Advent 4 – we’re almost there, folks.
Today in our lectionary readings, we focus on Mary, the Theotokos – the mother of God. That’s a tough position. We often hold Mary up in high esteem to the point where we sanitize her, and we think of her as the perfect model of femininity and calm poise. But for some context, let’s cut the shiny veneer of romanticism we so often put on the birth narratives and see what her experiences were according to the Gospels, and extrapolate what Mary must have been feeling, thinking, and experiencing during her pregnancy.
Consider this: this whole ordeal all started when a random male stranger appeared to her and said, “Greetings Mary, you’re full of grace. God is with you! Also, you’re going to give birth to a son and be impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Capisce?” (I’m paraphrasing slightly.) I can imagine her feeling scared and confused. Who is this man? Is he dangerous? Should I call for help? Run?
But at the very least, she entertains the idea that maybe Gabriel is God’s messenger. She takes what he said and essentially responds, “God, I’m Yours. What You want, I want.”
I imagine she likely went about her business for the next few days in a total daze with her head positively spinning. She’d be thinking questions like, “Have I gone crazy?”, “What have I done that has made me so outstanding to GOD?”, “What will I do if I’m pregnant?”, “Is my family going to disown me?”, or maybe even “Am I going to die in childbirth? By angry crowds?”
Then, after all the wondering if this was some sick practical joke, she would have missed her period. This just became real.
This wasn’t just an over-spiritualized vision or a drunken stupor or a mental health issue – this was happening. Mary truly was pregnant. “Why me, Lord?”
Any couple that has had a unexpected, unwanted pregnancy can attest to the fear and confusion associated with this moment. And Mary didn’t even have a partner to lean on – how could she tell her fiancé about this? She was afraid to tell her immediate family. She certainly wouldn’t have wanted to tell her friends.
So she “got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea” to visit her cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. They, too, have had a crazy, unexpected pregnancy rife with weird happenings. Maybe they could give her some advice?
Mary walks in the house. Elizabeth, six months pregnant, sees her. And the two women share a wonderful, Spirit-filled greeting.
Again, Mary would be afraid and nervous about what others are thinking about her being pregnant. I can imagine she would be fearful that her family would view her as shameful. But Elizabeth’s greeting gives Mary hope: hope for this pregnancy, hope for her situation, hope for her child.
“Who am I that the mother of my Lord should visit me?”
I can only imagine what these words must have meant to Mary; My child truly is the Messiah. I am not alone – she is with me. God, thank you. You haven’t totally screwed me over. (Again, I’m extrapolating a little…)
So Mary sings (well, spoke…) the Magnificat – a hymn of her praises to God. In it, she sings that,
“[God’s] mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.”
And this is the Incarnation to Mary. A God who is not distant, not uncaring, but a God in the trenches.
A God who is ready to dole out love and compassion without limit, like a grandma with fresh-baked cookies.
A God who despises injustice.
A God ready to serve the wretched and the unwanted.
Thirty years before Jesus begins his public ministry, Mary gets it. God didn’t choose a poor, backwoods country bumpkin for a mother just to become manifest as an authoritarian warrior-king. No, God is here to turn our world upside down – and he certainly turned Mary’s world upside down. God is here to show that God means business.
The poor will be satiated.
The old childless couple will be overjoyed with a baby.
The humiliated girl called “whore” and spat at in the streets will be exalted.
The nut-bar who wears sackcloth and eats bugs will be the new Elijah.
The One who will be brutally executed will bring Truth and Life.
The last shall be first, and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid.
So this week, in your final preparations for Advent, consider Mary’s pregnancy: one of fear, of inconvenience, and of upheaval. But she had hope. God, Elizabeth, and eventually Joseph – they gave her peace. In her Magnificat, she sings of her joy in spite of a pretty crappy situation, to be frank. And finally, she carries the Incarnate with such tenderness and love – love of her child, and love of her God.
He is coming – prepare Him room.
Well, it’s only been like 6 months since I’ve posted on my brand new blog. Off to a roaring start.
I’m sorry for the fact that I’ve started something that requires a fair amount of dedication, and then I turned around and seemingly abandoned it. But please, let me explain, because these past months have been pretty jam-packed. Throughout those months, I:
– transferred to a new university,
– moved cities,
– had my first article professionally published,
– started a new job, and maybe most pertinent to my spiritual blog…
– I have just embarked on the formal process to ordination within the United Church of Canada.
So I ask your forgiveness (whoever you are!), but I also ask for your prayers during this exciting and dizzying time of discernment and discipleship. “No” is still very much an option in this process of discernment – I can say “no”, the Church can say “no”, and God can say “no”.
But during this process, I have never felt closer to Jesus Christ and to my brothers and sisters. In the coming blog posts, I hope to share with you some of the incredibly sacred moments of raw beauty I have experienced in the past few months. But for now, I just want to reaffirm my excitement of having you walk this journey of spiritual growth and service with me.
The Lord be with you.
Today in Canada, the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was made public. For those unaware, the TRC had a mandate to “inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission document[ed] the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience.”
In my opinion, this treatment of indigenous Canadians, called a “cultural genocide” by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, is the most shameful period in Canadian history. In a CBC report, it was revealed that a First Nations student was more likely to die in a residential school (1 in 25 chance) than a Canadian soldier was in the Second World War (1 in 26 chance).
These schools alienated, appropriated, oppressed, abused, even killed. And the Church in Canada not only let this go on, we took an active part. The Christian faithful, who ask God every day: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” –
we led the Christianization and “Canadianization” of indigenous Canadians.
In 1968, the United Church of Canada adopted “A New Creed” – a contemporary statement of faith. For those unfamiliar with this creed, here it is:
We are not alone,
- we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
- who has created and is creating,
- who has come in Jesus,
- the Word made flesh,
- to reconcile and make new,
- who works in us and others
- by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
- to celebrate God’s presence,
- to live with respect in Creation,
- to love and serve others,
- to seek justice and resist evil,
- to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
- our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
- God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
All day today, I pondered and reflected this creed, my Canadian identity, my Christian identity, and the TRC. For Christians, how can we claim to “seek justice and resist evil”, yet do the exact opposite of “loving and serving others”? I find it so hard to articulate my feelings of shame and self-anger.
Jesus, the “Word made Flesh” came to “reconcile and make new”. Somewhere along the lines, we decided that brutalizing Canada’s First Peoples would be justified once they were converted and “more European”. It wasn’t. It never could be.
This creed almost serves as stark irony against a backdrop such as the Indian Residential Schools. Yet today, as the TRC presents its report to Canadians, I can do nothing other than humble myself to our indigenous co-Canadians and offer my most heartfelt apologies for atrocities against them as humans, as a culture, as a people. That is all I can do today.
But tomorrow is another day. Now that the truth has come out, the reconciliation must begin. That is now our work as the hands and feet of Christ. As I said in my last post, we are called to uncomfortability. We are called to feel the pain of our indigenous brothers and sisters. We are called to put an end to oppression, racism, and all forms of discrimination. We are ALL one in Christ. We are ALL God’s children. To do anything else other than openly embrace one another would be to violate our relationship with the Divine.
He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. Jesus taught us to live in service to others. It is now time to “seek justice and resist evil” and, as the hands and feet of Christ, “to reconcile and make new”. Our apologies mean nothing without action.
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’”
For in every person affected by discrimination at our hands, is the Holy One.
I offer my apologies and pledge solidarity with our indigenous neighbours. I understand you may not be able to accept it, but we are called to stand up for and with you. We need to work to regain trust, to rebuild right relationships, to give dignity and autonomy back to those from whom we stole it.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
What does a 20-year-old know about Christianity? By what authority are you writing a theological blog?
But these questions beg another: What is Christianity? (That escalated quickly.)
Marcus Borg, noted Jesus scholar and one of my favourite authors, wrote that “the Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.”
Through this lens of the Christian life, the Way, Christianity – whatever you want to call your journey with God – I’m not writing this blog to teach nor dictate. I’m writing this blog to bear Christian witness to the process that Borg described. I want to share my struggle and journey with my faith, as well as my joy in its fruits. It’s a way for me to further reflect on my beliefs for myself. I’m sure that what I write in these blogs will change in 5, 10, 40 years’ time.
But that’s what excites me.
Through this blog, I will be able to track my spiritual growth. It’s a platform I can use to sound ideas, problems, successes, worries. It is, at its base-level, communication with the Creator. It’s my tangible reminder that I’ve chosen to follow Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps it’s even a way for the Spirit to work with and through me; to be transformed. Who can know where this will lead?
So what do I know about faith and life in Christ? Not enough! That’s why I’m writing – to explore my faith and to expand my understanding. In doing so, I’ll likely become more aware on how little I understand about God. But that’s okay, because God blesses us with uncomfortability and unanswered questions. We’re called to be curious, to wonder, to examine, to challenge… I’m not looking to pin down a definition of God nor faith, but rather to make “the opening of the heart to the God who is already here” a reality in my journey.
I want to embrace that uncomfortability. I want to meet Christ in the crude, desolate places. I want to carry God with me through the filthy and scary parts of my life, and celebrate with God in the good parts. I want progress and work as a Christ-centered, Spirit-led people – together.
“Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?”