I find it hilariously ironic that I’m sitting here attempting to write about the “joy of assurance.” Don’t get me wrong; I signed up to do this, and it seemed nice at the time. But to be fully transparent, it’s hard to write about something that feels distant and at times, unattainable.
It sounds so safe and secure — like being wrapped a cozy blanket on one of these wintery Vancouver days, or like the shelter of an embrace from someone you love and trust.
We say things like, “rest assured” or “let me assure you” meaning, “don’t worry about it. I’ve got this.”
Frankly, if I’m assured about anything, it’s about my insatiable desire for control and for what is known, planned, and expected. “Rest assured” – yeah, right. I prefer to worry, thanks.
Yet the Advent narrative is packed full with assurance.
Let’s not be confused: there is plenty of anxiety and mayhem too. Twice in the Luke 1 story, we read about angels declaring “do not be afraid” and twice we read questions of “but how can this be?”
Perhaps that’s the mystery though. Perhaps assurance isn’t about having all the loose ends tied up and packaged into nice Christmas bows, but about getting comfortable in the waiting, assured that God has not forgotten us.
In fact, in Advent, we see God’s faithfulness on radiant display through the fulfillment of an age-old promise.
May there be joy in remembering that the same God is still in our most mundane, ugly, or hopeless circumstances and that he is working.
It’s the same promise God made to Abraham when God asked him to settle a new land, far away from all he ever knew and loved; to Moses, who struggled with public speaking, when God chose him to ask Pharaoh to let the Israelites out of slavery; to the Israelites as they wandered for 40 years in the desert awaiting a so-called promised land; to Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel as they encouraged Israel in years of exile, famines, and war.
“I will be with you.” God sometimes roars and sometimes whispers, over and over trying to assure his wild and worry-prone creation that he is still God and he is still good.
And now — now! Of all times, after all of these years, through the bodies of the most unlikely vessels, a barren old lady and a virgin teenage girl hear that cherished, familiar promise with a special twist this time: “I’m coming in the flesh. Keep watch. I’ll be there soon.”
When Mary visits Elizabeth, both are pregnant and both are probably a bit undone by all that has happened (I’m just going to guess that is a safe human assumption to make here; I don’t actually know for sure). This isn’t an unfamiliar feeling to us. Think of when we are reunited with old friends after many years apart, or when we watch a couple say their wedding vows, or more appropriately, when we hold a newborn infant for the first time. There’s always that breathtaking moment of “is this really happening?!”
And the most beautiful part: yes. Yes, you’re really hugging that friend with your own arms, or yes, they’re really married now, or yes, this child is really living and breathing and here.
This is the moment Elizabeth and Mary shared. They were together, they were both pregnant by divine intervention, and both rejoicing. God had been faithful.
When in doubt, friends, rest assured, God will be faithful.
When uncertainty swirls around us, God will be faithful.
Will I find a better job? God will be faithful.
Will we have enough money? God will be faithful.
Will the pangs of grief ever subside? God will be faithful.
Will there be relief from the addiction? God will be faithful.
Will my family heal? God will be faithful.
Will they find an alternative treatment, let alone a cure? God will be faithful.
Will my cries of longing and despair ever be heard? God will be faithful.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. “ – Hebrews 10: 23
I hear a bit of incredulous laughter at this point, similar perhaps to what our characters in the Luke passage feel: But how? Maybe, like me, you’ve hurt a lot this year and you’ve begun to wonder how faithful God really is. It’s true; this is easier said than done. (Would it make you feel better to know I’m all choked up even trying to come to grips with just how big of a promise this is?) Please don’t confuse an Advent promise for a Christmas bow. The tendency to package things nicely this season certainly is tempting, is it not?
God’s faithfulness doesn’t always promise prosperity and happy endings, much to our culture’s dismay. We know Elizabeth was barren for decades and decades–we have to believe there was crushing loss and piercing pain throughout those years. Mary, on the other hand, was granted the opposite set of circumstances: unwanted pregnancy as a teenager. Not exactly a fairytale ending if you ask me.
And yet it’s through these seemingly screwed up circumstances that a path is carved for the Messiah himself, the fulfillment of the promise: love incarnate.
We have the audacity to believe in a God who is not only for us, but is also with us, who defies biological necessities and revives infertile lineages. Then, friends, may there be joy in the promise the same God who came to be with us all these years ago is faithful. May there be joy in remembering that the same God is still in our most mundane, ugly, or hopeless circumstances and that he is working.
And may there be joy in hearing Jesus himself assuring us, “don’t worry. I’ve got this.”