Some of the best thoughts I ever read about the Christmas story came not from a book about Christmas, but a book about youth ministry. It has been several years since I read The Godbearing Life by Kenda Creasy Dean, but the idea of a Godbearing life has stuck with me. Dean explains how in the Eastern Orthodox branch of the church, they have traditionally called Mary theotokos or “Godbearer” because she literally brought God into the world in her son Jesus, a blessed event that came about because of her trust and obedience to the call God gave her through the angel Gabriel in Luke 1. Dean suggests that God figuratively extends this call to all of us. She writes, “And while God does not ask any of us to bring Christ into the world as literally as did Mary, God calls each of us to become a Godbearer through whom God may enter the world again and again” (p. 17).
Dean goes on to argue that youth don’t need more ministry from us; they need more God. And the only way they will find God in us is for us to be rooted intimately in our own relationship with God, nurturing and tending it so that it overflows into others’ lives and invites others into the same kind of relationship. Thus the emphasis in our lives and ministries switches from programs to people and from religion to relationships. This is true not just for our relationships with youth, but with all people.
My charge to you then for this Advent season is to reflect on your own call to bring God into the world. How have you allowed programs and religion to take center stage rather than people and relationships? This is a busy time of year, full of Christmas programs, pageants, dinners, services to the needy, traditions, and religious observances. Most of these things are very good things, but they can also fill our schedules and minds so that we have no space for God and no room in our inns for Jesus. And without that space for God, we have no life to draw from that we can pour into others. Without Jesus, we have no one with whom to invite others into a life-changing relationship.
So let’s look again at Mary. What did she do after those famous words of acceptance, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)? She retreated to her cousin Elizabeth’s for three months (v. 56). Elizabeth, six months pregnant at the time with John the Baptist, would have been an ideal confidant and source of help for this early stage of Mary’s pregnancy. There in the hill country, we can assume that Mary found solitude with God and fellowship with her loved ones as she prepared for the months and years ahead. I can think of no better way myself to enjoy the Advent season.
What else does Mary teach us? Look at the Magnificat, her song in Luke 1:46-55, most notably v. 53, “He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.” Regrettably, our nation has in many ways turned Advent into a season of consumerism and greed, in which the differences between the haves and have-nots are all too apparent. But the truth is, our children, our families, and our communities don’t need more stuff, more goods and services, or even more aid and goodwill. What they need is more of God, and the rest will take care of itself. When we come to God rich in ourselves, too busy and distracted by maintaining appearances and providing for ourselves to recognize our own humble position, just as humble as a young Jewish virgin, we go away empty and have nothing to pass on to others. But for those who hunger and seek to see God enter this world again and again, changing one life, then another and another, they are filled with the good things of God, filled with God himself, the Holy Spirit.
What will your Godbearing life look like this Christmas season? What might you give up to make space for God and space for others? Is there an easy fix that could be replaced by time invested in a relationship with a person with a name and a face who needs to know God in you? Are there mindless traditions that could be reshaped into thoughtful practices that signal others to the loving presence of Christ? I’ll leave the creative details to you.
Best wishes this Christmas,