A common phrase mentioned when discussing Advent is the phrase “expectant waiting.” It is an interesting phrase. It brings to mind two things that are good fodder for what I’d like to say in this Reflection.
The first thing that comes to mind, and maybe its influenced by the Christmas story itself, but I think about what it means to be a pregnant woman. Expectant waiting is indeed what pregnancy is all about, at least that’s what my wife and mother of our son tells me. In fact, in writing to our son about her experience of expectant waiting, she said this:
How were those nine months of pregnancy carrying you inside every moment of every day and night? They were the best of my life as I felt a gentle connection to God, to Source, to the universe. If you can imagine the beauty and serenity of a sunrise or sunset, that’s how I felt. Your dad and I felt such joy and anticipation in those months. Every day we talked to you and about you.
These could easily have been the words of Mary.
The pregnant reality of Joy and anticipation. A perfect way to describe what seems to be at the heart of Advent. Yes, there is waiting, but it’s filled with the joy that what will soon come wrapped with the joy of love, light, and life.
There is a lovely little vignette in Luke 1 involving two pregnant women. Elizabeth pregnant with John and Mary with Jesus. When Mary comes to visit her fellow-expecting cousin, she greets Elizabeth. And Elizabeth responds by sharing that little Johnny at their moment of greeting one another leaped for joy in her womb. This is what Elizabeth says in Luke 1, “As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy”
There is the joy of the child waiting in the womb, yes. Yet there is also joy in the waiting. There is serenity in the process.
Mary, expectantly waiting, is experiencing a nine-month long epiphany. She is carrying within her womb divinity, as our tradition teaches us. She is carrying within her an anointed one, anointed one being the literal meaning of the word “Christ.”
It is no wonder she gives us some of the most powerful words that we have. In Luke 1 we have what has been deemed Mary’s Song. Indeed, something so potent and honest could only be the creation of someone experiencing the presence of God.
“Mighty One… holy is his name, and his mercy is for generations and generations to those who fear him. He has worked power with his arm, he has scattered those who are arrogant in the thoughts of their hearts; He has pulled dynasts down from thrones and exalted the humble, He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:49-52)
The second thought inspired by the phrase “expectant waiting” is the Quakers practice of silent worship. As you may know, most Quakers don’t do liturgy at all. No order of services, no hymns, no sermons, no offerings. When you attend a meeting at most Quaker meetinghouses, the worship that is done is done in silence. It is called, silent worship. And expectant waiting is what is often used to describe what happens in the process of silent worship.
One sits in silence and waits to experience the full presence of God, our silence being merely an invitation that says, I am now here to listen, O God.
Mary with Jesus inside is a great metaphor for Quakers of what it’s all about. You may have heard the term “Inward Christ” or “Inner Christ.” We are called to be like Christ, that is the Christian’s reason for being. Many Christians would agree with this.
The Quakers however suggest that we don’t have to search outward on how to fulfill this call to be like Christ. There is nothing missing to be found. There is an inward Christ, an inward light, the Holy Spirit of Christ, that moves and breathes into our hearts. The task is to nourish and care for that inward Christ. We are to love the inward Christ into being, as Mister Rogers might say. The result is that the inward Christ is delivered in real time, giving way to Christ-like decisions, actions, and words.
Though not a Quaker, Meister Eckhart, the 14th century German mystic famously put it well:
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son is I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.
However, the means to doing all these things, nourishing and caring for our hearts where Christ lives, loving Christ into being, delivering Christlikeness in the world, the way is the method of expectant waiting.
Yes, I realize it seems counter-intuitive to us westerners that the means to doing the ultimate work of faith is to do nothing, just expectantly wait. Yet that is the case. The means, the method, to grasp true Christlikeness is to let go and let God. I let go of the desire to make it happen on my own terms and my own time. I let go of my meaningless jibber-jabber, my busy work that gives me an excuse to avoid stopping and listening to God’s still small voice. I let go of my need to intellectually know more and more instead of experiencing what can’t be fully known.
Without this letting go, the wait would be not be expectant but an anxious, even torturous wait, certainly not serene or joyful. And letting God means letting God do the communicating for a change, letting God do the heavy lifting, letting God work through our emptied selves, letting God show us the meaning of love and light, letting God bear in us God’s self, defined by love, peace, and justice.
As we close, let us again look to Mary, a daughter of God whose womb carries the Son of God. Let us look to Mary as a model. In Luke 1, it is said that Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, came to Mary to inform her of the miraculous, overwhelming news that she’d be the carrier of God’s utter gift of love to the world. Mary asks how since she is not married and is still a virgin. This is Gabriel’s explanation:
The angel said to her,
“A Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence the offspring will be called holy also, a Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
Mary responds with some of the most gracious words imaginable. Her words provide us with not only a wonderful prayer to close with, but a powerful prayer for Advent when we practice the expectant waiting of letting go and letting God:
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)