To celebrate Jesus’ coming, Mary did not light Advent candles or put up a Christmas tree. Not that there’s anything wrong with these things. At church, we’re counting the four weeks before Christmas by lighting a candle on the Advent wreath each Sunday.
We already have a brightly lit Christmas tree at the front of the church in keeping with our worship theme: Christ is our light!
Yet as I think back to that first Christmas, I’m also struck by the way Mary celebrated the coming of Jesus. After the angel left her with the wonderful and disturbing news that she would give birth to God’s Son, Mary’s first thought was to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who was also unexpectedly pregnant. Elizabeth welcomed her with a blessing, and the two women spent the next three months together as they waited for the birth of their sons and marveled over God’s work in their lives.
During this time, Mary celebrated with a song (Luke 1:47-55), which is rich in Old Testament references and imagery (see for example, 1 Sam. 2:1-10; Psalm 98:3, 103:1, 107:8-9):
With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49 because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50 He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
55 just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.
We might think of this as Mary’s Advent Carol, and with it she celebrates the birth of her child-to-be. Only this song is no gentle lullaby. In fact, Mary says nothing about the baby Jesus at all. Instead, Mary rejoices in her God as Lord and Savior and Mighty One.
That was Mary’s way of celebrating Advent.
Throughout the history of Mary’s people, they had often prayed for divine power to bring down the powerful and fill the hungry. And now in the birth and life of Jesus, God would continue that mighty work. Jesus would be strong in the face of opposition. He would multiply bread to feed the hungry crowds. In his death and resurrection, he would defeat the power of evil.
That’s why Mary sang her song — to celebrate who God is and what God is doing.
And that’s why and how we can celebrate Advent today.
Whether or not you light Advent candles during these weeks,
whether or not you have a Christmas tree,
however you observe this season,
like Mary, let’s celebrate Jesus as Lord and Savior and Mighty One!
Let’s give thanks for his strength and mercy with Scripture, song, and the way we live each day.
April Yamasaki is lead pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Abbotsford, B.C., and the author of Sacred Pauses (Herald Press, 2013). She blogs at aprilyamasaki.com, where this post originally appeared.