Advent is Scary for Me and the Virgin Mary
Silent night, holy night,
Christmas Cards make it look “just right:”
Calm Madonna, sleeping child,
Even the animals are reverent, mild.
Yet during this Advent, grief lies deep
As world-wide violence makes me weep.
Unjust verdicts, consumer greed,
Corrupted governments that ignore real needs.
We try to make peace
with bright lights, plastic holly,
While our marketplace screams
“Go faster! Be jolly!”
Oh Calm, Serene, Unfrazzled Mary,
Weren’t your days unsettled, scary?
Occupied country, tax demands,
Hard pregnant ride through dangerous lands.
Did you feel fear? Weren’t you weary?
The shelter you found, was it drafty? Was it dreary?
The angel said God’s Child you’d see
But childbirth never comes pain-free.
Yet centuries later, Botticelli paints
and forgets to draw the sweat on saints.
It’s scenes of posed peace and perfection we see,
Yet my reality is what transforms me.
For Christ was born a tender human
In the midst of killing strife
And is being born each day
In this heartbreaking, turbulent life.
Christ’s the giver of a peace
That even death cannot bury!
It’s my miracle now
As it was for you, Mary.
Sharon Pavelda | Copyright © 2014
Today in worship as we mark Advent 2 we are also celebrating the 50/40/10 anniversaries of the ordination of women in the ELCA. As I sit with this poem by artist Sharon Pavelda, I am struck by the word “scary.” Was it scary to be one of the first women ordained into word and sacrament ministry? Was it scary to hear a call to ministry before an institution allowed that call to become a reality? Was it scary to be one of a few surrounded by colleagues who weren’t all totally sure you belonged in their midst?
I know the answer to these questions is “yes.” Is it scary today? Sure. I was ordained in 2006, far after the first person who looked like me was ordained and yet I’ve met more than my share of scary barriers. Several years ago at my previous call I was greeting folks in the narthex before worship when I noticed people gathering at the windows and pointing at someone across the street. As I looked, there stood a man holding a big sign saying But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 1 Tim 2:12
Well. As the only female pastor on staff I was pretty sure I knew who that guy was talking about. I went outside, already dressed to lead worship in my alb and stole, to engage him in conversation. He refused to engage with me other than to tell me about my sinfulness and to tell me where I was going in the afterlife and that I was taking my church with me (this is a real conversation stopper, just so you know).
Friends, I have to be honest and tell you that I have rarely looked hatred in the eyes so directly. And yet, when I stood up in front of the congregation, still shaky from my earlier encounter, the congregation stood and clapped. Was I scared that day? Yes. Was it the only time I’ve been scared because I am a woman in ministry? Absolutely not.
So I like to imagine the advent story with Mary as scared, unsettled, and weary. It makes the events from that story feel much more real and relatable. And isn’t that who God uses? The scared, the unsettled, the weary? The ones who never seem like they were the first draft pick? The ones whose voices shake, or aren’t recognized as the leaders God should call because of some human metric?
That day, when I stood up to proclaim the good news even with a picketer outside the church doors, I was scared but I wasn’t alone. I had those women who paved the way before me behind me, colleagues who walked alongside me, and the little girls sitting in the pews in front of me. Mary was scared to be the literal bearer of good news, but she wasn’t alone. The angel of the Lord was behind her, Joseph came alongside her, and the promise of God in flesh was right in front of her.
What is God calling you to that scares you? What is being born in the midst of these scary days that brings with it a peace that even death cannot bury? Peace, it seems, is its own kind of miracle. And more often than not it looks less like a Botticelli painting and more like you and me, answering God’s call to love as best we can.
In Peace, Pastor Ruth
Let us pray,
Blessed are you, O Lord, the source of all peace. Open our hearts to make room for your coming among us to show us the hope, peace, joy, and love of God. While we wait, help us make room for peace in our struggles so that our hearts overflow with it, our lives are rooted in it, and we share the hope of Christ to a world in need. Come, Lord Jesus, come! Amen.