Instead of the usual Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, I have chosen different words for each week in Advent this year.
I spent a few hours on my last silent retreat gazing at the icon, Pantokrator: Jesus, Creator and Saviour of the World (below), and reflecting on these words by Julian Norwich (1342-1416)
I saw in my hand a hazelnut seed. God showed me that this is everything there ever was, and everything there ever will be. And I knew instinctively that God made it, God loves it and God sustains it. I knew that despite evidence to the contrary, all shall be well, yes, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
I look at Jesus. He holds our lives as sacred gospels in one hand and blesses us with the other–not condoning our evil but calling forth goodness until there is nothing left but love. He made us and everything else on earth. He loves us and sustains us–despite all evidence to the contrary.
Every year at some point during Advent, God sends Angel Gabriel to each one of us, greeting us by name, announcing the good news that despite all evidence to the contrary, God is saving the world and we will bear the saving Seed.
I know this full well, yet I’m never ready. I haven’t overcome the bad habits or lost the weight I hoped I would have by the time another year rolled around. I’m still not up to the task of giving birth to the Christ.
Mary, on the other hand, was innocent and pure. But God reminded me this year that when Gabriel came to her, she was also vulnerable and weak. Christ comes in my weakness, in my not-enoughness. Whether we’re ready or not doesn’t seem to matter to God. Christ isn’t born into life-as-we’d-like-it-to-be, but into life-as-it-is.
We know that’s true, yet we’re pretty stuck on becoming perfect–or at least a new, improved version of ourselves. So when God does come, we wonder what God’s trying to teach us or get us to do. Then we focus on the new learning or new job to be done.
But what if that isn’t the point? It certainly wasn’t with Mary. Jesus didn’t come to improve her; he came to be with her–and us. Gabriel told Joseph, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). What if God shows up just to be with us? What if loving us and our receiving that love is perfection. Could the world be saved simply by receiving God’s love? That’s what I heard on my eight-day retreat. That’s what God told Julian six hundred years ago.
It’s not that we don’t need to learn or do stuff. It’s that we skip over the most important part: receiving God’s presence and love.
Jesus, I look at you, holding my stories–the good ones and the ones I’m ashamed of–and blessing me. I close my eyes to take it all in. When I open them again you’re still looking at me. You never stop looking at me, loving me, and being born in me just as I am–and through me, saving the world.
How you keep doing that is a mystery. That you keep doing it fills me with wonder.
Just as you’ll never understand the mystery of life forming in a pregnant woman, So you’ll never understand the mystery at work in all that God does.–Ecclesiastes 11:5 (MSG)
* * *
Some Advent Love Mischief:
- Imagine Gabriel coming to you here, at this moment. What is going on in your life right now that has your attention?
- Now imagine Gabriel announcing to you, as he did to Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” Let the reality that God is with you and loving you right now wash over you. If God were to speak, what would you hear? If God were to communicate that love non-verbally, what do you imagine happening?
- Rest in that love and receive it.