The advent blitz is on. Many of us who grew up in the protestant tradition of Christianity didn't pay too much attention to the church calendar. Only in recent years has there been a rediscovery of this great tool to help bring focus to our faith development and practice.
Advent was about the only season in the church calendar that we understood. It was directly tied to Christmas, which as a youngster was, and is, the highlight of the year. Back then we just knew Advent as the time of year between holidays; Thanksgiving and Christmas. Advent also helped us zero in on that high holy time we knew as the Christmas break from school. We were very religious back then.
As we have gotten older, we've put away childish things (sort of). Advent now is about looking back at the first coming of Christ and looking forward to His second coming. The theme of waiting is a big part of Advent as is remembering. As we wait for the future promises we remember the foundation on which our hopes are built. In-between is something different.
In-between is called life. It's where we, who choose to follow Jesus, struggle to live out what we've been taught in an environment that usually isn't buying it. The appearance of the environment we live in seems like it never left the old version of Advent from our childhood. As we attempt to follow Jesus' way we find ourselves constantly being challenged.
We've come to expect this. We call it being a disciple. After all Jesus seemed to demonstrate that his life would challenge his environment, so it stands to reason that a disciple too shall drink from this same cup. Discipleship is the ongoing process of changing not only our view of the world and its varying cultures, but also the changing of our hearts toward these cultures.
Discipleship begins with hearing or being taught something new and different. We read, listen to Bible teachers, have sermons preached, all providing good information about the ways of Jesus. When the words we read or hear provoke discomfort within, then we are about to enter into the spiritual formation stages of our discipleship. Discipleship begins with information but it is not just about collecting information, it's about transformation, or change, of a soul. A disciple realizes that if this new insight is to have the transformative power in the soul, it has to replace something or someway in which I am currently viewing the world or culture I live in.
This is pictured perfectly in Mary's life when she hears the words from the Angel Gabriel that she had been given grace to execute her task (that's what highly favored means). The text says she was greatly troubled at these words. If what the preacher, teacher, or this case the angle was saying is true, it means she's going to have to let go of something significant in her life. Maybe it was here dreams of what she thought life was to look like (which is generally the case for most eventual disciples of Jesus). This new word agitated the old dream, the old way of looking at things that she held on to. Alarms were going off within her.
She could have left the scene and thought, "Hum, that was interesting. Nice to know that God has grace for me, that He loves me. I think this will help me carry out my dreams. I'll just add that information to all the lessons about life I've been taught by my tradition. I've got an ever growing notebook full of these wonderful lessons. I can't wait to share them." This is what happens in early stages of discipleship. But the fact that she was troubled, that it agitated and alarmed her indicates that she was entering into spiritual formation, a change of soul, not merely information gathering.
Mary now entered into the in-between. The spiritual formation process is about letting go more than adding on. More about Mary's in-between later. Let me finish with this an unabashed advertisement and invitation to you. Please have a look at the course we teach called A Pilgrim's Process. It's all about the process of spiritual formation, the in-between.