On the way home from church today we found trees blown down across the road. Huge branches blocking our path, dangerous obstacles getting in our way, preventing us from continuing our journey.
One kid is ill and the wind howls outside. And all the leaves that had hung on until now, swirl in the air.
It is the first Sunday of Advent and the hope that is to come feels like a fairy tale.
My stomach churns and I feel empty. The words I speak evaporate into the air, swallowed by uncertainty that lies just one breath away.
Today, I need truth.
I need someone to speak truth to me.
And there isn’t anyone.
Today, I am the truth teller. I am the encourager. The bringer of the words of hope. I am the one searching for the language to point out the hidden reality. To reveal the hope that isn’t immediately obvious, that has been disguised by comparison and insecurity.
I try to bring light and clarity. To give strength. I paint pictures for my loved ones, vivid colours revealing purpose, describing a life of meaning. Digging deep to find promises potent with expectation.
But I need it myself. I need someone to speak truth to me.
Somedays I have to become that person for myself. Today is one of those days.
I speak the truth. I will write it here and feel it echo in my heart.
I remember what I read late last night, on the night before advent begins, the encouragement to STAY in the STORY. To remain in it even as the world tries to convince me that this tale of sacrificial love will never work, that I need to grasp tighter and protect myself. I will stay and search for a truth that lies deeper than my circumstances or my emotions, that exists in spite of the horror on the television screen, the pain and inequality in the newspapers.
When the beauty of Autumn is reduced to rattling windows.
On the first Sunday of Advent I think of Mary and I remember the words the angel spoke to her.
“Greetings, you who are highly favoured”
“Rejoice, highly favoured one, blessed are you among women”
“Greetings favoured woman, The Lord is with you!”
Whichever translation I go to, the message is the same. Mary is blessed. Mary is favoured.
Until recently I thought this was always with the knowledge of the job she was to do. That these words were some kind of divine flattery or manipulation. Language to ease the life-changing nature of the task ahead of her. Or maybe because she was remarkable, different, because she was exceptional.
And this rang true in all the ways I used to think of God. Back then. In the bad old days. When spiritual approval was based on my ability and my behaviour. When ultimate favour was determined by my obedience and self-control.
I know now, this is not the case. Far from it. For Mary and for me.
Mary is already favoured. Before anything has been asked of her. Before she has done anything. She is already blessed. It does not come with a qualification, with a caveat or footnotes. It is not dependent on her cooperation or her behaviour.
She is favoured.
And the angel’s words were not just for Mary.
They are also for me.
And I know this because the gospel of grace didn’t take on flesh and blood on behalf of the religious authorities, or the Kings and Pharaohs, the houses of power. The gospel of grace multiplied, cell on cell, in the womb of an uneducated teenage girl, living in an occupied state. This gospel of grace grew up to declare freedom for captives and dignity to the oppressed and downtrodden.
Elegance, competency, knowledge and power, were not pre-requisite to His approval or acceptance. In fact they often acted as stumbling blocks. It was the children, the poor, the ill and infirm who flocked to him. Who were favoured in His sight.
And so I know this truth is not just for Mary.
If it is for Mary it is also for me.
It almost feels blasphemous to write it down. Some kind of prideful arrogance to say it.
I don’t care. I’m saying it anyway.
I am favoured.
(Deal with it howling wind. I speak the truth)
And this is the truth I will practise. These are the words that stop me from holding tight to try and get my own way. These are the words that give me the courage to practise the art of letting go. These are the words to enable me to give up control and trust my way to Him.
Even when the circumstances of my life and the vulnerability of my situation would try and trip me into self-effort. Even when the voice in my head tells me that if I worked more or tried harder, if dealt in more influential circles, if looked better or behaved better, I could control my life to guarantee myself success, or security, or health.
Even then, I will remember the words of the angel, are the ultimate words to me.
You are highly favoured.
You are blessed.
You are loved.
On this day when it sounds as though the sky is falling down, and it feels a bit the same way, this is the truth that I will rehearse, that I will remember.