What do you think of when you hear the word Advent? As Christians, Advent automatically conjures up images of a wreath with candles, the church decorated for the coming season, and certain popular Advent hymns like Hope is a Star.
In our secular lives Advent probably means planning, lists, Christmas gift shopping, Carols on the radio, and lots of parties and get togethers. But what does the word Advent actually mean? The dictionary describes Advent as “A coming into place, view or being; arrival.” And the last definition reads “The period beginning four Sundays before Christmas, observed in commemoration of the coming of Jesus Christ into the world.” For me, Advent is a time of waiting, preparing, and taking time to focus on what Jesus’ birth means to me, a modern Christian woman and mother.
Often I am drawn to thinking about Mary, the Mother of Christ. What must she have gone through in her time of Advent? As she was waiting for the birth of her first-born, under extremely unusual circumstances, as she was hoping, anticipating, and nesting. Over the next four weeks of Advent, together we will think about Jesus’ birth and how it affects each of this season.
HOPE: the first Sunday of Advent
I stood in the bathroom of the Fort Wilderness Resort in Disney World, Florida, with my eyes closed and counted to 180. Then I counted to 60 again. I’ll admit it—I was terrified to open my eyes. What if there was only one line on that little stick I laid on the counter. What if there were two?! My husband and I had planned, dreamed, and talked long into the night about our hopes for a baby. What would it mean for us to no longer be two, a couple, but three, a family?
I peeled my eyes open one at a time—two lines!
I can vividly remember taking that pregnancy test and finding out that finally we were pregnant. We were going to have a baby! All of my hopes and dreams and plans came crashing into me at once. I sat in the bathroom and wept happy, happy tears. We were pregnant! I was going to be a mother! We were in Disney World, camping with my parents, no less. I whispered it to my husband in the theme park later that day, “I’m pregnant!” His response (with laughter in his eyes), “Well, no more rollercoasters for you!”
I can still recall many of the details of that day. Hope swelled up in me from that moment forward and grew and grew as the baby in my belly grew. Of course, I was married for over a year, my husband and I had planned and dreamed of a baby, and we found out in literally the ‘happiest place on earth.’ Talk about Hope.
I sometimes wonder, however, what kind of hope would Mary have had? She was young, maybe 13 or 14 say historians and scholars; she was a virgin, betrothed to a man she didn’t really know and suddenly an Angel of the Lord comes and visits her and says, “Guess what Mary? You’re going to have a baby. Not just any baby: the child you’ll carry will be the son of the Lord.”
Amazingly, after asking only one question, “How can this be?” Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant” or as I like to think of it, “Okay Gabriel, let’s do this.”
Can you imagine having such bravery at 13 years old? Can you imagine being told you’re going to have a baby at 13?! (I’m fairly sure that was one of my mother’s recurring nightmares having had three daughters.) Talk about bravery!
We hear the story in Eugene Peterson’s The Message: In the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, beautiful inside and out! God be with you. She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, be called ‘Son of the Highest.’ The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; he will rule Jacob’s house forever – no end, ever, to his kingdom.” Mary wondered “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.” The angel answered, “The Holy spirit will coming up on you, the power of the Highest hover over you; therefore the child you bring to birth will be called Holy, Son of God. And did you know that your cousin Elisabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.”
Being 13, betrothed but unmarried, finding Mary pregnant would have been a town scandal. No wonder Joseph’s first thought was to send her away (quietly, mind you as he was a kind man) and put all that nasty “Mary was pregnant before you were even married” business behind him. Here we have Gabriel showing up in people’s dreams again, “Don’t worry Joseph. Mary’s baby is the son of God. Take her as your wife and she will name him Immanuel, God with us.” Joseph agrees! How he didn’t think he had eaten too much bread or drank too much wine we may never know. Bravely, he takes Mary as his wife even though people must have thought he was crazy! We know even less about Joseph than we do about Mary; however he is obviously both brave and kind of heart. He accepts the news from Gabriel and follows God’s command. He weds Mary.
I keep saying that Mary and Joseph were brave, and they certainly were. Historians teach us that this situation they found themselves in would have been socially devastating; but maybe they weren’t just brave—perhaps they were hopeful too. I like to think that they found Hope in Mary’s pregnancy because they were filled with the Holy Spirit and with the knowledge that great things were happening. Hope is a powerful motivator. Desmond Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Mary and Joseph must have come together in Hope. Hope for the babe that Mary carried, hope for their future together; despite all the darkness of social scandal and the seemingly impossible scenario they found themselves in.
The beginning of Advent truly is a season of Hope. We hope for family gatherings full of love and laughter. We hope for uplifting and inspiring church services filled with music and the promises of God. We hope for light and cheer despite all that is happening in the world around us. We are a people of Hope.
Do you have children in your life (your own children, or nieces, nephews, God-children, etc.)? Were you filled with hope for them when you found out of their impending arrival?
What do you think was going through Mary and Joseph’s minds when they were told this incredible news?
Have you ever found yourself in an impossible situation? Did you find hope in the outcome?
God of Hope,
We thank you for your endless kindness and love to us, your children. Help us to be a beacon of Hope to those around us this Advent season. Let us be brave and kind like Mary and Joseph, and nest in the Hope that comes with the knowledge that you are our God, our Father and our limitless supplier of love.