This is the fourth reflection in a devotional series I’ve made for Advent 2020 called No Going Back. You can read more about this devotional and download a PDF copy here.
I fully admit that I am not a very adventurous or spontaneous person. I like schedules and making detailed to-do lists, and, as someone who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, keeping myself on task is difficult – so I like to use as many supports as possible. I enjoy routines. Friends often tease me for watching the same TV shows over and over, but hey, it’s a lot of investment to get into a new show! For a long time, I didn’t really consider where that behavior in particular came from. But as I began working with a therapist and addressing my mental health in a deeper way, I realized that it’s actually a coping mechanism for anxiety. The unknown – whether it’s questions like, “Do I have enough money to get through this month?” or, “Do I want to meet this new person?” – triggers my nerves. Having experiences that are familiar and predictable is comforting and grounding for me, so yes, I will watch the same shows and listen to the same albums and go to the same coffee shop and not get tired. But, every so often I will push past my anxiety a bit and do something different. In 2018 one of my best friends asked if I wanted to go with her to Copenhagen, Denmark for vacation. While I was excited because I’d never left the United States before, my anxiety also had many questions – “How are we going to get around? Neither of us knows Danish. How will we pay for things? How will I keep in contact with folks if I don’t have phone service?” I decided to go ahead and go with all these questions. There was a lot of planning before we left of course, but a lot of unexpected things happened. For example, I wasn’t able to get a SIM card so I had to rely on free wifi wherever I could find it. One of my nightmare scenarios came true! Despite this, I was with one of my closest friends, and it was easily one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. Having to rely on free wifi also allowed me to be a bit more present, rather than checking my phone constantly. The trip was a risk in my mind, but one that paid off. That’s what living with my anxiety is like – balancing between routine and risk.
I love how Luke describes Mary in this verse as “pondering what sort of greeting this might be”. If I were in Mary’s shoes and there was a literal angel in my home, I would have absolutely said, “Um. Hold up. Wait just a minute. What are you saying to me right now?” Isn’t it funny how angels always have to reassure people to not be afraid whenever they show up in the Bible? Maybe it’s because they have a tendency to just show up without so much as a knock! But I digress. Gabriel senses her apprehension and offers her more information about his sudden appearance. God wants her to be the mother of the Son of the Most High. Mary, understandably, has a question about how exactly that will happen. Gabriel assuages her anxieties: “Nothing will be impossible with God.” That’s a phrase I often respond to my own anxious worries with. Nothing will be impossible with God. It doesn’t mean everything will be magically taken care of and wrapped up in a bow for me, but it does mean that it will work out, somehow. And I’d like to imagine, based on her yes to God’s plan, that was enough for Mary’s anxieties too. She may not have known all the specifics – she didn’t yet know about the kind of life her son would lead – but she was willing to take the risk to see what God had in store for her, and she knew that she and her family would be taken care of. So she makes her preparations by visiting her cousin Elizabeth and getting ready to travel to Bethlehem for the census with Joseph, and then her son is born. The first Christmas. Of course, we know that Mary’s life, and the life of her newborn son, was anything but easy. But I imagine as she rested in that stable waiting to give birth, she knew and accepted the risks.
As we’ve journeyed this Advent, I have been pushing and prodding you, dear friend, to think about the world we live in, the way its systems harm us, and what it would be like if we let these old ways of being die and let something new take its place. And I’m sure you probably have many questions, like Mary. We all have to consider if it is all worth the risk, right? Because this world is all we’ve ever known. But think about what we’ve held onto for the sake of our own comfort: We’ve accepted the falsehood that some people are poor just because of their ‘life choices’ and not at all because the systems are rigged against them. We’ve accepted that war is fine if it means it will bring prosperity. We don’t seem to think anything is wrong with people drowning in medical debt or avoiding doctor’s visits because they cannot afford them. We ignore the unethical labor practices under which our products are made because they’re so cheap and can be delivered to us next day. We deny our own needs and health for the sake of not wanting to be a burden to our families or workplaces.
So if what we’ve known is harming us all – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – and in many ways is antithetical to God’s dreams for us, why continue? Why not take a risk and dream beyond what is familiar? As you enter this last week of Advent, think about what you would need to be willing to agree to take that risk and help give birth to a new world: Do you need to rest and take more time for yourself? Do you need to do more internal work? Do you need to learn more about the oppressive systems that are harming your siblings? Do you need to build better relationships with your neighbors and communities? All of these are valid questions. Remember that as you sit with them, God will answer, and God will provide for you. For nothing is impossible with God.
A question for you:
What do you need in order to help bring about a new world?
A prayer for this fourth and final week of Advent:
God of strength,
you exalted Mary
to be the mother of your beloved Son
and supplied her every need.
Bestow upon us
the gifts of your Holy Spirit,
that we may prepare our hearts and minds
for the coming of your Son and your Kin-dom.