Brokenness, Imagination & Peace
Today marks the beginning of the fourth week of Advent, just a few days more ‘til Christmas! On the Advent wreath, we light the candle of peace today, focusing on the peace that Christ brings to our hearts as He enters this world. But if you’re anything like me right now, you might be struggling with how to find that serenity of spirit. This year has thrown so many challenges at us that lately it’s felt more like we’re dragging our weary, beaten bodies towards the finish line of 2020 instead of reveling in the peace and love of Christ coming into our midst. If I’m completely honest, I have to admit that fear and anxiety and downright panic feel more like the theme of this season. Peace seems far from us.
But then I ask myself, when do we actually need peace? Not when we’ve already reached a blissful state of pure calm, but when we’re most fearful. We need the peace that God offers because we can’t fabricate it on our own. The word peace in the Biblical language of Hebrew is “shalom,” which translates as “a state of completeness or wholeness.” It strikes me that it is exactly when fears and doubts threaten to choke us that we are most at need of being made whole. The scripture passages throughout Advent provide a reassuring picture of God offering divine peace to His people exactly when they’re frightened and doubtful, and today’s reading is one of the most vivid examples. The reading from Luke centers on the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary with the news of her extraordinary role in Christ’s coming.
Gabriel first greets Mary by telling her that she is “full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Instead of feeling immediate joy and peace, Mary “was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” I LOVE how human her reaction is, how filled with worry and questions. For one small moment, I am there with Mary, questioning how God could possibly use me as well. Yet, the angel isn’t phased by her reaction; instead -- without her saying anything aloud -- he directly addresses her fears: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” How reassuring to be reminded that God knows every one of our fears, and He meets us right where we are!
Then, Gabriel spells out exactly what God’s plan for Mary is and who her Son will be; yet Mary’s response is to directly question “how can this be?” I love the idea that Mary’s questioning isn’t a denial of what God can do, but rather an invitation for Him to teach her to think like He does. Christian poet and author Luci Shaw shares how “It came to me, recently, that faith is ‘a certain widening of the imagination.’ When Mary asked the Angel, ‘How shall these things be?’ she was asking God to widen her imagination. All my life I have been requesting the same thing--a baptized imagination that has a wide enough faith to see the numinous in the ordinary.”As I unpack Shaw’s quote, I realize that this “widening of the imagination” is exactly how God can bring us peace right in the midst of this anxious time. I once heard that our fears come from the lie that God won’t be present in our future. But if we allow God to speak to our fears by giving us a “baptized imagination,” we can envision a future where God is fully present. Just like Mary’s beautiful example, we can tell our anxieties to God with the full expectation that He can -- and will! -- grant us the peace of being made complete: true shalom offered to us all.