by Rev. Joan Kessler
These past four weeks of Advent have been, as they are every year, an exercise in spiritual waiting. As we lit our candles on our wreaths these past four Sundays, the brightness grows, and with childlike anticipation, the blessed event celebrating Jesus’ birth draws ever nearer. This Advent in the midst of a pandemic has been a particularly memorable for me, both in my personal reflection and in what we have shared in together on Sunday mornings. COVID has us looking in different directions, I think, for what this season means to us. You’ll recall we’ve shared with one another the Hope of the Christian story and what our favorite Christmas movies were; we found a sense of Peace in special places and particular situations; we discovered Joy in our family Christmas traditions, and this week we think of those whom we love and maybe are missing being with this special time of year. As I read Luke’s story of the Annunciation, of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to young Mary inviting her to a special task, I was struck by two themes:
The first is Anticipation. I read an interesting reflection this week that spoke of how COVID has taken away our looking to the future. We are having a hard time right now anticipating things and this can become a problem from a mental health perspective. The writer gave the example of an impending snowstorm that was approaching her community and how her family would normally look forward to a Snow Day… you know what I mean… the blizzard that shuts everything down and school is cancelled, and the kids all end up outside building snow forts with the neighbors. But with school largely online, the snow day becomes just another storm to be watched from the window. There’s no disruption to regular routine, nothing to look forward to. Eighteenth century writer, Samuel Johnson, named the connection between anticipation and change, as one of the greatest sources of human happiness. Much of our life’s joy is tied to expectation… it’s the looking forward to something that makes us feel good as much as the actual participation in the event itself. Johnson contends that even as we are experiencing the something new, we are already thinking of the next hoped-for pleasure, on in his words, “the next wish is to change again.” COVID has altered this bit of function for us. We are maybe having trouble seeing anything into the future that is pleasurable, and we can look forward to. But we can make a small start… planning small things, start dreaming again of what we want to see happen for us in the future.
I wonder what Mary was anticipating as she came to terms with the news of an unexpected pregnancy. She was but a girl, a young teenager, betrothed to Joseph… her whole future had been decided by cultural norms and expectations. I wonder what plans she had… did she want to hang out with her friends at the mall, learn a trade, travel beyond her sleepy little town at the end of the road where nothing much is going on? Mary would have put aside any of these things in order to fulfill the message of an angelic vision she received. But Mary embraced her circumstances… so many unknowns must have confounded her and their vulnerabilities. Change is coming and Mary anticipates the birth of a son who will work to challenge the political, religious and economic structures of his day.
The second theme for me that hangs about this story of Gabriel’s visit is that of miracle… that out of ordinary circumstances could come such an extraordinary event. This is a major theme of our Christian narrative and it is Mary’s YES to the angel’s invitation… I found myself wondering this week, what if there were other young women whom Gabriel approached with the offer and they said no? Mary too had a choice…to accept the angel’s invitation with a glad and open heart or to defend herself against such a proposition. The story tells us she said Yes with her whole life.
Miracle… that mysterious possibility… what if the vision was right about the child Mary would bring forth and raise along with Joseph…it was a fork-in-the-road moment of Mary’s life. And I by no means suggest that miracle is somehow perfection and wishes granted… Life is full of struggle. Our loved ones don’t get better, our children struggle and how this pains us, prayers seemingly go unanswered. But when difficulties are approached with Love, we can find the presence of Miracle… ordinary people moved to do extraordinary things that make a difference… and you can find examples of this just by watching the end of the CBC National every evening and they share their Moment of the day… wonderful stuff is happening out there by people we don’t even know or will likely never meet. Somebody notices us, going about our everyday tasks… On this fourth Sunday of Advent, Love comes calling…and notices… not the romantic notion but the kind that says to Mary she is enough… we are enough… and there are amazing things left to accomplish. it’s walking into a trust that says with God all things are possible… notice the scripture doesn’t say all things are possible For God… that is something entirely different and not what we are talking about this morning. All things are possible With God… in relationship with one another… it leaves it up to us… Love in the theological, all-compassing, in an Immanuel, God-with-us kind of way… it never waivers.
May we go forth and be a Miracle, to do extraordinary things and anticipate the future that will be… and welcome the incarnation, God coming near to work through us once again, for this time and for all time.