I would like to bring to the surface two ways of looking at the season of Advent though the scriptural story of the Annunciation. Both require waiting, one in the stillness of surrender and the other in what I call the active wait. While we know that Advent is a season of waiting, it is also one of expectation and hope. It is suggested we pullback from the busyness of our hectic lives, in the anticipation of renewing our connection to God and therefore ourselves in prayerful silence leading to interior excavation. The 14th century mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “We are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth which God the Father has borne and never ceases to bear in all eternity. But if it takes place not in me, what avails it?” And so like Mary, we wait for the Blessed Unknown to take shape within us.
In the scriptural reading the angel Gabriel initiates a conversation with Mary formulating a call and response between the two. The messenger of God leads with an affirmation to Mary. “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” And just in case she has forgotten, the angel reminds Mary that she is favored, she is good and God is with her. Scripture states that Mary is “confused by these words.” Like us, Mary does not understand what God is trying to say to her, she seeks clarity. Gabriel continues to assure Mary by telling her “Do not be afraid (Mary) for you (again) have found favor with God.”
Gabriel continues by explaining the unexplainable—the foretelling of a pregnancy initiated by God’s divine plan, the birth of Jesus as the promised one, the Good News for all of creation. And what does Mary do? She defends herself before the angel Gabriel by stating what may not be so obvious: “Just in case you don’t know Gab, I’m a virgin.” Undaunted, Gabriel lays out the game plan to Mary, how it is all going to go down. And as a way of calming her doubts, Gabriel informs her that her post-menopausal cousin Elizabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy, because he reminds Mary, nothing is impossible with God. And finally, what follows is Mary’s response of surrender, of her willingness to participate and trust in the unbelievable future God has planned for her. This is the Advent response we have come to expect, reflecting the at-times tug-of-war between God and the self, with loving surrender to a possibility of hope in the midst of the unknown.
With her permission, the story of my eldest daughter reflects in a small way this occasion for surrender that has come to frame our understanding of Advent. At the age of 30, Lindsay is two years sober from alcohol, but with two recent relapses, she is only two months clean from her drug of choice oxycontin. Oxy is a powerful heroin-like narcotic capable of numbing any uncomfortable emotion, but especially keen at drowning out the voices that continually reminded her of unspeakable shame and low self-worth.
Lindsay recently attended an AA meeting while in Hawaii. Following the required structure of readings and announcements, Lyns shared first, detailing her continual struggle with resentment toward the same person. Normally in 12-Step meetings, when one person is done sharing, another person will follow. But in this tropical paradise, the group was slow to respond. One uncomfortable minute lead to another, and then another and another of emptiness. For her, the continued silence seemed unfriendly and awkward, but eventually she allowed herself to enter into it. Her breathing, she explained, slowed to a rhythmic pace. She noticed the sounds of the environment she was is: the sweet chirping of the birds, of waves crashing against the shore, the smell of the ocean breeze, the feel of the wind on her skin and the unexpected tears gently falling from her eyes. In silence, as she sat between resentment and acceptance, she slowly began to feel her own worth, and like Mary, she came to discover that she too was favored by God.
In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Father Greg Boyle tells the story of Miguel, a twenty-three year-old homie that, as a child, had been beaten and abandoned by his family. Curious of this young man’s ability to withstand the suffering and pain of his life, Fr. G asks “How are you like the way you are?” Miguel responded with, “You know, I always suspected that there was something of goodness in me, but I just couldn’t find it. Until one day,”—he quiets a bit—“one day, I discovered it here, in my heart. I found it. . . . goodness. And ever since that day, I have always known who I was, and now, nothing can touch me.” And so we are told: Be not afraid, you have found favor with God.