I don’t know all of what Mary feared, but I can guess she had plenty. An unwed pregnant woman was not what it is today. She had good reasons to be afraid, as did Joseph, Zechariah, and the Shepherds. The Angels spoke directly to them, saying the same thing regarding the coming of Jesus: “be not afraid.” They were afraid, with good reason, and so are we.
My guess is that your fears are similar to mine. Fears of being seen or unseen: The reality that I can bear neither the pain of your rejection, nor the intimacy of your staying with me. Fears of being enough, of my value: Good enough for love, acceptance, forgiveness, or even something as simple as a hug from someone I have hurt. Fears about safety, stability, and self-control. Regardless of the fears, it’s a shining star illuminating the need for something greater.
The Angels command to not be afraid foreshadowed the coming of Peace. We are reminded in 1 John 4 that perfect love casts out all fear. Advent is the birthplace of perfect love, of God’s peace.
Advent is an opportunity to allow God’s peace to enter into our lives. But just like any other physical container, we have to remove the current contents before we can fill it up with something new. I don’t have to look too far into my life to see that I’ve filled much of my space with things like some of the fears I mentioned earlier. To allow for peace, I have to have space.
Advent’s invitation is about space. This season, the question is: Will you make room?
There was no space for Jesus’ birth in the hotels, B&B’s, or even the dilapidated truck-stop motels. There was only room in the stable, the barn. This is the place in the Advent story for us to consider what areas of our lives are too full for Jesus. The hotels and other establishments are too sensible and upscale for an unwed mother in childbirth. I imagine the innkeepers felt similar to the way I do during a church service with my kids are doing somersaults on the chairs during the doxology. The message is clear: “Go away, you’re not welcome here.”
Not all the rooms of our life need to be occupied. We need to leave space, to allow emptiness. I can’t think of a more difficult challenge than to intentionally let there be places of emptiness in my life. The innkeeper in me says, “why would I ever want to leave a room empty?” Actually trying to leave room so that you feel some emptiness might be the craziest challenge you’ve ever heard. The sensible thing to do is to fill everything up so as to not feel empty.
The Advent season is not about our sensibilities. It’s about allowing space for peace to enter. For peace to reside, take shelter, and begin to grow. This is the language of hope, and hope is not sensible. Hope is a bit crazy, kind of like giving birth to a child in a barn.
Here is the great thing about Advent. Even if we’re too full and don’t have room, Advent will still happen. The invitation will still be there when we are ready. So, keep heart, make room, and let Peace fill your emptiness. May the Peace of the Lord be with you.
(postscript: This piece was written for my graduate school, The Seattle School, for an Advent series they have created. To subscribe to the entire series of articles, poems, and other Advent reflections, click here: https://theseattleschool.edu/forms/advent2014/)