An Advent Meditation
Advent is Almost Here:
What is Coming Through You in Your Interactions With Others?
by The Reverend Brother Jonathan C. Augustine, J.D., MDiv.*
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” [a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” [b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born [c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative. Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
—Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)
In the Christian tradition, the four weeks immediately preceding Christmas begin a new liturgical year, with the Season of Advent. Derived from the Latin adventus, for “coming,” Advent is a time of celebratory expectancy with believers anticipating the coming of the messiah, as foretold to David in 2 Samuel 7:1-17. In addition to anticipating Jesus’ birth, Christian believers also celebrate Advent as anticipation of the parousia, a Greek term denoting Jesus’ second coming. In therefore keeping with Advent’s optimism, its four weeks are observed in many faith traditions with the consecutive lighting of candles, symbolizing the four virtues Jesus brings: hope, love, joy, and peace.
In theory, Advent is a time of celebration. In reality, however, it can be a time of distress. People often focus on the financial pressures of gift-giving and acquiring material items, while losing sight of God-given gifts already inside themselves and what can come through them to bless others. Luke’s infancy narrative speaks to contemporary society by providing an alternative perspective to socioeconomic circumstances. It suggests that, by recognizing the gift of God’s favor inside ourselves, we can all carry a joy of optimism that will come through us. We need only open our minds to such, in our personal relationships with God.
Luke’s perspective is arguably different from the other gospels, Matthew, Mark, and John. As a champion of those pushed to the socioeconomic periphery, Luke portrays a dichotomy between two cousins, Elizabeth and Mary, demonstrating that favor is not based on circumstances, but is entirely introspective. Elizabeth is an older and well-to-do woman whose husband, Zechariah, is a respected member of the community. Conversely, Mary is a struggling, unwed teenager, who is engaged to a carpenter named Joseph, making her pregnancy the subject of social castigation. In the midst of her circumstances, however, Mary realizes that inside of herself, she already has the greatest gift that could ever be given. Further, she also realized all her issues could be resolved, based on her perspective. Accordingly, Mary’s Advent blessing came with her focus on that which was inside of her, instead of external circumstances.
In the cited pericope, Luke 1:26-38, Mary receives confirmation that, in the midst of challenging circumstances, she has favor. Moreover, in learning that her older cousin, Elizabeth, is also expecting, Mary realizes that nothing is impossible for God! During the 2017 Advent Season, I pray we all will follow Mary’s example and be open to the realization that regardless of circumstances, our God-given blessings are in the form of the potential that is already inside us. Moreover, similar to Mary’s realization, we can all live-out the meaning of Advent by allowing internal optimism to come through us when we interact with others!