The mystery of advent
by Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel –
Advent approaches, the season designed to help us focus on the coming of the Christ child on a mission to make forgiveness of sin and entry into eternal life available to all who would accept him.
Throughout the season we listen to the words of the prophets who foretold his coming; we thrill with the remembrance of the message of the angel, whose announcement of his birth elicited an irrepressible outburst of praise from the inhabitants of heaven, shouting Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to mankind, on whom his favor rests. We are led with the devout shepherds to the stable in Bethlehem, where we watch with awe as the young Mary tends to the needs of her baby, the promised Savior of the world. We kneel with the magi from the East as they do homage to the young child born to bring even kings to their knees.
Mary’s child was a mystery to her! Though God had sent the angel Gabriel to explain what was to be accomplished through her, she was overwhelmed. Her only response had been the perfect response, the response that God is pleased to find in his people: I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said. Though she had never experienced an intimate relationship with a man, the beautiful scrap of humanity she held in her arms was her own, fathered by God himself! Lest she doubt the validity of her own experience, God had reinforced her awareness of the divine origin of this holy child. The Holy Spirit with understanding of the event that was to take place had gifted her cousin, Elizabeth. What a relief it had been when she welcomed Mary into her home with an outpouring of thanksgiving that God was allowing her to have a share in preparing for the blessed event that was to come. No wonder Mary had responded to the mystery with a poetic outburst that has communicated her wonder to hearts through the ages:
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me —
holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-49 NIV).
God had further confirmed her own understanding of her experience by informing her betrothed husband, Joseph, that what was happening with Mary was not only right, but was happening through the action of the Holy Spirit as a part of God’s eternal plan for the redemption of the world. What a relief that must have been, to have God himself confirm what must have seemed to Joseph an unbelievable story, bringing the bewildered but willing young couple into a willing conspiracy to introduce Messiah to the world.
But the mystery remained, a puzzle over which the young mother pondered. The coming of the shepherds, intent on finding Messiah lying in a manger; the blessings of Simeon and Anna at the baby’s presentation in the temple—words that would remain forever in the mind of the new mother; a visit from learned magi from some strange Eastern land, equally intent on paying homage to the newborn King of the Jews; the angelic messenger who warned Joseph to flee to Egypt with his wife and young child—and the later message in Egypt, letting Joseph know when it was safe to return home. A mystery, all of it.
As the child grew older, Mary must have watched him, and wondered. He seemed so normal! His first steps were the tottering efforts of any baby; his first attempts at speaking, the incomprehensible gibberish one expects from a child learning to communicate verbally. He suffered the ups and downs of childhood—sometimes succeeding in his efforts, sometimes failing, but learning from his adventures.
Jesus learned the things of God at his mother’s knee. Did he seem just a bit precocious? A bit too intense at times? Perhaps. He certainly asked questions—what child doesn’t—and was not afraid to offer his own opinions. He undoubtedly enjoyed being with family and friends, but as he grew, so his hunger for understanding grew. By the time he was 12, he was more fascinated by the opportunity to participate in a discussion with the learned religious leaders at the temple than he was interested in enjoying the festivities with his friends. It was a mystery, all of it, and Mary treasured the memories even as she pondered the mystery.
Mary never did resolve completely the mystery of her son, but was steadfastly in support of all that he said and did. She knew him for what—for who—he was, and though she didn’t always understand him, she stood by him…always. Whether she understood why he must suffer and die on the cross, we don’t know, but we do know that faith prevailed. It was not necessary that she understand: she knew, she believed in the God who had chosen to reveal himself in Christ. For Mary, the mystery of the advent was secondary to the magnificence of the revelation.