Advent: Season of Waiting, Wonder and Journeying

Advent: Season of Waiting, Wonder and Journeying

House of Mary in Ephesus

House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus

Advent: Season of Waiting, Wonder and Journeying

The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming.” In Western churches, the 40 day season of Advent begins on the Sunday nearest the last day of November, and is the beginning of the liturgical year. For many Eastern churches, Advent is a Fasting period similar to Lent, perhaps encouraged by Bishop Perpetuus of Tours (461–490). A mention of an Advent season occurs at the Council of Tours (567), and the tradition appears to be well established.

For all Christian churches the season centers on the story of a young woman, Mary, and her betrothed husband, Joseph. Mary’s parents die when she is young, and she is raised and educated in the Temple in Jerusalem. Historical accounts tell us she dances before the Ark, the most holy of holies for the Jewish people. Joseph most likely is chosen to be her husband because of his knowledge and kindness. Their families are already linked, living in the nearby town of Bethlehem. Betrothal is the first of two parts of a Jewish marriage. It lasts around a year and is legally binding. Mary and Joseph are “married” but the sexual consummation occurs after Part II, the “elevation.”

Advent – Season of Waiting

The Jewish people have been waiting for a Messiah for a long time. One way to celebrate Advent is to create a Jesse Tree. This tradition is to have a branched “tree”—can be green or bare—and throughout Advent tell the stories of the ancestors that are in the line of Jesse, the ancestors of the Messiah. For each story a symbol is placed on the Jesse Tree, e.g. an apple for Adam and Eve, a sheaf of wheat for Ruth, a harp for David. Beginning with Eve and Adam, as these stories are told, hundreds of years pass by, hundreds of ancestors waiting for the Savior. Waiting takes patience.

Anyone who has ever waited for a baby to be born knows about the nine-month Season of Waiting. If the child is lucky, both parents, and grandparents, friends and neighbors await the baby’s coming. Older siblings wonder what the baby will be like, and what will change when the child joins the family. Everyone makes plans so all will be in place “when the time comes.” Things both made or bought wait for the birth to be given to the child.

The mother and father do another kind of waiting as they watch for specific signs —the first expanded waistband, the baby’s first movement, turn, and kick, the first birth pains. God waits with Mary for nine months for Jesus to be born. This poem is about Mary’s, and our, time of waiting.

The Coming

—Nils Peterson

A low morning sun threw fluttering
shadows against my window.
I thought, the angels have come.

Maybe it was just small birds, feasting
on winter berries, but I thought angels,
and thought they’ve whispered

in our ears, for something grows inside.
Our walks change with the weight of it.
Our eyes reach out for what is small,

tender, shining. Something wants
to be born into this world, and we
grow inward and heavy with it.

Here is Luke’s record of what happens (Luke 1: 26-38) from his interviews with Mary when she moved for safety to Ephesus as an elder woman. Luke 1:26++ In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

What is being born into this world now?

What are you waiting for, growing inward and heavy?

Advent – Season of Wonder

Mary also tells Luke of the other miraculous birth of John the Baptist to her close cousin, the aged Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Zachariah’s story is also improbable, but in their case they are “too old” to have a child. Zachariah is not like Joseph. It is in the New Testament, and various Islamic accounts can be read here.

Mary wondered about her conception enough to go to her cousin Elizabeth. What wonder the two women must have felt when the miracle in Elizabeth’s womb leapt in joy at her coming.

Joseph wonders about what to do about Mary’s pregnancy. The law says any betrothed woman who willingly has sexual relations with another man is to be stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:23, 24) We learn a lot about this man’s character when he plans instead to “dismiss her quietly” because he is “unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.”

On the other hand, Mary must have told him about the angel’s visit and her agreement to bear a child by the Holy Spirit of God. He may have wondered if she had lost her mind.

Before he takes any outward action, the Archangel Gabriel in a dream tells him: “Do not be afraid to take your wife Mary home, for what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”​ (Matthew 1:20, 21) Joseph accepts the dream’s confirmation of Mary’s story. And he accepts his role as Mary’s husband, and the child’s earthly father, and provides stability for them both. More dreams warn him to take the family to Egypt—refugees from the power players in Jerusalem.

Joseph must have wondered how he would raise a child of the Most High. We know he decides to raise him as a devout and knowledgeable Jew, and teaches Jesus his trade as a carpenter.

(Luke 1: 39-42)

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Sheep

Photo by Mahyar Motebassem on Unsplash

We are told the shepherds are full of wonder at a choir of angels singing. They must wonder who will watch the sheep while they go to Bethlehem. As a child I read a story that says it is an angel that tends the sheep. Searching for this story I found two wonders:

  1. An explanation of why the angels are singing to the shepherds. This article, The Real Truth about the Shepherds on that First Christmas Night, explains that the only sheep kept near Bethlehem were for the Passover sacrifice, and suggests the angels are heralding when the Lamb of God will end those sacrifices forever.
  2. A second article, The Shepherds at Jesus’ Birth and the Geography of Bethlehem, by Paul H. Wright, explores why the sheep are in which fields around Bethlehem and why.

Every Christian wonders at least once if this event really happened. We wonder who diminishes the story and why. We wonder who will tell the story in the future centuries.

The wonder of the star shines in the colored lights of blocks of houses, or while walking in the Botanic Gardens or Zoo, bundled up against the cold…. There is wonder in the moment of lighting each Advent candle.

What wonder fills your heart this Advent season?

Map of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem

Advent – Season of Traveling

It is between forty and eighty-five miles from Joseph’s home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, depending on the route taken. Mary and Joseph most likely made the journey every year for Passover, staying with their families. Both of their families were from Bethlehem, a small enough town they probably knew each other, and some sources believe were branches of the same family.

But this year is different. The reason for going is a command from their land’s overlord, the Roman Caesar Augustus, a command about getting a headcount for taxation purposes. The options are compliance or rebellion. Rebellion is stirring here and there, but put down by powerful Jews who support Rome in order to maintain their own positions of power.

Half-Jewish King Herod in Jerusalem is part of that group. Herod has killed his own sons, his wife, and thousands of Jews to keep his Roman-given title of King of the Jews. Joseph and Mary choose compliance, even though she is in the ninth month of her first pregnancy.

Others are traveling also. Wise people who study the stars know a conjunction of three great stars will be visible in this specific place. They are traveling to observe this celestial phenomenon, and to bring gifts to the child the stars told them would be born there at this time. Bridgid of the Gael travels from Cill Dara in Eire; she will be Mary’s midwife but no one knows that as they are traveling. Over time tradition will name three others from different lands: Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Caspar of India. And on the night of the birth, shepherds from the fields around Bethlehem will travel to witness the birth of this child who will serve the common people.

The Magi may wonder as they travel from so far if they read the stars correctly, or, if once they arrive, would a storm cover the sky. They make the mistake of going to King Herod in Jerusalem (five miles north of Bethlehem), wondering where to find the child. Receiving a warning dream, they must have wondered how to get out of Bethlehem without Herod knowing.

Where are we traveling to/from this Advent? Is it a physical journey, like these travelers? Or an inner journey, perhaps known only to ourselves and the child who will be born?

We seem far from that promised time of peace this Advent season. Perhaps our journey can be to explore what we might do to bring about a world of peace, where one loves both the neighbor and the enemy. Perhaps revisiting or hearing about the Advent journey can foster a season of love and light in our hearts.

Graft in our hearts the love of Mary and Joseph for the child, the wonder of the Wise Ones, Hope to nourish us, and Courage to bear fruit for the world so in need of good works.


 

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Blessings to you through the holy days, in however you celebrate your spiritual tradition.

~ Lola

2023-12-06T22:56:01+00:00

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