Just a few days ago, I spent an entire afternoon singing to my daughter, Pepper, because she’s decided that she a) will be cheerful just long enough for me to finish dinner if I’m singing and b) absolutely won’t sleep unless I sing to her—which has essentially turned my life into a movie musical when Trent’s not home. I’ve cycled through my favorite hymns and sampled July Andrews’ repertoire and eventually just googled famous lullabies because I was tired of singing the Sound of Music. One of the first songs to pop up was Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
It’s a song I’ve always loved, if only for Judy Garland’s velvety voice and the memories I have watching The Wizard of Oz as a kid. But I had never really thought about the lyrics until I was singing it to my daughter in the late afternoon sunlight. What had once been simply a beautiful song sung by a beautiful woman unfolded into a moment where I realized—or admitted to myself—that I, too, wanted to escape, to fly away to a land where troubles melt away like a piece of candy on your tongue.
Our world feels like too much sometimes. We go about our lives trying to make the best of things when an unexpected bill shows up in the mail or we hear from our loved ones that no, they can’t make it for Christmas. Yet just as we think we can’t take much more of this, just as we turn toward our various habits of denial or depression, that is when the Church tugs us in another direction entirely.
Advent is a season to reorient ourselves, to take stock and change direction. It’s a bit of godly choreography that this in-between season happens at an in-between time of the year, when the days have grown short and the weather capricious, when we’re all exhausted from holiday preparations and end-of-the-year considerations—because the reality of the world’s brokenness can no longer hide. The summer isn’t here with sunshine and late-night barbecues to smooth away old regrets, and the hope of springtime is months away. We are stuck, perhaps to our dismay, in a time of unveiling, of reckoning, and of dealing with the consequences. Faced with that pressure, we get the itch to find some kind of deliverance at the end of our yellow-brick road, whether that’s a bottle of wine or the latest television hit. But Advent insists we look elsewhere. It dares us to look at our world and ask: Where is God in all this mess?
Where is God in all this mess? We might first think to look around, to try and find the bright spots in our lives, the early morning snowfalls and surprise letters in the mail. Which wouldn’t be wrong—all good gifts do come from God. But if we want an answer that will counter the temptation to escape or deny reality, that will cut through the fog of depression or despair, we need something stronger than that, something that we are actually given in our Gospel lesson today.
“Greetings, O favored one,” Gabriel tells a very surprised and fairly frightened Mary. “The Lord is with you.” And he begins to unfold the story of Jesus’ imminent arrival on earth. He wasn’t to leap fully formed from the sky, nor was he to be born into wealth or royalty. He was instead placed in the womb of a young and unmarried woman who could offer him no protection but her own body and her own love. Oddly enough, the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, decided to send the savior of Israel into the world in such a way that he was set up to experience the worst the world could give.
And yet rather than cave under the weight of what could go wrong—the imagined terrors and the real fears—Mary bursts into song. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Mary sings with such jubilation because God’s entry into this world in just this way proves that he loves the least and even the lost. He has not forgotten his promise to David, that a son shall establish his throne forever; but he has gone about answering it in such a way that the Messiah will be one with the poor and with the powerless. By choosing to come as a baby, to come into this world as the son of a laborer, our Lord has chosen to identify himself with each and every one of us in our weakness and our poverty, chosen to bestow riches and goodness on us even though we doubt him, even though we sin.
On this last Sunday of Advent, we remember how, in that one moment, everything changed for us and for our world. Where is God in the mess? He is with us. God himself has entered into the mess, into our mess. He knows what it’s like for family to disappoint us. He knows what it’s like to wonder if life will ever get better. He knows because he’s here with us in every moment of weakness and in every moment of strength. Life may not be the easiest in the coming weeks and months. We may feel as though we are powerless, as though there’s no hope for it but to escape to another place entirely. In those moments, may we remember Gabriel’s words: “Do not be afraid. The Lord is with you.” AMEN.