The Fourth Sunday of Advent is the climax, the most beautiful, hopeful, peaceful and quietly joyful of the season, and also perhaps the most empowering and most foundational to the spiritual and active life of the entire church year. At the heart of it is a woman. The heart of the heart of the Christian spiritual tradition is feminine, and we are all called, male and female alike, to let her heart be our heart and her path be our path. This Sunday we will look at what that means in practical terms for us and for our world, drawing again on the important book, Active Hope.
We will light the Advent candle of Love and celebrate Mary, the Mother of Jesus in our 10:00 AM service on the 22nd. Protestants have traditionally limited Mary’s role to brief moments of supporting-actress glory at Christmas and pathos on Good Friday with a few cameo appearances in between, mostly cast in a negative light as a nagging mother.
Recently many of us have come to value Mary’s part in our spiritual tradition and find in her character both a model and a metaphor for our vocation in this time and place. Like her, we are called to open ourselves to let Christ live and grow within us, we are called to bear his light into the world, and so we are all called to go through a process similar to Mary’s: to say yes to the inner voice that calls us, and to consent to what the Holy Spirit seeks to do within us and through us.
Looking at Mary through that lens, we find a path leading us to humble ourselves, to simplify and purify our relationship to the world, to empty ourselves of our selves and self-interests, and to grow into fullness of life and the highest stages of spiritual and psychological maturity. Mary inspires us to nurture the heart and mind of Christ in us so that we may bring Christ to birth on this hurting earth with courage and hope. Mary shows us how to be transformed so that we may transform the world around us.
Each of us has our unique gifts to share and role to play, all of which are urgently needed. We live in a period of history that is unprecedented and asks us to open to the Spirit as fully as we possibly can to have the wisdom and power our tasks will require. Our personal life also confronts us with plenty of situations where we need the Spirit’s guidance and strength. The spiritual model of Mary can help us enormously with this.
We will read the story of Gabriel’s Annunciation, the story of Mary’s visit with Elizabeth and the beloved Magnificat of Mary. We will sing “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” and a contemporary hymn, “We Need a Transformation,” set to the Passion Chorale. (There is a tradition of connecting Advent and Lent this way. J.S. Bach used the Passion Chorale both in his Good Friday St. Matthew Passion and in his Christmas Oratorio cantatas.)
The choir will sing a Basque Carol, “Gabriel’s Message,” and “Hail, Mary, Full of Grace,” a beautiful, haunting Renaissance carol. We will all sing the Benediction set to the ancient Advent tune, Conditor Alme. Annemieke will play two piano pieces from her recent concert, “L’engageante” by F. Couperin and “Evening-Bells” by A. Hovhaness, and finally “Veni Emmanuel” (the tune of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”) to end our Advent services as we began them.