In the final entry of this blog series dedicated to the many manifestations of the season of anticipation, Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt opens our hearts to the mystery and wonder of Advent.
Advent is Mystery.
by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt
Over two thousand years ago a young pregnant woman traveled to visit her pregnant cousin. As Mary drew near she greeted Elizabeth. Their intimate and joyous responses convey the beautiful proclamation we read about in the gospel of Luke. Elizabeth's unborn child leaps in her womb as Mary greets her. Mary, in turn, utters a spontaneous cry for joy, "My soul magnifies the Lord!" She then describes her God who scatters the proud and lifts the lowly. And buried in these incredibly powerful verses of proclamation are questions of wonder. Elizabeth asks, “why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?" Mary points to the source of her wonder, marveling at the reality that her powerful God chose her, his Servant to carry the Incarnate One. What mystery! Beyond all reason, these poor women, living in occupied territory among a people who hold no political power, know by way of faith that the Almighty has chosen to be birthed into their world through this poor unmarried woman and witnessed to by another poor old woman. Both women found themselves carrying new life that was brought about by the miraculous and mysterious work of God's grace.
Seventeen years ago, in the middle of Advent, I stood in a parking lot outside a shabby government building in central China. My baby was handed to me wrapped and swaddled in layers of infant clothes. She was nine months old. I had waited nine months to travel to a foreign land to receive this beautiful child of God, from God. And mysteriously, beyond all my reason, a miracle happened in that parking lot. Virginia looked up at me as I smiled down at her. Our eyes locked, we both sighed and knew we had found each other. We bonded as mother and daughter, deeply, intimately, and mysteriously. I brought Virginia home on Christmas Eve. In the spirit of Mary and Elizabeth, I too asked the question, and continue to ask the question: Who am I, your lowly servant, that you would give such a gift, a child?
Advent has always been my favorite season. For many, a time of waiting, of hope. For me, it is a reminder of an exchange between two women, and of an encounter between a childless woman and a Chinese baby in a nondescript parking lot in central China. It is a reminder that our powerful God chose to enter our world in a hidden and humble manner only to reveal his grace for the poor, weak, and with the intention to dismantle the powerful systems of oppression. Advent this year comes during a particularly difficult political season that reminded us once again that racism, misogyny, and violence is alive and beating in our society and churches. This Advent I have felt discouraged, and once again find myself struggling and reflecting on the mysterious and hopeful miracle of life that two women proclaimed two thousand years ago. I marvel at the mysterious miracle of life each time I look at my daughter and remember the incomprehensibility of grace. During this dark time the moving story of Mary and Elizabeth's encounter with each other, and my own encounter with my lovely Virginia, helps me to cling to the wonder of God's coming for me, for us. Advent is mystery!
Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, professor of theology and social ethics, has extensive experience teaching in the areas of church history, theology and social justice. She has been on the faculty of Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary for 15 years. Her book, “The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence against Women,” reflects her interest in the application of theology of the cross and the work of ending global violence.