The special season of waiting for the birth of the Christ child has come around again, bringing a new liturgical year with it. I don’t know about you, but for me the undercurrent of danger in the Advent scriptures is more relatable than ever before, and I need to hold on more tightly to the peace, connection, and equality that Christ’s incarnation portends. If you’re feeling the same, here are some possible themes to explore in preaching, teaching, and writing this month:
Listening to women’s voices. The lectionary gives us the Magnificat (with an option to use it on Advent 3 or 4) and Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel. Mary is not a wilting flower in either passage. What do these interactions tell us about how God sees women? How do we better attune ourselves to and/or amplify the voices of women?
Naming the ills of the world. In addition to the Magnificat, the texts from Isaiah and Mark invite us to pinpoint the injustices we see around us and to repent for our roles in them. How – specifically – have we fallen short in loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to what changes do we commit? Who else do we need to call to repentance, and for what?
Claiming our role in the redemption of the world. God uses mere mortals to bring about God’s purposes: Mary and Joseph; Elizabeth, Zechariah (thought merely mentioned in this year’s texts), and John; shepherds; even – dare I say – the emperor whose decree forced a very pregnant woman to make a hard journey and give birth in a barn. What is our part in ushering in God’s reign?
Staying vigilant. “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33) As our political scene, cultural dynamics, and military engagement status quickly evolve, we are living in times that call for wakefulness. How will you stay alert?
Preferring the outcast. Mary’s Magnificat makes no bones about it. God favors those who show awe and fells the proud. He fills the hungry and gives nothing to the powerful, for they have already grabbed more than their fair share. God has done these things, and there is no reason to believe that God will do otherwise in the future. Who are the “lowly” to whom we should be paying heed?
Embracing hope and joy in the midst of uncertainty. Gabriel’s visit blew to bits Mary’s (and Joseph’s) expectations of the future. Her “overshadowing” by the Holy Spirit put her in dire straits. And yet, scripture points us to the long arc of God’s work in the world. How will we open our hearts, minds, and spirits to the work of God so that we might choose joy over fear?
Renewing the promises. We are starting the church year over and journeying again to Bethlehem. In doing so, we note the reliability of God’s promises and presence, still firm even as circumstances around us change. How does this trustworthiness encourage us to live? What in our lives needs renewal or redemption with the turning of the liturgical calendar?