Mary, Ebenezer and the Joy of Advent

I have always been fascinated with villains, in books and in movies, especially the ones who turn out to be good: Professor Snape, Boo Radley, Darth Vader, T-Rex and, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge. A Christmas Carol in its various versions captures the attention of millions of Americans this time of year. For me, our enthrallment with Ebenezer’s story is deeply ironic.

Who is Ebenezer Scrooge? Starfleet commander, tortured hero or 19th-century Ruffian?

He’s rich. He wants to stay rich. He wants nothing to distract him from being rich. After all, he has a right to be rich and he wants no one to take it away from him. Left to his own devices, he has no interest in dwelling on the past. He cares not to remember people he once loved but who are no longer a part of his empire. He

Can I truly know joy without fully embracing the pain and uncertainty of the broken world I live in?

does not want to notice those less fortunate in his midst — those who are homeless, poor or otherwise outcast as the dregs of society. Does this sound familiar?

I will be honest. It sounds very familiar, and I have to look no further than my own cycle of activity in the world around me during the last 24 hours to see the entrails of Ebenezer’s infirmity. The irony is this: Our culture, despite its captivation with Ebenezer’s story, does not truly dislike Ebenezer’s villain state. We are much more comfortable in the cycle of wealth development than the spiraling world of poverty, disease and brokenness. And it may take more than some scary ghosts and time travel to snap us out of our self-destructive path.

The question I have been asking myself this Advent season is, “Can I truly know joy without fully embracing the pain and uncertainty of the broken world I live in?” We read about the joy of a woman’s heart when an angel delivers the news to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to a son to be called Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High,” the angel said to her. “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

Pushing aside any questions about greatness, the throne of David or a kingdom reign that will never end, Mary asks an absolutely poignant and honest question: “How can I conceive a child if I am a virgin?” Her raw and unfiltered embrace of the divine words spoken to her by the angel allowed her to ultimately understand the truth about God’s plan for her life: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:34-35) With the words of an angel that tumbled over her like a rushing river, Mary’s embrace of reality opened the door for her to know and experience joy in fulfilling the ultimate plan for her life.

This is true joy. Oh, to be more like Mary and less like Ebenezer.

Consider one more familiar Christmas villain, whose song goes something like this:

"You’re a rotter … You’re the king of sinful sots. Your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots … Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots."

Remember the villain of Whoville? How could we forget? Honestly, you could have inserted my name here: “You’re a mean one, Mr. Lawson.” This hits home in the world of Ebenezer Scrooge. With so much rubbish in my life, with these sinful sots, my splotched and moldy heart and the appalling dump heap overshadowing my soul, dare I embrace the grace, peace and purpose of the coming Messiah?

Please join me this Advent season in embracing the reality of grace in a broken world. And let us embrace the heart of Mary in proclaiming, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Let the truth of Advent permeate your life, for “blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

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