A righteous priest enters the temple—the holy place of the Lord. As people pray outside, he lights incense and begins to pray. And in the dwelling place of God, this priest comes face to face with an angel of the Lord, Gabriel, who foretells that he will have a son, taking away the shame of his barren wife.
Despite being physically in the house of the Lord, the priest, Zechariah, cannot believe that God could come in such a miraculous way. He responds with doubt: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18).
Six months into Zechariah’s wife’s pregnancy, an angel of the Lord visits a virgin. This humble young woman, whose only qualification is that she has found favor with God, responds to the gift of a miraculous child with obedience, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).
Luke begins his story of Jesus’ birth by juxtaposing these two miracles. While Zechariah’s actions had made him righteous and his career had brought him into God’s presence, he was unable to hear God’s promise of a child. Mary, however, responded to the gift of a child by obediently saying, “I am the Lord’s servant.”
Advent is full of the trappings of the coming of God. But often, among the church services, the charitable donations, and the renditions of “O Holy Night,” we miss God. Like Zechariah, we can be so busy creating space for God to dwell that we forget to prepare our own hearts.
I often use Christmas traditions to hide. In between church pageants, live Nativity scenes, and delivering Christmas cookies, I miss the miracle of the season. My busyness—even though most of the busyness is about God—keeps me from waiting expectantly for God and embracing the miracle of connecting with him.
While Christmas decorations surround us, do we turn to God in praise? How often are we so concerned with creating a world that welcomes God that we miss when his angel stands before us? I often marvel at the energy we waste arguing about whether store clerks say “Happy holidays.” Our efforts are spent creating outward symbols and structures that testify to our Christian identity. As we decorate churches, office buildings, and our homes with Christian symbols, we often forget that Advent is a season meant for waiting. We miss the miracle of Christmas, because we are too busy to wait.
Mary’s qualification to be the mother of the Messiah was that she found favor with God. We don’t know if she successfully kept all of God’s commands. And, as an unmarried woman, she would have had no place in the religious systems and structures of the day. And yet, she was chosen to carry Christ.
Like Mary, our only qualification is that we have found favor with God. We are his, and Advent, in particular, provides us with focused time to choose to wait for God—to put aside the business of creating external spaces for God to come and create internal space and external quiet to meet with him in deeper ways.
Prayer gives us an opportunity to expectantly wait for God. Mary gives an excellent example of how to pray in Luke. She sings,
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors. (Luke 1:46-55)
Her prayer starts with glorifying the Lord and then moves to praise for specific acts. And it helps her to see her miraculous but also burdensome role of carrying God’s child as a gift.
During Advent, we can miss out on the miracle because we are so busy. Prayer gives us the ability to connect with God and change our perspective—to reorient our heart. It gives us space to hear from God about his promises. And it allows us to be able to accept the miraculous gifts—such as his goodness, his truth, and his peace—that he has for us this season.
This week, consider how you can slow down. Perhaps you can rewrite Mary’s prayer and pray it daily. Or maybe you can start each morning with ten minutes of quiet, asking God to speak. You can also listen to this video of a choir singing Mary’s song and allow her words to be your prayer.
The birth of God’s son is a miraculous gift. During Advent, let’s slow down and make space to see the miracle of Jesus.
Image designed by twentyonehundred productions team member Jono Gay.