Advent and Liminality, Part 3
…Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word… Luke 1:38
Over the past weeks I have described Advent as a time of liminality, meaning a season that invites us into transformational growth and change. Our preparations for the celebration of Jesus’s birth into the world, which is now a communal event, also prepare us for the birth of the Christ into our lives, which is personal. The Christmas story tells us that the Spirit of God entered and impregnated Mary, resulting in the birth of Jesus who, in awakening to his Oneness with God, became the Christ. In the same way, the Spirit of God emerges and impregnates us (if we allow it), resulting in the transformational birth of Emmanuel – God with us – into our individual lives.
The four themes of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace, help frame an orientation to life in ways most conducive to the emergence or birth of the Christ-child, Emmanuel, within us. Each theme illuminates an understanding we can adopt, each coaxing us to enter a unique combination of conscious surrender, trust, and faith. Rest assured, however, the path to new birth presents a significant risk to our personal status quo – it did for Mary and it does for us. This path does not change the world; it changes us so we can change the world.
Hope, the first theme of Advent, is much more than wishing. We may wish for good weather on Saturday, which we have no control over, when what we hope for is an enjoyable, fulfilling experience on Saturday. Hope opens a path for something good regardless of the circumstances we think are required. Hope is a deeper, more inclusive orientation that creates space for surprises and unexpected outcomes. Hope trusts that God works all things together for good.
Love, in its consummated sense, is the second theme of Advent. What we typically call love is only conditional blessing. We feel loved when we are rewarded for looking or behaving in certain ways. What we desire, however, is a deep love that accepts and cherishes regardless of how we look or act. Only God loves without condition, however, because we humans cannot provide that on a sustained basis. When we accept ourselves as loved by God without condition, we are better able to forgive ourselves and others for not living up to the standards that conditional love demands. Everyone acts in unloving ways at times, so the love we desire must embrace that which is unloving, too.
Joy, the third theme of Advent, contrasts with happiness, which is dependent on circumstances over which we have little control. Joy is a deeply-engrained sense of well-being and worthiness that exists apart from our circumstances. For joy to manifest, we must first accept that life will always be a mix of experiences we consider good and not-so-good. Joy reminds us that life is wonderful even when it is difficult. Joyful people have less need to control their environment or others around them because they know there are blessings in every circumstance.
Peace, the fourth theme of Advent, results from adopting the Hope, Love, and Joy characteristic of Emmanuel. Peace grows from an undefeatable Hope, the assurance of Love without condition, and the Joy of well-being regardless of external circumstances. When these attributes are present, we experience an internal peace that passes all understanding. We no longer feel the need to worry or control or understand. Our equanimity is unshakeable. More than that, our sense of peace naturally spreads to others. Peaceful beings emit peace. The biblical imagery of the Prince of Peace does not simply represent a far-flung ideal of peace on earth. One can argue that the primary purpose of the Prince of Peace, another name for Emmanuel, is to bring internal peace to us, which we can then project out into the world.
When I say that Advent is a time of personal transformation, these are the transformational elements — hope, love, joy, and peace. They transform the world as they transform us. And as is true of most liminal paths, there is no going back – no going back to wishing for things to happen as we expect, no going back to feeling we must perform or look in certain ways to be loved, no allowing our sense of well-being to be dictated by circumstances, and no living with a fragile sense of peace and equanimity.
All of this is to say we experience freedom from the shackles that bind most of humanity. We attain salvation in the sense that we are saved from the habits, orientations, and shallow beliefs that separate most of humanity from Oneness with God. That is the salvation offered and that we celebrate in the birth of Jesus. It is the conscious embodiment of God on earth and in us. It is Emmanuel.
The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of other individuals or organizations. To engage with me or to explore contemplative spiritual direction, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.