Advent is my favorite season in the liturgical calendar for two reasons: it spotlights incarnational theology (my favorite!), and the readings lift up women and women's bodies as integral to the story of God's salvific work in the world. Jesus' coming heralded a new possibility- a new reality- for the relationship between God and humanity. Mary, and to a certain extent Elizabeth as well, brought forth this new reality when they gave birth to Jesus and John.
Recently, many of my friends have been becoming pregnant, being pregnant, and giving birth to new babies. Following their Facebook status updates, I've realized just how tiring this work can be. By the end of the 36-40 weeks, my friends are tired, cranky, and ready to be done being pregnant. Imagine how Mary must have felt having to deal with a donkey ride on top of all that! But once she gave birth, the work and the sleep deprivation were just beginning. Silent night? Hardly!
By now, it seems like the Christmas season is descending into craziness. The number of social engagements, which once seemed like such a great idea, are now taking up all of our free time. For some of us, the pressure is on to produce beautiful meals and desserts for our loved ones. How on earth are we going to get it all done? We blink through bleariness to light Advent candles. Peace, love, and joy? That's not what we're feeling right now. All of usual din of the holiday season often makes it difficult to remember the meaning and miracle of the Advent season. Although we're aware of Advent (at least once a week), the Prince of Peace isn't here yet, and it's hard to keep our Christian charity in the midst of all the hustle and bustle.
But under the surface of our everyday lives, God is transforming the present. Quietly, gradually, God's grace is working in our hearts, just as little ones grow in the womb. Before we know it, the time to celebrate God's coming is among us! And we might just be caught a little off-guard because our focus has been elsewhere.
I think that's OK. When Mary and Elizabeth were pregnant, it was hard work for them. They might have been kind of cranky. They might have wondered why God picked them. I am reminded that work of transformation in our lives, and in the world, is not always easy. Sometimes I wonder why God picked me to be about the work of God's Kingdom in the world. It's hard to pay attention to the still, small voice when advertizements clamor and Christmas remixes blare. That's why we have traditions like lighting the Advent candles on the Advent wreath. It helps us to remember God's work of grace in our lives, and in the world, even in the middle of everything.
The significance of Mary's lived experience for our spiritual lives, I think, is that Mary shared our experience. Like Mary, we labor to bring about God's Kingdom, and sometimes we just labor to get through the next few weeks until it's time to rest. In the midst of seasonal commitments and stress, I try to remember that Mary's reality wasn't always sweetness and light either, but she stuck with it. Those small moments of remembrance are the little bit of Advent in my heart.
How do you keep a little bit of Advent in your heart, despite the trappings and demands of the "Christmas season"?