And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (Luke 2:10)
The Advent season can inspire mixed emotions. For some, there is the anticipation of Christmas celebrations and festive gatherings with family and friends. Yet for many others, there may be grief for loved ones who are no longer here with us, sadness and disappointment at not being able to afford a prized gift for a loved one, or a bittersweet nostalgia for seasons of yesteryear and better or happier times, or the deafening silence of loneliness and isolation.
Advent can also be a time of uncertainty and fear. I can only imagine that Mary and Joseph felt both of these emotions in the core of their beings. Here is Mary, a very young, unwed woman who is suddenly with child. Then there is her fiancé Joseph, who is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to continue in his planned marriage after having received such shocking news. This is only the beginning of their struggle.
After months of being social pariahs in their hometown with others whispering about them behind their backs, they will embark on a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem—right at the time Mary is to give birth. She will give birth to her firstborn, not in a modern hospital or even in a simple home, but in a filthy cave with livestock at her side.
Mary’s child, our Lord Jesus, will not be laid in a cradle that is soft and warm, but upon a pile of straw in a food trough. Yet, it is for this birth that the angels will sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” (Glory to God in the highest!)
Yes, this season inspires the breadth of human emotions, just as when Jesus was born all those years ago. The way about which God accomplishes the divine mission of salvation through Christ is complicated and rife with struggle. Everything about the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus on earth—from start to finish, from conception to birth, from ministry to death—is full of uncertainty, fear, and pain. Yet it is from within all of this—indeed, it is in spite of all of this—that God nevertheless accomplishes the sacred mission: to redeem the beloved creation.
In spite of the shame, the fear, the pain, and sadness that Jesus will encounter, God gifts the world with wonder, joy, and hope; with forgiveness, love and peace. After months of social scorn and exclusion, the discomfort of traveling a great distance while ready to give birth, and the frustration of bearing forth her child in a stable, Mary looks down at her son. She holds baby Jesus close to her chest and looks at him with a mother’s love. She sees past all she has suffered and beholds the face of God.
That is the invitation to us this Advent season: to look beyond the trials and hardships, the pain and suffering we experience in our own lives, and to hold on to hope we have in Jesus’ coming into our world. It is not easy. It can be a difficult struggle, and yet, we wait upon our Lord in faith.
God is coming to us. In the midst of our problems and pain, God is coming to us. In our uncertainty and fear, God is coming to us.
Fear not, for this is the Good News of great joy that is for all to hear!