time for experiencing it in God’s presence. If a word or phrase catches your attention, sit with it. Don’t feel you have to grasp or deal with the whole text. This is not analyzing or informational reading….its reading the text in such a way that allows you to enter into it, not stand above it, trying to glean something from it. There are some questions to guide the silences but if God is speaking to your heart about something or calling you to stay with a word or thought, then follow that. As with any time you come to God in this way of silence and mediation, don’t judge your feelings or reactions that come up as good or bad—but just hold what happens in that silence open before God, bring what comes up into the light and ask Him what He would say to you.
Very often God uses what surprises or startles or disturbs us as the beginning of something transformative. I see this in Advent – the waiting and anticipation and weight of ALL our hopes. And its fulfillment in a tiny, vulnerable baby born to a couple of kids in the middle of nowhere.
In You we put our trust. Meet each of us in the place where you know we will find you, in the place of our own longing and deep hope. Prepare and open our hearts-in your completely unexpected and completely perfect ways.
Advent Lectio Divina
Luke 1: 26-38
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the girl’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, “Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favor! The Lord is with you. “ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of this ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end. “ Mary said to the angel, “But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. And I tell you this too; your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, FOR NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE TO GOD. Mary said, “You see before you the Lord’s servant. Let it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.
Is there one word or phrase that God is impressing on you? Turn it over in your heart. Hold it up to God and ask him to show you why its staying with you.
What do you feel as you hear this? Can you imagine yourself in this scene? What do Gabriel’s words make you feel? What do Mary’s words make you feel? Is there something specific in your life that connects with this? What can you hold up to God? Feel free to write down any thoughts or prayers.
What is the invitation to you tonight? How is He inviting you into this Word? How do you find yourself responding? Write down what God might be saying. Or rest quietly.
Thank you always God. This story gathers us anew every year. Open our eyes, our ears and our hearts. Breathe your breath into this season. Prepare us to deeply hope in you, to cry out to you, to know you dwelling within us and to know you pouring out into our world. Prepare us to know your Peace, your Hope, your Joy, your Love, even as we now wait in darkness. In your Holy Name…Amen.