As newlyweds, the talk of children creeps into the topic of conversation for Hannah and I – what names will our children have, where would be the best place to raise them, what will they look like? Our thoughts wander to sports they will play, characteristics they will inherit… The list goes on and on. As a married couple, we have the privilege of tricking ourselves into thinking we are in more control than we actually are. In anticipation of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had no such privilege. What we encounter in the season of Advent is the antithesis of control; pregnant, virgin, unmarried, and no say in the name of the child. Mary and Joseph preparing for a baby that an angel-an angel-said would be the Son of God.
Christ’s birth is a sobering reminder to us that we are not in control. My mind wanders to the incredulous devastation of Joseph when he initially heard that Mary was pregnant, knowing full well it wasn’t his son. And especially Mary: confronted in the dead of night by an angel who told her that in nine months she would give birth to Jesus Christ.
In 1939 on Christmas Eve, King George VI addressed a nation deeply concerned with the looming danger of Nazi Germany. The fear of attack was heavy in the minds of the people. In the midst of uncertainty, King George implored the people of England with a poem from Minnie Louise Haskins:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way…”
Put simply, Mary and Joseph did just that. In the most intimate and delicate of situations, they put their hands into the hands of God knowing full well that trusting in him changes everything. Their trust was not just submissive but instinctual and bold. Joseph, after the night an angel told him that the pregnancy was real and that the boy would save the world from sin, woke and married Mary. Mary, who knew the pregnancy would change her life, alter her body, and attract rebuke, proclaimed “I am the Lord’s servant… May your word to me be fulfilled.” What is more, in uncertainty and confusion she offered praise:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
– Lk 1:46-55
Despite the miraculous circumstances of the Virgin Birth, the fear that Mary and Joseph faced is the same fear that lives in all of us: we cannot stand to be out of control. Whether it is the anticipation of a first born, unemployment, helicopter parenting, or bracing for the results of an election season, the fear of the unknown is real and often warranted. However, the Gospel insists we stop looking for lamps we think will help us make sense of fear and uncertainty. At the heart of Christianity, and in the midst of turmoil, is Jesus, God’s final Word, spoken to us in the midst of our storms. And because of that, advent is a reminder that no candle we can light on our own will ever suffice to make sense of the darkness around us. Advent is the reminder that our only comfort is in surrendering our fears into the hand of God who will surely guide us through the unknown.
“…So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.” (Haskins)