There is something about the Advent time of year that evokes our interior longings and quiet reflection. Perhaps it is the music. Charles Wesley’s “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” settles over me. The lyrics, combined with the melody, reach deep into the angst of my life and confusion of our time.
“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.”
Let the words enfold your heart and mind.
The baby to be born, the one coming, is the “hope of all the earth.” He is the “dear desire of every nation.” This most assuredly includes the United States of America. His birth, in its ultimate glory, is the “joy of every longing heart.”
In this time of preparation for the coming birth of Christ, I find myself once again reading Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55, Latin for “My soul magnifies the Lord” in Luke 1:46). She has been visited by the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38), professed her faith in courageous obedience – “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) and, in turn, visited Elizabeth who welcomes her in effusive, overwhelming joy – “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42). The sequence in the biblical story is overpowering, literally Awesome.
In response to this stupendously stunning chain of events, Mary pauses to give praise and reflect deeply on what is taking place. I imagine her singing the words of Luke 1:46-55. Caught up in praise, her Magnificat causes both Mary and us to move to a calm, prayerful reflection. She models proper Advent behavior for those of us who would seek to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
Think about Mary’s Advent calm. This little wisp of a teenage girl hums a tune in her poverty and vulnerability. She thinks she hears kingdoms rise and fall beneath her feet. She imagines the turnover of governments and the great events of history.
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)
Mary sings for us and our time as well. I submit that her calm is precisely the Advent calm we all need during this season of concern, anxiety, and distrust.
The great British New Testament scholar and former bishop of Durham N. T. Wright has written, “Conspiracy Theories were thriving in the First Century, Just as they are today. Jesus pushes them aside. Stay calm, He says, and trust in me.” This is precisely what Mary does. It is the Advent instruction she passes on to us.
An Ancient Calm for Our Chaotic Time
Bible scholars have long noted that, in Luke’s gospel, Mary is the model disciple while Joseph is portrayed as the model disciple in Matthew’s gospel. Joseph receives a life changing dream in Matthew 1 and responds… “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” (Matthew 1:24) What I find so fascinating and instructive for our day is the way they present a self-reflective calm. The Scripture stories teach us how to live today.
As I try to sort through things in these disturbing times, I am drawn back to Mary’s Advent calm. Recently, I have been reading Tod Bolsinger’s new book Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change. (Many of you know Tod Bolsinger as the author of Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.) In Tempered Resilience, Bolsinger spends more than a chapter on how we must learn the disciple of deep vulnerable self-reflection. He quotes Thomas Merton:
“The one who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening their own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love Christ, will not have anything to give others. They will communicate to others nothing but the contagion of their own obsessions, their aggressiveness, their ego-centered ambitions, their delusions about ends and means, their doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.” (Tod Bolsinger, Tempered Resilience)
I invite us to a time of quiet reflection – to an Advent calm. With Mary and Joseph. consider what is taking place; what God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives and our world. If it helps, add a bit of the Reverend John Wesley to your reflections. John Wesley wrote in “The Way to the Kingdom” – one of his foundational sermons for Methodists:
“Believe this [Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners], and the kingdom of God is thine. By faith thou attainest the promise: ‘He pardoneth and absolveth all that truly repent and unfeignedly believe his holy gospel.’ As soon as ever God hath spoken to thy heart, ‘Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee,’ his kingdom comes; thou hast righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
(see Professor Kevin Watson’s excellent series on Wesley’s Standard Sermons for a detailed summary of this and other crucial Wesley sermons.)
May your life and our lives together be blessed by the practice of an Advent calm.