The stories of Advent and Christmas can get so familiar that it’s hard for us to hear them with fresh ears, to receive them with fresh hearts. This season, I encourage you to spend some time re-imagining age-old characters to see what you uncover at this stage in your life.
Although it isn’t actually in the lectionary until the fourth week of Advent, I’d like to share some reflections on the story of the annunciation, the appearance of the angel to Mary.
Who knows what she was doing the moment the announcement came.
Perhaps kneeling at the river, washing in hand;
perhaps kneading the dough to prepare for dinner;
perhaps drifting in and out of fitful sleep.
But Mary, full already with grace, is told she will have to carry more.
She will have to carry God itself — what a heavy load! — as we all do.
Mary, too young and unprepared, can stammer only questions,
caught as she is, in that moment:
dropping the clothes with a small splash into the water;
clutching hard the wooden handle of the spoon;
rubbing the sleep anxiously from her eyes and temples.
She is visited, perhaps, at the most inopportune and embarrassing of moments,
suddenly at her most human,
interrupted at her most embodied,
and told that she is one body no longer — but two.
She imagines she can feel already
the swelling of her belly, the shifting of her hips,
(how can any body be big enough to house the soul of God?)
She imagines she can see already, the dreams of her life
careening off course,
a detour, of course;
a diversion; an announcement; an invitation, or —
a demand. It’s hard to tell.
Can she say no to this?
After all, when the Divine says “Greetings,
You will be overshadowed!” whose knees don’t knock?
Perhaps generations of women before her
(also stammeringly young and unprepared)
stopped here, at this point,
went no further than the inevitable question:
But — ?
How can this be?
Disbelief is so often the most we can manage.
Our small human frames already too frail to hold,
can hardly be made to bear the weight of light incarnate.
And so God waits, yearning for the yes
that only one young girl can give.
How is it so that Love needs permission just to be born,
just to be carried into being on a slippery river of blood?
This isn’t an easy fairy tale after all,
but the pulsing breath of lifelines tying together,
God’s and ours, inextricably.
Perhaps this is the moment for which all of eternity has held its breath.
Perhaps this is only one point on an ever expanding circle of possibility.
Perhaps this is just the delusional dream of one yes-speaking girl.
And so that girl, perplexed and pondering, goes on with her life,
picking up her washing and rinsing it off,
brushing her hands on the hem of her skirt,
curling her knees up to her chest and trying again to sleep.
The moment has to end eventually, and another day must dawn after it.
But, perhaps, from here, every moment is entirely different.
Perhaps the circle will yield to an even-wider width.
Perhaps inside her all that grace is making space for something new
to come into the world at the very precise moment
it’s supposed to.
I am in debt to my lovely community of friends at Bethany House of Prayer for inspiring many of these ideas during our Advent reflections together this morning. Many thanks for that deep well!