Advent Devotional: Looking Together

Not many days ago now, we stood together, my friend and I, appraising what God had done, how He’d taken a bit of me and a bit of her and blended it into something better than we could have created alone.  We laughed out loud, with wide grins. We slung our arms around each other’s shoulders and sighed.

“Isn’t God just cool?!” one of us said.  We felt so unified in that moment in fact, that it’s hard to say where her exclamations began and mine ended.

God had given us a shared vision for something that required a measure of faith, and we had put on our mud boots and walked into the flooded river of it together.  This is, of course, the way God has always wanted it to be for his kids. The Bible includes 59 “one anothers;” Jesus prayed that we would be one (John 17:21); and Paul famously wrote that we should live and breathe like one body–the body of Jesus, with all the parts working together for the mutual benefit of the others (1 Corinthians 12).  We were never meant to be Lone Ranger pilgrims. We live in a world hungry for community, and as Jesus people, we’re meant not just to do life together but to commune.

We need not drag our fingers far down the page in Luke 1 to discover what it meant to Mary to learn that her cousin Elizabeth already knew all the edges of miraculous pregnancy.  Luke tells us that after the angel visited the young mother of our Lord and mentioned by way of encouragement that, “even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month (v.36),” Mary “got ready and hurried to Elizabeth (v.39).  Every woman alive understands this reaction.  Mary needed a friend, someone to walk right into the flooded river with her; someone who knew what it meant to be used by God in a way that no one else expected or understood.  Elizabeth knew the walk by faith; and Mary knew Elizabeth would be a trusted confidant with whom she could share both her tired mama stories and her God-sized, God-given dreams for the future.  In a startling, life-wrecking moment, God gave Mary someone who would share her laughter and understand her tears. God gave Mary a partner in the gospel.

From prison, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1: 3-5, emphasis mine).  The encouragement of like-minded, vision-sharing friends spurs us on, no matter where our faithful following takes us.  God asks us to walk by faith, to focus on the unseen, to be Kingdom-builders, but He doesn’t ask us to do it alone. In startling, life-wrecking, risky-faith moments, God demonstrates His faithful presence (the with-ness of Jesus, our Immanuel) through the love and support of partners in gospel, our relatives in the faith.

I love the way Elizabeth greets Mary when she arrives, don’t you?  All of Elizabeth’s words are the building-up kind, and they must certainly have blessed every listener.  It’s important to note that Elizabeth’s words in Luke 1 really aren’t Elizabeth’s words.  Verse 41 says that Elizabeth “was filled with the Holy Spirit,” and then out of her mouth in greeting flowed words of life.  “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear!…Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her (v.42-45)”!  I read that and think, “When have I ever offered such eloquent encouragement?”  But Elizabeth didn’t purpose to say those things; she allowed the Spirit to say them through her.  And in Christ, all of us have been filled with the Spirit. We need not wrangle with what to say; we need only to submit to the Spirit and allow Him to speak life-giving words through us.

Advent is a time for celebrating the great blessing of our partnership in the gospel, for looking together at the first coming of Christ and eagerly toward his second coming as KIng.  It’s a time to live out our faith in community.  To that end, let’s let Jesus be Lord of our Advent calendars.  This season, you and I can…

  • Make a coffee or lunch date specifically to share faith-filled dreams, hopes, and struggles with a trusted friend.  Mary hurried to Elizabeth.  Block out time for this kind of partnership before it’s gone!
  • Plan one “interruptible” day a week and ask the Spirit to reveal the “Marys” in need of “one another” fellowship.  Hide the to-do list; this day is about people!
  • Stop the madness for thirty minutes a day and ask, “Whom can I encourage today?”  Send texts; write emails; write notes. Be intentional. Pray before starting and let the Spirit speak life-giving words.

You are loved!