The glow of Advent candles is strong with this final weekend before Christmas. Elderly Elizabeth welcomes Mary with open arms and recognizes who the younger woman really is. Freed of convention that would label and judge, moved by the Spirit, Elizabeth sees what IS, that Mary is the mother of God. And so the world is bathed in new light. And the light is all about the presence of God. And the truth is that we all live in the presence of God everyday. Advent is the time ot reflect on HOW we live in that presence. In so many ways, to dare to do that, acceptance of one another with open hearts and welcoming arms is essential. In this world, the flickering flames are showing more and more the need for forgiveness of self and others. Like Mary, we are each all too human.
The implications of that are amazing, and the swift rhythm of Psalm 80 pulls towards that sense of presence. “Lord,make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” God’s face has billions of facets: each of the faces we encounter is one shimmering glimmer of God. To carry that just a step further and juxtapose it with the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary means looking more deeply at what is before us. To see the face of God, to turn to God, means to know forgiveness, to be able to forgive, to process forgiveness, to enable forgiveness, to be forgiveness for each other. The burdens of guilt and shame are weighty, self-imposed and redefined by the public humiliation that so often accompanies it. Advent and Christianity itself are calls to that reality.
Christmas, often heralded by the brilliance of holiday decoration and spirit, is actually the birth of second chances, of third chances or fourth or even fifth. It is about remembering the planks in our own eyes as well as the eyes of others and re-embracing life and others as tenderly as a newborn is cradled and caressed. It is recognizing that there are times in life when we are all in need of such unbounded love, such acceptance for our fragilities. In Mary, Elizabeth saw what was most real, most honest, and she proclaims that. There is no harshness, no condemnation, but an acceptance of what is.
We are all the owners of clay feet, all more than the images that cast our shadows. There is a simplicity to the reality of life’s brevity, the contours of brokenness and the incomprehensible ways we hurt one another. But there is a boundlessness to infinity and to the thousands of ways forgiveness can be part of the Christmas miracle. It is in this moment that realizing the strength and courage we can give one another is birthed in willingness to see, to accept, to forgive and to live together. Restoration is moments away if we allow that. Advent is leaving behind the layers of wrapping that comprise life and believing again in the beginning, starting over, and making peace possible. It all starts with forgiveness.