In the first week of Advent, we enter the dark. You’d hardly know it, with Christmas decorations going up, lights being strung and to-do lists lengthening. But for a moment, notice—how is your heart? How is your spirit? What’s happening, inside of you, as the days shorten, the dark lengthens and, in the northern hemisphere at least, everything gets colder?
I begin to go inward, my body wants to slow down, I want to bundle up in layers, eat grounding foods and spend more time curled up with a book and a cup of tea. My soul wants quiet, reflection. I begin to ponder the stretch of this year as we lean into the next. I feel all that is composting deep in the earth of my own being—the things I did, the things I didn’t do. All that was said, all that wasn’t said. What was accomplished what was not. I want to let it fall, to let it lie fallow, to let the compost of my life digest and gather what will, eventually, be new life. The year ahead looms in total unknown, in mystery. I know Christmas is coming, I know life stretches into this year to come, but in so many ways, I am very much in the dark.
I can’t help, in this first week of Advent, to think of Mary, the Mother of God and of us. I think of her, teenaged and confused, and this angel of light, this messenger, appearing to her and telling her the unbelievable, the totally incredible, the astonishing. This heavenly being asks her to bear the Christ, to bring the light of the world into being, gives her the chance to say no, to choose. I can’t help but notice that the coming of Jesus, the son of God, into the world required the full consent of a woman. It necessitated her YES. So much so, that if she didn’t say yes, if she didn’t consent fully, God would not have come to be, in this way, in this place. The entire history of the world would have changed, shifted in a way we cannot begin to comprehend. The entry of God into the world required the full consent of a woman, a woman beholding total unknown, total mystery, a woman at the edge of the dark.
I like to imagine into her in this moment. What was she feeling? What was she thinking? We don’t get a lot from the story (Luke 1: 26-38). The imagination might take us further. I see her there, at the edge of the dark, being invited to step in. I see her, young and unmarried, so faithful to the tradition of her ancestors and yet, being asked to do something, to embody something, so new and totally unknown. I see the parts of her struggle—her mind with her heart with her body. I see her instinctive reaction her, “no, no way, not me” that had to have been there, at least for a moment, at least in a breath. We do see it, even through the male gaze of the story. We hear her say, “How can this be?” and today we might imagine the, “what the fuck?” that surely was there, in her incredulous, human heart. The angel tells her what will come to be, and in my imagination I see the pause, the space, where she has to think, she needs some space, she has to digest this information. Surely the “let it be done unto me” was not immediate but rather, achieved after some kind of internal struggle. Surely it took tremendous courage, an unparalleled faith, to utter those words, “um… ok?”
This is what is fascinating me this first week of advent. Not the patriarchal version of Mary we’ve swallowed that bores us and doesn’t challenge us. But the human side of her, the human side of us, the entering in that happens without full awareness, with so much uncertainty, with no idea of what will come. Still, we enter. Still, somehow, we say yes to life, to what’s in front of us, to what’s unfolding. We say yes, as Mary said yes, in the darkness, in the unknown. Our yes, our consent, like hers, is required. Sure, we can float along, letting life happen to us. But when we engage, when we step in, when we consent, when we give over our life to the Mystery, to the Dark, to the fecundity and fertility that awaits, like that, like for Mary, in the womb of the earth, then the Christ comes. Then the light of the world begins to sparkle. Then, somehow, wonder of wonders and holy of holies, the not yet comes right here, right now. It’s not a yes with any certainty or any clarity, it’s a yes full of trust, a yes that is stumbling in the dark.
What’s being asked of you, now? What are you carrying, or asked to carry? What dark edge or you standing on, what unknown? What love, what courage, what trust, is meeting you there?
Welcome to the season of Advent.