This is a scary week for me. Today I head in for a pre-surgery COVID test preliminary to a sinus operation on Wednesday. This is not my first nor is it my worst surgery, but there is something about the anxiety of the times in which we live that makes it the most unsettling. And like so many others my equilibrium has been further disrupted this weekend by the horrific tornadoes in Kentucky and other U.S states. Yet in the midst of the anxiety is hope for a future without excruciating headaches, sleepless nights and sinus infections where I can breathe freely. I hope too for that day when all creation will be made whole without the suffering caused by catastrophic weather events and wars and famines.
I suspect Mary lived with far greater anxiety than I do. “Be not afraid” the angel tells her. We imagine she was never afraid again, but I am sure that was not true. She was a very normal young woman with all the normal emotions of any young person. I suspect that from the moment she knew she was definitely pregnant the anxiety took root. How would her family respond? What about Joseph? Would they believe her story or would they want to stone her?
Then there were the anxieties of that trip to Bethlehem. A trip of 70 to 80 miles over rough roads, worried about wild beasts and bandits, is no fun. Nor is donkey riding. That is if they could afford a donkey. And who did they travel with? Probably others returning home for the census. Maybe a whole caravan of people, all of whom would soon have known the story of her pregnancy. How would they treat her? Then there was Joseph’s family. How would they feel?
There must have been anxieties about the birth. By then the angel’s visit must have seemed like a dream. Would she survive it? After all, at that time childbirth was a death sentence for many women. Then once he was born, how would her child Jesus be treated by Joseph, her family, her community?
The fears probably went on and on. One moment Mary was trusting in the promises of God for the birth of a new world of justice and peace through the baby in her womb, the next drenched with anxiety. Maybe both at the same time.
I am grateful for the ways that my own anxiety made me think more deeply about Mary and her anxieties this year. Trusting in the promises of God without fear and anxiety isn’t easy for any of us. And this Advent, 2,000 years after the birth of Mary’s child, we still wait for the completion of the promises God made to her.
How do we wait in this Advent season? How do we live into the promises without being overwhelmed by the anxieties? This is not a passive waiting. Waiting for a baby never is.
Several practices helped me maintain my equilibrium over the last couple of months.
First, I took regular quiet days in the midst of the frantic activity of the season. I suspect they will be even more important in my recovery period. I find the Quiet Advent Retreat we made available as a new free resource last week is particularly helpful. It renews and refreshes my soul and I have revisited the prayers and scriptures several times over the last week. Perhaps I will create another Quiet retreat for after Christmas. I know I need it.
Second, I protected my morning contemplative times. Reading prayers, scriptures and devotionals that focus me on the Advent and Christmas story is very therapeutic. My favourite books this year (yes I am reading several) are Lighted Windows by Margaret Silf, All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss, and Honest Advent by Scott Erickson. Each book shares a different perspective on the gospel story and I am very glad there are 12 days in the Christmas season because I know I will need all of them to fully appreciate these books.
Third, I have spent quite a bit of time re-evaluating my commitment to the promises of God, not just in thought but in action. What causes do we support financially? How do we highlight our concerns for justice and sustainability through Godspace? What else should we focus on this season? Living out the hope and promise of God’s new world is not always easy but it is extremely important and Advent is a great time to reaffirm our commitments.
One prayer that I wrote in 2012 has been a particularly helpful inspiration for me in this process:
Let us kneel in the darkness,
Until we see God’s light emerge.
Let us wait with hope-filled hearts,
As Christ’s image grows within us and shows us life.
Let him speak to us and teach us love,
Until we open our hearts to be his home.
(c) Christine Sine
I want to open my heart to be Christ’s home in new ways this year. I want to see God’s new reality emerge in new ways in my life and community. I am not sure what that will look like but this season of anxiety encourages me to think more deeply about what God is giving birth to. I hope it does the same for you.
To you I turn O God of Gods,
In you I trust.
In you I find my hope.
In the valleys you hold me close.
On the mountain tops
You keep my feet from stumbling.
You are light.
You are life.
You are love.
In you I find my rest.
(c) Christine Sine
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