When I decided to use the carmelite themes to reflect this advent, it was this word accepting that captivated and confused me in equal measure.
For me at least, it conjures the concept of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and at last, acceptance. It’s the pinnacle stage in this model; whereby someone can see some kind of resolution to the pain of grief.
It’s place as the second week of advent then, feels almost jarring.
And yet, as I delved into the ancient stories again, both the gospel narratives and the story of the carmelites, I began to see it a little differently, because the carmelites had been crusaders who’d gone to fight but ended up so transformed that they stayed to pray and build a community in the holy land.
It reminded me how often in the scriptures God shows up in the most unexpected ways, calling unexpected people to do unexpected things.
A virgin conceiving.
A barren woman falling pregnant whilst her husband falls silent.
When we agree to follow the way of Jesus, we agree to the unexpected.
And sometimes the unexpected way we are called to hurts.
It’s all too easy to miss the trouble woven through the nativity.
Luke 1:29 tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” by the angel’s greeting; Joseph and the shepherds are greeted with the words “do not be afraid.”
God does not hide from us that the walk ahead with Him is not easy.
As Timothy Keller writes in his book “Hidden Christmas”:
“The manger at Christmas means that, if you live like Jesus, there won’t be room for you in a lot of inns.”
Accepting the gospel truth and the invitation of God is not the easy – but God gifts us what we need to accept His invitation.
Perhaps Zechariah needed his silence to accept what lay ahead of him and Elizabeth.
I expect that both Mary and Elizabeth needed the time they shared together, to accept the extraordinary pregnancies and prepare them for the extraordinary lives their sons would lead.
Mary does not just accept the call grudgingly, however. She doesn’t say “All right then, if you must” – she sings a mighty song of praise.
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”
Whatever we have to accept in the course of our christian lives; Mary offers us a dazzling response to echo which is not based on our own strength but on our glorious Saviour.