Enter the Emptiness of Advent
I'm delighted to share the wonderful Advent letter of Pastor Molly Baskett from nearby First Church in Somerville. We met on a retreat years ago and I got on her mailing list for her creative and thoughtful Advent/Christmas calendars which she shares freely. The theme of her letter and calendar is taken from Mary's song in the Gospel of Luke. She has a gift for announcing this new season and I take to heart many of her thoughts and actions for each day.
Alterantive Advent: Magnify
And Mary said,
My soul magnifies the Lord: and my spirit rejoices in God who Saves me.
For You have regarded the lowliness of Your handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth: all generations shall call me blessed.
For You that are mighty have magnified me : and holy is Your Name.
Your mercy is on those that are in awe of You : throughout all generations.
You have shown strength with Your arm : You have scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
You have put down the mighty from their seat : and have exalted the humble and meek.
You have filled the hungry with good things : and the rich You sent empty away.
One of the biggest spiritual difficulties I encounter in my work as a pastor is people who ache to see and feel the presence of God in their lives, and who just don’t, despite praying, longing, trying, waiting.
One of mother Mary’s greatest claims to fame is the Magnificat: the song she sang when she walked pregnant into her cousin Elizabeth’s house. Elizabeth, likewise, was expecting and, womb to womb, both women recognized that something extraordinary was happening to them. They were magnifying the Lord, quite literally, day by day, as their bellies grew with mystical pregnancies.
Perhaps, like those pregnancies, the presence of God in our lives is something that happens without Herculean effort on our parts—instead, it begins with longing, and ends with the willingness to say yes to God—in a sense, letting God take over our bodies and spirits. But be careful what you ask for, as many a woman who has been 39-and-a-half weeks pregnant can attest…
Jesus often described the kingdom of God as something that began tiny—even barely perceptible to the naked eye—a grain of yeast, a mustard seed, a lost coin. Could it be that the raw ingredients of God are lying everywhere around us but require some action on our parts to be made visible, to grow—our assent, our initiative, our union with God—to take root and get huge?
All the prompts in this year’s alternative Advent calendar are about magnifying God with simple actions of noticing, being grateful, starting small, changing our perspective. A writer I love once asked, “Would you rather be an ego or a soul?” Our egos magnify ourselves, but our souls magnify the Lord. Our soul’s one job is to make God look enormous: not to puff God up, artificially, but to make Her more visible, to make all the details about Him stand out clearly.
So much of our ability to see God is about perspective and posture. Small lights can cast huge shadows, when positioned correctly. Mirrors aren’t themselves light, but can amplify and extend a tiny light until it fills a large room.
Magnifying the Lord is less about being charismatic, attractive, successful and magnificent than it is about being empty enough to hold and reflect the great Magnificence. We can’t hold God if we are full of ourselves.
What did God see in Mary? Maybe, nothing—enough nothing, enough empty space within to hold someone like Jesus. Would you like to be big enough to hold Jesus inside of you? Would you like that kind of space within, quiet and large and expectant? Wanting it is a good beginning to having it.
God doesn’t measure our magnificence by how many hairs are left on our heads or how many dollars sit in our bank accounts. Going by the Magnificat, what counts for success with God is the kind of emptiness within that sits waiting for Jesus to take up residence. What counts with God is caring for the last, the least and the lost. What counts with God is bringing down the powerful from their thrones and lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich empty away—in other words, giving everyone exactly what they need so that they can become souls instead of egos. This Advent and Christmas, you can make a small start, and let God make a magnificent finish.
Bless you, blessers,