The stories of Advent are among my favorites when it comes to exploring God’s call on our lives.
Men and women are going about their everyday lives—priests, young girls, old women, shepherds, astronomers—most walking on the treadmill of whatever the equivalent of the “American dream” was for a Middle Eastern Jew: get yourself a wife (or husband), a few kids, a pottery shop out back, and stay off the radar of the Romans, for goodness sake!
Then into ordinary life explodes the voice of God, with an invitation to take up a role in his unfolding plan at a critical moment in history. God likes to do that—shake us loose of our little plans and invite us into something bigger.
Just take a look at the Advent stories involving the angel Gabriel on his long-awaited two stop tour—first appearing to Zechariah (your wife will bear a son in her old age!), then to Mary (Greetings, O favored one! The Lord is with you!). Each woman says “yes” to God’s invitation. Yes to being overshadowed by the Spirit of God. Yes to committing their bodies to house a miracle—one through supernatural conception in her virgin body, the other through the resurrection of a dead womb. Yes to a whole lot of the unknown.
And yet how different the yes was in these two women:
Mary, invited to be the mother of Jesus—young, hopeful, pure. Her whole life ahead of her, full of dreams and promise. Invited to abandon herself to a plan larger than anything she ever imagined. A trembling yes—“Let it be to me as you have said.”
Elizabeth, invited to be the mother of John the Baptist—in her twilight years, her body having long ceased to be fertile. Dreams unfilled, shrouded in a lifetime of disappointment and unanswered prayers. The only place of significance offered to a woman 2000 years ago—to bear a child—had been denied to her. She had surrendered herself to be one of the saints who welcomed the promises of God from a distance.
Sometimes we say yes from a Mary heart. We are awed and humbled by the invitation (did he just say I am favored?) and somewhat naive about what we are signing up for. We just know we love God and we’ll do anything for him.
But other times we say yes from an Elizabeth heart. We’ve said yes before, maybe many times. And while we’ve had a rich relationship with God, there are major heart prayers that have gone unanswered. We’ve wondered whether we heard God right, and our lives have had painful, disappointing losses that don’t match up with how we see a loving God. A yes from Elizabeth holds no naivety because her yes has brought joy and pain in the past. But there she is, saying yes again—til the very end of her life.
We don’t just respond to God’s invitation once in our lives, but many times. As my sister said to her boys when they first “asked Jesus into their hearts” as children: “Don’t forget that you will have a lifetime of saying yes to Jesus…this is just the first!”
Or not. As one of my favorite Advent poets reminded us of Mary, “She might have said NO.”
God can break into our mundane with a radical invitation and we calculate the cost…then ever so politely decline. We can withhold from God—our hearts, our resources, our longings, our talents. Or even worse, we can be like the lukewarm churches of Revelation 3, neither hot nor cold, saying neither yes nor no. In the short term, this indifference seems to cost relatively little, but the long-term consequences are catastrophic.
May I invite you this Advent to say YES to God again? Tell him you are willing to surrender to him completely. Tell him you don’t want to watch the unfolding of his crazy plan from the sidelines. Tell him you are tired of hearing the stories second hand—that you want your own story to share. Lean in and hear him say, “You are favored!” And if you cannot believe that then seek healing this year to remove the blocks that keep you from embracing this truth.
Consider yourself invited anew. Lay down the things which have held you back from abandon to God—ego, fear, ambition, control, toys, retirement plans, reputation, unforgiveness, and the doubt that you have something to offer. You do. Your job is not to figure out the when, where, and how before you say yes. Faith is called a leap for a reason. Abandon always includes moments of freefall. But oh, what you will gain!
Let me tell you as one who sits with people serving from many nations—this Advent is pregnant with invitation. God is moving around the globe in a beautiful synchronicity, calling many to say YES to him again. He is up to something. And you can be a part of the movement of God’s people to say yes—just like Mary, Elizabeth, and even Zechariah, who God uses despite his doubting heart—no matter where that yes leads.
Will you join us this Christmas in abandon to that yes? Will you allow yourself to be be overshadowed by God’s Spirit in new ways (whatever that means!)? We are seeing some crazy things under the shadow of his wings. And we’d love to have your company.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Galloway and her husband Alex have three teenage daughters and live in Málaga, Spain. They serve together on CRM’s Staff Care and Development Team, running a hub for missionaries that provides counseling, training, leadership and transition coaching, and spiritual direction. Amy writes a blog on life transitions called Beautiful Upheaval, where this reflection was originally posted.
Image: Domenico Ghirlandaio - Web Gallery of Art