Mystery or Explanation? #AdventReflectionsMJD 1
As we reach the end of the first Sunday in Advent, I invite you to join with me in reflecting on God’s gift of faith to each of His people, and the challenges we face as we follow the road of pilgrimage toward God’s purposes in our lives.
Hope and faith are interwoven gifts, like the two parts of a ribbon, tied around our hearts. They are each a gift from God, to be treasured and received.
In Luke’s account of the births of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus, we see two very different responses from Zechariah and from Mary. Both are given unexpected news. Both have the futures they had planned turned upside down. Both have decisions to make as they hear God’s story for their lives.
Zechariah is older. He has been a priest for many years. Dashed hopes and empty arms have caused him to become tired; perhaps disappointment has dulled his soul? Yet he remains faithful. He is present in his duties as a priest, but he is living a life he didn’t want. He and Elizabeth have never cradled the child they longed for. No one can understand the pain of childlessness for you. We under-estimate the crushing power of unanswered longing. So when he hears of the promise of John’s birth, he asks, ‘How will I know that this is so?’ (Luke 1:16, NRSV). This is the question of a man who needs proof. It is rooted in his need for ‘evidence’ of some kind. He needed convincing.
Mary, on the other hand, is young. More of her life lies in front of her than behind her. She has not faced disappointment in the same way as her cousin’s husband has. Perhaps disappointment has not yet touched her soul? The disruption to her life that God’s plans brings is not a disruption of acceptance of a loss, or an unsatisfied longing. Her disruption is one of a life that was planned, a future that she must have dreamt of with Jospeh that is dashed by God. The Jewish equivalent of settling down with the children is taken from her. This was her interrupted dream. And her response to God’s messenger is different too. ‘How can this be, since I am still a virgin?’ She asks (Luke 1:34, NRSV). This is the question of a young woman who needs reassurance. It is rooted in her need for understanding. She needed confirmation.
God uses both people. He engages with them both for His purposes. Both lives produce blessing.
Which response describes me as the Christian year begins? Am I the ‘older’, perhaps disappointed and jaded man, or the younger, yearning woman? Their gender, for my question, is immaterial. Does God find (in me) a heart that needs convincing or a heart that seeks confirmation? Do I present Him with ultimatums or with honest vulnerability? I do not want to be hard on Zechariah or Mary. I want to respect them, to learn from them, to travel with them through these Advent questions. Do I trust God in the mystery of His purposes for my life this year, looking forward in faith and acknowledging my need of God’s grace,(like Mary)? Or do I require Him to explain Himself to me, and lay out all the intricasies of His plan, shunning the mystery because I need to know the mechanics, (like Zechariah)?
I want to be like Mary, offering God my heart as His home as He sees fit and leaving my longings in His hands; trusting Him with the most intimate and vulnerable parts of myself, (like a virgin would). But perhaps I am more often like Zechariah, demanding God explains Himself to me, and resolutely trusting my logic and my perspective above His love and his purposes, (like a cynic would). I long to look ahead to what God can do, (like Mary) but perhaps I look back at what has been missed too much, (like Zechariah)?
Being like Zechariah will mean I lose my voice until I yield to God’s purposes. Being like Mary will mean I find my voice in God’s mystery. Elizabeth’s nine month pregnancy was the gestation period for faith and trust in Zechariah. His first words were to affirm God’s plan by acknowledging the name of his son. Mary’s pregnancy was a time for growth in mystery, trust and intimacy.
On this first day of Advent, I am given the opportunity to set the temperature of my expectancy and faith journey for the year that lies ahead. I choose Mary’s example, or at least I acknowledge that this is the example I want to choose. I want to grow in trust and intimacy amidst the mystery. I want God’s promise and God’s purpose to be enough. I do not want to demand ‘proof’ or explanation. I want to choose relationship over rights.
And you? What do you choose? How will you set your compass as we begin the Advent journey?
(C) Malcolm J. Duncan
Advent 1. 2019