The Shining Star of Advent

Ignatian Spiritual Exercises 
Week of Christmas

The scriptural accounts of the birth of Jesus have become so familiar to us that it is possible to to loose the curiosity that allows God to speak a new word to us. I catch myself saying, “I have heard this before” and thus I cutoff what new thing God wants to do in me. I am grateful for the grace that enables us to return to a place of freshness. Rather than seeking stimulation through novelty, let’s seek the depth that comes through repetition. 

The week of Christmas is usually a break in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. I choose to use the week to keep the rhythm of prayer and go back through these Incarnation accounts. There is so much here. The big things get our attention: the visitations of the angel on multiple occasions, the barren woman conceiving a child in her elder years, the virgin birth, the shepherds visited by the host of heaven, the Magi coming from afar to visit the King of kings and the Lord of lords and of course God becoming human, taking on flesh.

As I have sat with these accounts, it is a statement that Mary makes that takes center stage for me. It is my personal conviction that this statement should be at the center of my Advent Journey each year because it is upon this that so much depends. And this is the basis for our spiritual formation: 

Here I am, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word. 
Luke 1:38

It seems to me that God needs a body to enter in order to fulfill God’s dream of dwelling with His people. And it appears to be contingent upon this teenage girl saying yes to God. The announcement of the angel is met with the willing submission of Mary. 

In order for God to come to us, the offer of a willing submission is necessary. 

Out of Mary’s simple act of submission comes the gift of God to the world: Christ the Lord the Messiah. Mary’s submission leads to Emmanuel… God with us!

The brightly shining star of Advent is submission and Mary shows us the way. 

God trusted God’s very self, totally and completely and in full bodily form, to the care of a woman. God needed women for survival. Before Jesus fed us with the bread and the wine, the body and the blood, Jesus himself needed to be fed, by a woman. He needed a woman to say: “This is my body, given for you.
 ~Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu, Wholehearted Faith

Mary is the first to offer her body as a living sacrifice in submission to God. This is a total and complete surrender to the will of God. And it is a submission and surrender without knowing what it will bring. Mary has no idea what she is saying yes to and she submits anyway. 

This act of consent is the central aspect of Centering Prayer. It is the nod of “Yes” to the abiding presence of God. It is only as we actively consent to God’s presence, that the God who inhabits the entire universe, makes His home in our heart. Prayer that is transforming is the prayer of emptying, of letting go, of release, of surrender. In prayer we let go of our incessant self-centering thoughts and consent to the abiding presence of God, over and over again. The words of Isaiah apply here:

In returning and in rest is your salvation;
in quietness and trust is your strength. 
Isaiah 30:15

Our initial steps on this journey of consent and submission are offered with a bit of a struggle. My attitude is that I have to give up something of myself, and indeed I do! As we travel this path of consent, it becomes easier. Not because we have gotten into the habit of disciplining ourselves to deny ourselves, but because we experience the goodness of God that opens up to us. We discover that this submission leads us to the unique place of who God created us to be and from which we live our lives. This is a good place. Our lives become an offering that is freely given in joy. We only get there through this act of submission. 

Mary, who carried the Divine Reality within her, teaches us the path toward abiding in the Divine Presence, and it is this word:

Here I am, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.

This posture of submission taken in prayer, is the transformational path that we carry through the entirety of our lives moment by moment. Without submission we cannot experience the Divine gift of unity, unity with God and unity with one another. And the character of this submission is Love. And this is worship. 

May the shining star of Advent – submission – lead us to the indwelling Divine Presence that transforms everything!

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