Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas as Invitation to Godbearing Life: Belated Reflections on the Third Candle of Advent

The joy candle is my daughter’s favorite. Probably because Joy is her middle name. Probably because she loves the color pink. Probably because, once we have reached the third week of Advent, she gets to light this candle and blow it out after dinner. 

She also loves the joy candle because of the traditional link with Mary.  As she will point out, Mary was a girl just like her. 

Side note: If you want to discover the patriarchy laced within Scripture, just read a Bible with a four-year-old girl. She’ll make you aware of it every single time. 

I think my daughter's on to something; Mary may even be quickly ascending the ladder of my favorite Biblical characters, too.  After all, as the Theotokos, Mary is a beautiful microcosm of who we are called to be as the church of Jesus Christ in the midst of our tired and fearful world:
“The Eastern Orthodox tradition calls Mary Theotokos, or ‘Godbearer,” because she (quite literally) brought God into the world…And while God does not ask any of us to bring Christ into the world literally as did Mary, God calls each of us to become a Godbearer through whom God may enter the world again and again.” (Kinda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life 17). 
This is the invitation of Christmas.  Christmas dares us not only to witness the climbing down of God [1] into the brokenness of the human condition, but also to nurture the very life of God within ourselves and among our most vulnerable neighbors.  Each Christmas we reclaim the words spoken to Mary, “do not be afraid,” as the holy nudge to respond with the same willingness to bear the love of Christ and subvert the many reasons to despair. 

We are beckoned to bear the love of Christ as we welcome neighbors into our homes and explore possibilities to host others from distant lands looking for refuge and safety. We are called to nourish the life of God as we advocate for victims of violence, legislation that can make such violence more difficult to repeat, and peacemaking efforts that do not require a sword or gun or weapons of war. We are invited to carry the life of God through hospital visitations, solidarity extended over a cup of coffee with a friend, and the embrace of neighbors who face daily prejudice due to their ethnicity, heritage, and religion. We are moved to care for the life of God as we journey alongside the family who has been struggling with infertility, for whom the Christ child is just another reminder of the void they have yet to fill. We are dared to nurture the Advent of Christ when we give anonymously to families looking for assistance so they can provide for their little ones at Christmas. We are called to bear the life of Christ when we engage in new relationships and confront the realities of racism, bias, and privilege. We are inspired to share in the identity as theotokos whenever we welcome guests, many for the first time, into our congregations, sanctuaries, and worship services and assure them of their belonging. 

And we bear the life of God in all these places with great joy. This joy is more than mere sentiment, rather the perspective of the faithful fixed on God’s promise and presence wrapped up in the Christ child. Joy as perspective is what propelled Mary towards the God-bearing life. 

But there’s a bit more as to why I am beginning to favor the lone pink candle of Advent.

As a young, marginalized first-century woman living under ethnic, religious, and political siege, carrying the child who does not belong to her betrothed, Mary reminds us God’s preference is for the unexpected other. When God acts, God does so among the least of these.  When God calls, God does so through and for the sake of those frequently relegated to the fringes of our nations and neighborhoods. So Mary’s witness beckons us not only to be the bearers of God, but also to recognize the theotokos all around us who show up in persons most have written off as insignificant or threats to power and privilege. 

So this Advent, as you light the pink candle…and the one next to it…and the one in the middle…be reminded that you are called to bear the very life of Christ into the world. Even more, as the light of this candle lingers during these last days, dare to take notice of the theotokos in neighbor, stranger, and the other. Who knows what God is birthing in and through them…

[1] Karl Barth once wrote, "This is the miracle of Jesus Christ's existence, this descent of God from above downwards- the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary. This is the mystery of Christmas, of the Incarnation" (The Dogmatics in Outline 96).  The "descent of God" has frequently been translated as the "climbing down of God."