And Mary said:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name." Luke 1:46-49 (NAB)
We sang this Scripture passage in church this morning, and I wept. Even as my youngest children squirmed and fussed beside me, I was caught up in this hymn after Communion. I heard a fellow parishioner near me singing the words with humble sincerity. It didn't matter whether he was or was not on pitch, because simplicity and honesty were there - a more perfect harmony.
If I could spend Advent in church, I would be far better off, I think. My emotions would not be vacillating so much between the merry yule-tide activities and the many stressful obligations performed with a silent, Bah! Humbug!
I want to look forward to Christmas, but I am too busy telling myself to just get through this and then that.
That's no way to live.
And it is not the way to spend Advent, I know: just waiting for Christmas only so it can be done with and over. All obligations performed. All things crossed off lists. All gifts bought and given.
What about that first gift? Advent is a time of preparation for Him, Lord of lords. It is a time of expectation, of hope. It is supposed to be a time when we prepare to celebrate the Christmas season more joyfully, when we prepare our hearts and souls to proclaim the greatness of the Lord with humble sincerity. It's also the time when we look forward to Christ's second coming and our need to be always ready for him, our King of kings.
I know this about Advent, and I acknowledge that this season of preparation has changed Christmas for me, has penetrated the mystery and helped me to celebrate more joyfully, more fully, and has made me contemplate deep spiritual things in a time dominated by commercialism.
And yet here am I, grumpy and disillusioned already, beating myself up for not meeting my own gift-buying or making expectations, comparing my traditions and even my tree-decorating skills to those of others' on Facebook, tempted by inertia beneath the weight of fresh obligations and age-old chores.
Even the spiritual opportunities God has given me this Advent season, I have not appreciated as I should have, wanting to get through them, taking them off a growing list in my head. It is only through prayer and thus by His grace, guidance and inspiration that they turned out well for the children and adults with whom I worked, whom I tried to serve as best I could, because they belong to Jesus.
That's just it, though. That's the message I must embrace right now. Everything I do this Advent season, I must unite to Jesus. What a difference it might make if I read Scripture every morning and prayed longer before entering the holiday fray! I hate shopping sometimes - yes - but what if I shopped for others in a spirit of selflessness and sacrifice? What if I actually looked for opportunities to volunteer and in ways and places I never have before? What if I tried to make everything a prayer amid the hustle and bustle, smiling at grumpy fellow shoppers and frazzled cashiers all the way and being peaceful (no matter what) where peace is sorely needed?
What if every word and action was a proclamation of faith, because of the joy with which I spoke and acted this Advent?
"His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever." Luke 1:50-55 (NAB)