Amidst group projects, end-of-the-semester presentations, and final papers, it can be easy, even for seminarians, to overlook the fact that one of the most important seasons of Christianity has begun. The irony of this is not lost on me: the collective anxiety that seems to build in December doesn’t leave much breathing room for us to anticipate the birth of Christ, even as ministers or future ministers.
But to be honest, I never quite knew what to make of the Advent season. The Church of the Brethren is pretty non-liturgical, which could be one reason why Advent, as the beginning of the church year, did not make a big impression in my mind. The childhood memories that I have of this season are limited to watching families light purple, pink, and white candles in church on snowy December Sundays, and anticipating small pieces of chocolate that popped out from the family calendar each day leading up to the 25th. Each winter season, I can also recall carefully unwrapping the creamy, porcelain Advent display from its place among our family Christmas decorations, and arranging it carefully with colored candles on the dining room table. Other than these few images, the season of Advent was more elusive than anything. After all, isn’t the actual day of Christmas more important than the days and weeks leading up to it?
However, I’ve discovered that lately I am starting to better understand and appreciate the mystery and the joy of the Advent season. (I’m sure being in seminary does have something to do with it.) The New Oxford American Dictionary defines advent as the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. For Christians, the notable person who arrives is Christ, who just so happened to enter into this world as a tiny, vulnerable, crying baby. Each year Advent is the Season of Waiting for this arrival. However, this waiting is not anxious or passive, but rather an active, expectant waiting, as we anticipate and work for the birthing of Christ into our world again. Jesus was born in a small Palestinian town to a poor family over 2000 years ago, but he continues to be born each year as we expect and prepare for the newness and the redemption that this Emmanuel (God-with-Us) brings to our broken world. The birth of Christ is for us a reminder of the creative and loving ways that God interacts with and deeply cares for humanity. Advent reminds us to expect and anticipate that God continues to be born and reborn in unexpected and surprising ways today. And we cannot be content to just sit and wait for this newness to be born, but through our acts of service and compassion, though our conversations and our daily routines, we do our part to help prepare the world for Christ’s arrival each year.
This particular Advent I can’t help but think of an important person who often gets overlooked during this season. We focus so much on our own expectant waiting for Christ’s birth that it is easy for us to forget about the very first human who ever waited for this child: Mary. What about Mary? The mother of Jesus was indeed in her own unique season of Advent as she awaited the birth of her mystery, miracle child. She watched her own body grow with both eagerness and trepidation at how her world would change once she gave birth. While I personally have not experienced pregnancy and motherhood, any of you women who have can certainly identify with this particular season of waiting and expectation! Consider too, the situation surrounding Mary’s pregnancy: the angelic visit, the assurance of God’s favor, the foretelling of this miracle baby and what he would mean for the world (Luke 1:26-38). Indeed, Mary had much to expect and wait for!
So do we forget about Mary’s Advent, the woman where it all began? For so long the Church has left women, and especially women’s bodies and spirituality, out of the picture, or in the margins of Christian life and community. But Mary is the epitome of Advent waiting. Let us, in this season of anticipation, wait with Mary for the birth of this child who will change the world in radical and redemptive ways.