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Pace: It's the most wonderful time of year

In the Christian tradition we celebrate Advent and one of the ways we mark the season is with four Sundays usually starting in late November or early December and leading us to Christmas Day and the Christmas season. Advent is a season of waiting and watching and preparing for the coming of Christ – as a baby and also again in final glory.

During this holy season of Advent we read some interesting biblical passages in anticipation of the birth of the one we Christians follow, Jesus, born in a manger around the back of an inn that had no room for him. We read scripture texts in the Hebrew Bible about how lions will lay down with lambs and little children will be our leaders. In the New Testament we read about John the Baptist who wears clothing made of camel’s hair, a leather belt, and eats locusts. He preached a message of good news and repentance from the margins of the wilderness as he announced that Jesus would come after him and baptize with more than just water but also the Holy Spirit.

And then there’s my favorite, Mary. Mary, Jesus’ mother, sings a beautiful song of praise in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke, referred to as the Magnificat. She sings,

With all my heart I glorify the Lord! He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed (selected verses from Luke 1:46-53, Common English Bible).

These are the scripture passages we talk about in church as we steadily move through the Advent season on our way to Christmas. Just as Jesus was born in a humble setting and preached a gospel message of love and humility, so too we are called to this kind of life. I guess it’s a strange thing to talk about the vulnerable, oppressed, “lowly” as Mary says, and how it’s to these that Jesus comes and offers love and compassion. Seems to me that this goes against much of what the world around us says about the place and importance of power and privilege.

But I wonder where we see these scripture texts in action in our world today. I wonder where we may see the message show up at this very moment as we watch people lose their status because of their actions. Where do we see them at work in our own lives as leaders and followers as well as in the lives of those who we consider our leaders? It’s an interesting question, and it’s one of the questions of Advent.   

The Advent texts ask that we examine our lives and also the lives of those we hold in high esteem. Mary’s song of praise is a model for how we might fashion our own ways of walking in the world, how we hold leaders and mentors accountable, and how we remember what the message of Christmas brings to our lives, our communities, and to our world.

As the Christmas lyrics tell us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” And it is for those who celebrate this season, especially when we allow the words from Mary’s song and John’s preaching and the prophets’ writings shape the way we live our day-to-day lives and make decisions.

I wish you hope, peace, joy, and love in this season and for the year ahead. 

The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University and lives in Oxford, Georgia with his partner, Ami, and their son, Sam.