Tag Archives: Advent

Second Sunday in Advent


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Mary Did Know

Bible passages: Luke 1:26-38 and Luke 2:21-35

I ran across a Twitter fight last week. One side complained about the song, Mary Did You Know? The argument went something like, “Hello, have you ever read the book of Luke? Of course she knew!” The other side seemed to suggest lightening up a bit, and letting the song speak to the emotional side of Mary’s story. The whole thing took me back to Luke, wondering, “What did Mary know and when did she know it?”

Mary received information about Jesus from the angel Gabriel before she became pregnant. She also received information about Jesus from Simeon, a devout and elderly man who prophesied about Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to be circumcised at 8 days old. So, when she received that information from the angel and from the old man, what was it? What did she know before and just after Jesus came? Let’s take a look.

Gabriel’s announcement (Lk. 1:26-38) Simeon’s prophecy (Lk. 2:21-35)
Mary had God’s favor. In Jesus, Simeon saw God’s salvation, promised to all people.
God was with Mary. Jesus was appointed for the rise and fall of many in Israel.
Mary would have a son, though she was a virgin, and she was to name Him Jesus. Jesus would be opposed.
Jesus would be great. A sword would pierce Mary’s soul.
Jesus would be called Son of the Most High.
Jesus would have the throne of King David and reign over Israel.
Jesus’ kingdom would have no end.
Because of His miraculous conception, Jesus would be the Son of God.
Elizabeth was already pregnant.
Nothing would be impossible with God.


For the sake of our reflection today, what if we consider just the last thing on each list: Nothing would be impossible with God, and a sword would pierce Mary’s own soul. Mary knew that she would be blessed among women, that she would be the mother of the Messiah, though she was a virgin, because nothing would impossible for God. She also knew that a sword was going to pierce her own soul, whatever that might have meant. Think about all the times those words might have echoed in her mind and heart, about how the liturgy of Mary’s life might have taken shape:

When she caught the eye rolls and pitying glances of her relatives and neighbors. “Right, she didn’t cheat on Joseph. That’s God’s boy.”

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

When strangers from a foreign country showed up with gifts and worshiped her toddler son.

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

When she had to leave her home in the middle of the night to escape violence.

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

When she heard that, after she left, all her neighbors’ toddlers had been slaughtered.

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

When she told her son to do something about the wedding party running out of wine.

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

When she thought her son had lost his mind.

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

When she saw the body she had once carried and sheltered stripped naked and brutally beaten, hanging on a cross, and she was powerless to stop it.

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

When she first saw her son after His resurrection.

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

When years, and maybe decades, passed, and she was left here to live without this son, whom she loved.

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

My guess is that sometimes she forgot both sentences in the everyday matters of life. Perhaps she was jolted with the memories whenever a new astounding thing happened, or when some new suffering came. She knew what was to come because of the announcement of Gabriel and the prophecy of Simeon. She could not possibly have known all the ways those things would play out, how she would be astounded by God’s goodness and power, or how she would suffer.

And that brings us to us. Though Mary was, of course, uniquely set apart in history, she was also a human woman, living after the corruption of the world and before the world is made right again. So then, we are like her. We live in the tension. We know, and we don’t know. We, too, can affirm that nothing is impossible with God. We, too, are bound to suffer. Are you aware of the tension?

I knew what I was getting into when I adopted a son from foster care. I also had no idea how that would play out, in joy or in desperate exhaustion.

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

I held my friend’s hand and felt the final pulse in her wrist as she died. I knew what was coming. I could not possibly have known the pain of the grief that would come next.

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

How would you write your liturgy of knowing and not knowing? When have you been astounded? When have you suffered? What would it mean to believe both sentences right now, today, on whichever side you find yourself? Will you take a few moments to fill in these blanks, as many times as you can?

I knew that                                                    .

I had no idea that                                                                                                                     .

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

As I look back over these words, I’m aware of more tension than peace. And yet, here we are in the second week of Advent, considering God’s peace in the midst of this often-dark world. Perhaps we can add some more words from Mary to our liturgies this week. Do you remember what she said to Gabriel?

I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true. (Luke 1:38, NLT)

It will take courage to add those words, but I believe we will find peace in the tension if we do. Let’s try. May God bless us as we do.

I knew that                                                    .

I had no idea that                                                                                                                     .

Nothing is impossible with God. A sword will pierce my own soul.

I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.




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First Sunday in Advent

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There is a scene in the larger Christmas story that is implied, but not described. That’s a good thing, because it was private, but it’s a moment that reminds me of the flesh and blood reality of Advent and Christmas. An old Jewish priest named Zechariah was chosen by lot to serve in the Temple by burning incense. While he was in there, alone, he encountered the angel Gabriel. Gabriel announced that Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son, and that son would be John, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Zechariah asked for evidence, given that he and his wife were well past the years when they expected babies. It may be that he demanded evidence, rather than asked, because Gabriel’s response is stern, and rebukes Zechariah for his unbelief. The consequence was that Zechariah’s voice was put in time out until the baby was born. Everything was going to come to pass as Gabriel had said, but Zechariah would not be able to verbally tell anyone what had happened in the Temple. He emerged in silence, clearly having had some sort of vision, but only able to gesture to the gathered worshipers to try and communicate.

What happened next is what captures my imagination. Zechariah finished his time of service at the Temple and went home to Elizabeth. The New International Version of the Bible says, “After this his wife became pregnant…” (Luke 1:24). Though she would soon be visited by a pregnant virgin, Elizabeth became pregnant in the typical way. So, sometime after her now-silent husband returned, the ordinary sex life of a faithful, elderly couple intersected with the prophecy of an angel and the creation of John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for Jesus. I’m struck by the mixture of everyday life and the work of God. Elizabeth and Zechariah were old, but had no children. They had probably been married for decades. Months and years of hoping for a baby in a culture that paired a woman’s worth with her fertility had so far brought nothing – no pregnancy that we know of, no baby. What had they endured in those years? How many times had their hopes been raised, only to be dashed again? What had people whispered about them? What well-meaning but ridiculous advice had their family and friends given? How did Elizabeth and Zechariah work out sex between them in the midst of all that? However they had worked it out, over all those years, into that came this angelic pronouncement: Elizabeth was going to have a son.

Do you imagine that Zechariah told Elizabeth what Gabriel told him? As he walked home, probably over multiple days, how did he decide whether or not to tell her? The Bible describes the couple as, “righteous,” living out God’s commands “blamelessly.” One of the things I take this to mean is that Zechariah was a loving husband. So, how did that play out as he approached his house, and his wife? They lived in a culture and time of quite distinct roles for men and women. He may have wanted to protect her from another disappointment. He may have been bursting with the news, unable to keep it to himself. And yet, if he was going to tell her, how was he going to tell her, given his silence? If he did tell her, what could that possibly have been like for her, after years of hoping for a baby, and then menopause, very reasonably ending those hopes? What was it like as they reached for one another, in the swirl of all of that?

No matter what all the answers to those questions are, at some time “after this,” Zechariah and Elizabeth both had before them the evidence of the truth of Gabriel’s message. Elizabeth was pregnant. Perhaps in fear that it was too good to be true, perhaps in awe at this wondrous gift from God, Elizabeth kept to herself and their house for five months. I’d like to return to her response a bit later this week. What I am especially mindful of as I consider their story now is that their part was to do the next, normal, human thing. God’s part was to provide the unseen, and in their case, truly the miraculous. Again, I shake my head at the mixture of everyday life and the work of God.

I wonder what resides in the, “after this,” moments of our ordinary lives in this season. After what do we find ourselves? After getting married, after losing a parent, after moving, after the first child ventures out in the world. I wonder if there are places in our lives where we have given up hope, in which God would have us hope again. I wonder if there are places in our lives where it is time to give up hoping in ourselves or other human beings, and place our hope in God. Whatever those places are, there are normal, everyday life things ahead of us to do. They all matter. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s sex life. The way we eat today. The 12-year-old’s birthday celebration. The eye contact with the person we’ve hurt, or who has hurt us. The next diaper change. The car line at school. The next time we pick up our phones. The way we handle being single, or widowed, or married, or divorced.

Most of us have not been given a promise as specific as Zechariah and Elizabeth. We do not know the outcome of either God’s silent, invisible work, or our next human thing to do. Sometimes that not knowing grows the frustration and longing through which we wait in Advent. Perhaps the hope of Advent is that the way we live next will be woven together with all the unseen movements of a God who loves us.

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Waiting in Advent


Several years ago, I discovered I loved Advent. I was teaching a women’s Bible study in a church that doesn’t recognize Advent – just Christmas. Having grown up with an Advent wreath in church, and having observed Advent in my own spiritual life as an adult, it made sense to me to teach from that season in the weeks before Christmas. What I didn’t anticipate was how much it would resonate with the women in that class, and in my own heart.

Advent, as practiced by Christians through several centuries, looks little like it does in American culture today. The main focus of Advent, historically, is looking forward to the Advent of Jesus Christ that is still in the future. It is a time to recognize that this world is not as it should be, as well as the sure hope that someday it will be put right. It is to state the ache of living in bodies and families and countries that fall so far short of what we long for and need. It is to own up to the fact that, sometimes, as we feel those longings, God seems silent and far away. Finally, it is to surrender those longings in hope that someday we will see the face of Jesus, and all of those aches will be wiped away in an instant, for we will see God.

Advent is located before Christmas on the calendar because Christmas tells the story of Jesus’ first Advent, when He came as a baby after God’s people had heard nothing from Him for about 400 years. Generations of people had been born, lived, and died, without the promise of a Messiah being fulfilled, without any updates from God via prophets, with nothing but silence. Those 400 years of silent anticipation mirror our own gap and silence. Jesus said He would come back. That was over 2000 years ago. What the heck?

But you won’t find “What the heck,” or anything stronger than that, on so-called Advent calendars or Christmas cards in America in 2019. Advent calendars count down to presents, or maybe to family, both of which can be dicey, and neither of which have guarantees. Maybe, “what the heck?” would be more honest. It would be for me. As I’m writing this, my next-door neighbors are 3 days into life after the loss of their 28-year-old daughter. She had children who are 10, 8, and 6 years old. Her funeral is the day before Thanksgiving. What kind of Christmas are those children going to have this year? What kind of Advent calendar isn’t repulsive and insipid in the light of that kind of loss. What the heck?

Advent comes into that kind of sorrow and longing. Jesus comes into that kind of sorrow and longing. Just as His birth shattered the silence of God and ushered in hope the first time, His presence now, and His future coming, call us to drop our, “What the heck?” laments at His feet, to weep the tears we have locked away, and to stubbornly hope in the One who promises peace, joy, and love to people who desperately need Him.

When I taught that Bible study years ago, this tension of ache and hope brought tears and laughter to that little group of women. We found solace in the outward traditions of Advent – the wreaths, the Nativity scenes, the hymns. The tangible things helped us truly witness the joy of Christmas in our terribly imperfect world. I have seldom experienced the presence of Christ as I did in those weeks with those women.

This year, I have had a growing sense of longing to return to that joy and peace via writing about it. I’m setting about to write from the perspective of someone waiting through the ache to the hope. I don’t know which one will surface on any given day. What I know is that I want to live and write truly of both. I want to have a heart with room for joy, peace, and love this Christmas. I want to wait for Jesus to break the silence of my longing with Himself.

Would you like to join me?

I’ll be sending out something that I write, plus a suggested spiritual practice for that week, on each of the four Sundays of Advent: December 1, 8, 15, and 22, as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In between those times, I’ll be posting occasional short pieces to this blog.

If you’d like to receive those emails, you can sign up here.



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Filed under Being Sam, Jesus, Spiritual Practices, Struggle