The angel Gabriel was extreme­ly busy dur­ing Advent, appear­ing and speak­ing to two peo­ple: Zechari­ah, the father of John the Bap­tist, and to a vir­gin from Nazareth in Galilee named Mary. Recall his vis­it and his unex­pect­ed, shock­ing, and final­ly, encour­ag­ing words to this young, teenage girl. Greet­ings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:26). These words were ini­tial­ly great­ly trou­bling” to Mary (Luke 1:29) and right­ly so. For what did Gabriel’s greet­ing mean? How could she have a child when she had nev­er known a man? What would Joseph think? What of her future mar­riage? Why had Gabriel cho­sen to speak to her? What would Gabriel’s words demand of Mary? What would the future hold for her — and for her son? The path before her, the jour­ney await­ing her, would be both unex­pect­ed and unfamiliar.

Yet Gabriel’s mes­sage was also preg­nant with hope and expec­ta­tion. For the archangel’s words were mes­sian­ic words, king­dom words. God’s Anoint­ed One, the Hope of Israel, was soon to be born, and Mary would bear him into the world. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ances­tor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for­ev­er, and of his king­dom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32 – 33). And so the jour­ney began for Mary — and for Joseph. Unfa­mil­iar ter­rain lay ahead, for the path of the King — and for his moth­er — would be one of suf­fer­ing, rather than glo­ry. Indeed, the glo­ry would shine in the suffering. 

Gabriel’s words were soon ful­filled. Per­haps with­in min­utes of Mary’s faith-filled response, cells began to repli­cate in her womb, cells that with­in weeks would devel­op into tiny hands and feet, arms and legs, eyes and ears, blood and bone. God was work­ing in the holy space of Mary’s womb, weav­ing won­der, glo­ry, grace, and hope. Nev­er before had there been a con­cep­tion such as this; nor such a birth; nor such a life. In a heart-beat — a moment of life-chang­ing faith and hope — every­thing changed for Mary. A jour­ney she had nev­er expect­ed to trav­el sud­den­ly commenced. 

Mary’s jour­ney quite lit­er­al­ly began with her sojourn with Joseph to Beth­le­hem, with Jesus, the promised Mes­si­ah, the Son of God and Son of Man, nes­tled with­in her. How strange, how unfa­mil­iar, to bear God’s child. Deep hope must have rip­pled through her mind, soul, and body. For God had promised, through the mouth of Gabriel, and lat­er through the words of Sime­on (Luke 2:25 – 35) and Anna (Luke 2:36 – 38), that the sal­va­tion of Israel had indeed entered the world (Luke 2:30 – 32). Yet Simeon’s mes­sage, resplen­dent with hope, had end­ed on a more somber note: And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).

As Mary’s jour­ney with God unfold­ed, her hope in God’s promise was test­ed and tem­pered, refined and renewed, stretched and strength­ened. The writer of the let­ter to the Hebrews reminds us that faith is the assur­ance of things hoped for, the con­vic­tion of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). If, over the next 30 years of her jour­ney with Jesus, Mary had based her trust in God’s promis­es on the wit­ness of her eyes alone — on appear­ances — her hope might well have with­ered. For by all appear­ances — as her sweet boy died on a Roman cross — the promis­es made to her by Gabriel had not been ful­filled; the sto­ry had gone ter­ri­bly wrong. The lay of the land looked like desert, not green pas­tures. By all appearances. 

Again we turn to Hebrews. The writer is insis­tent: Now faith is the assur­ance of things hoped for, the con­vic­tion of things not seen (empha­sis added by author).” Yes, Mary’s sight would be immense­ly clar­i­fied three days after the death of her son. For, unknown to her as she watched Jesus die, res­ur­rec­tion await­ed. Jesus’s res­ur­rec­tion became the com­pass that guid­ed Mary as she con­tin­ued to trav­el with Jesus through the pow­er of the Spir­it. Future events in Mary’s jour­ney with God demand­ed that she con­tin­ue to map her way for­ward through unfa­mil­iar ter­ri­to­ry. God had proven to be full of sur­pris­es, some scream­ing­ly dif­fi­cult, some warm­ly com­fort­ing and encour­ag­ing. Through Mary’s response of con­sis­tent faith God would teach the Church — past and present — to make its lodestar on its jour­ney home the won­der of the res­ur­rect­ed Christ. 

Mary, Peter, Paul, and the rest of Christ’s appren­tices con­tin­ued to live in hope as the years of their lives unfold­ed in the strange, won­drous, demand­ing in-between time all Chris­tians indwell — the unex­pect­ed inter­val between Christ’s first and sec­ond com­ing. Indeed, all these ear­ly Christ-fol­low­ers pro­vide lives we can imi­tate — foot­steps we can trav­el — for our own jour­ney with God as we live, wait, antic­i­pate, hope. Our hope as we trav­el with God is based on the same con­fi­dence and expec­ta­tion we share with all the mem­bers of Christ’s body across the years: Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We, like Mary, will pon­der, pray, weep, won­der, work, rest, and glo­ry in the hope revealed to us in Christ. 

Dur­ing Advent, we focus on the begin­ning of the sto­ry, the birth of our liv­ing hope for the present and the future — Jesus Christ. But it is the end of the sto­ry — cru­ci­fix­ion, res­ur­rec­tion, ascen­sion, the descent of the Spir­it, and final­ly Christ’s return — that guides us in our jour­ney toward home. So much of what we encounter in our life with God, our jour­ney with Christ, will be unfa­mil­iar — indeed, inex­plic­a­ble to us — both in its won­der and its sor­row. If we judge on the basis of appear­ances, we will often be con­fused. Mary’s faith and hope teach­es us a bet­ter way to trav­el through unfa­mil­iar ter­ri­to­ry. Come, walk with me,” she seems to say. He will teach you, as he taught me. There was much I did not under­stand. Oh, there were times when I wept, when it seemed all hope was gone. But Gabriel was right. The promis­es were ful­filled. Our hope is sure. Jour­ney on.”

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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