Imagining the Gospel Events in the present
This is part of an Advent series of Gospel contemplations in the spirit of the Ignatian Exercises. The introduction offers the format for Gospel Contemplation.
The flour dusted us both as we laughed together. Mary and I, a neighbor, are enjoying ourselves in the late afternoon, as I teach her my recipe for bread.
A knock on the door. It is Joseph. “Mary,” he says quietly. “I have some news. Please come over here.” I watch from the kitchen as he gently leads Mary apart. So quiet, so calm, such resting peace in the soul of this saint.
The soldiers have announced the census and he and Mary must go to Bethlehem, the city of their ancestor David…. The city in which was to be born, according to the prophet Micah, the Messiah….
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).
How quickly everything changes. How gently he tells her. I watch their silhouette in the next room as the sun falls. They motion to the baby things all ready…. Leave home, family, security, love, assistance in those first days of motherhood…. To strike out on their own at this most delicate part of Mary’s pregnancy….
…into the unknown where the unexpected is the norm….
How easily Mary lets it all go. She is handmaid not manager. She willingly assents to bring the Prince of Peace into the darkness of a long journey into a small village where he would meet the occupying force and the prince of darkness. Where light would begin to shine. Where glory would begin to trumpet out the coming of our God.
As a woman recently told me after she shared her story of struggles and sorrow, “There is always more going on than we know.”
Observing attractions and resistance
I, as an older neighbor, and as myself, felt within my heart movements to manage and control and plan and reassure. No. I have to let them live their own life and fight their own battles. I have to disappear from this story. It is theirs. I feel decentered, unseen, left behind.
Joseph and Mary dropped their plans, preparations, and preferences. They saw in the census the striking of God’s hour for they couldn’t have been ignorant of Micah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. This political decision by the country’s occupying force was how God would have them go, now, at his bidding, to Bethlehem where Jesus was to be born. Joy. Praise. Yes.
How many others they met along the way may have been bitterly complaining, “It isn’t fair! I can’t wait to rid the country of the Romans! This is the worst time for us!” How many of their friends probably said, “It doesn’t make sense for you to go now!” “It’s too dangerous!”
For me, their neighbor, their journey to Bethlehem effectively takes the birth of the Child out of my control, for I would have been midwife and friend and companion.
I feel drawn—so drawn—to the simple freedom of Joseph and Mary. They were like feathers in the wind of the Spirit, their lives like pencils in the hand of the Most High writing the story of salvation.
You, God, lead the way, like a Pillar of Fire in the night. We have only to see, to trust, to obey and all will work out as you have planned for our coming to stand before you in your glory—all of us together—kings and beggars and prophets and virgins and saints and sinners—all.
Joseph and Mary were ready to walk into danger, darkness, uncertainty, making what seemed to be irrational decisions at your Word in your divine decrees.
I face what it is to stay behind, to let go of my plans and preparations and projects. They were young parents to be, I am older now. A life lived. Gratitude, yes, but also regrets.
Entering the Mystery of the Story
(From the first reading on Friday, the first week of Advent Isaiah 29:17ff.):
“But a very little while…
the thrill, the anticipation, the expectation of God SOON
…and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard…
Lebanon had been stripped of its cedars by the Assyrian invader, so as to be the wilderness that Isaiah refers to in chapter 22, verse 15. Lebanon shall regain its glory, once more being as Carmel, or the “fruitful field…” An orchard—cultivated, fertile, fruitful, owned, protected, loved, useful according to the plan of God.
…the deaf shall hear… the eyes of the blind shall see… will ever find joy in the Lord….
a re-creation: Jesus, I need your recreating power in my life—the touch that brings something out of nothing, the breath that brings life out of death.
…[in] but a very little while…”
Moving through deepening levels of stillness
I cede my life-plan and purpose to the advent of your salvation.
“With the rising of the sun, we shall soon see the King of king and Lord of lords, coming forth from his bridal chamber…” (From the Liturgical Christmas Novena, Day Nine, Antiphon for the Magnificat).
The sky shall unfold
Preparing His entrance
The stars shall applaud Him
With thunders of praise.
The sweet light in His eyes
Shall enhance those awaiting
And we shall behold Him
Then face to face
…in all His Glory…. (Sandy Patty, Lyrics of “We Shall Behold Him”)
The sky shall unfold…
As Mary and Joseph were taken up with the coming of Jesus, so am I….
Tasting the sweet light in His eyes…
Jesus is here. I am here. The Mystery is here.
Desiring to follow Jesus
In ordinary things of life keep focused, as Mary, on the sweet light of His eyes and his coming “[in] but a very little while.”
Maranatha. O Lord, come. Create anew. Execute your plan of salvation. How beautiful you are. How lovely the sweet light in your eyes. I am but a handmaid, yet I behold you face to face. You always initiate the next step of salvation in history, and in my life, and in my today. Your Face, O Lord, I seek. Let me see Your Face and I shall be saved.
Conversing as with a friend
What is the grace I should be asking for? A simple question to Joseph and Mary.
Throwing yourself into the folding of God’s Joy on earth
With no more cares and personal projects
For the sake of God’s joy
Stillness. Silence. Resting. Tasting. Receiving.
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
What will it look like when I live out of this joy, embody this joy, share this joy as a way of being…at prayer, in relationships, in ministry, in community?
Featured Image:Giotto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons