Today's Festival post is by Julie Clawson, and it's a reflection for Advent 2, "Born to Set Thy People Free." Julie makes reference (as does the poem she quotes) to the barriers that still remain for women to serve fully in sacramental ministry. A belief that women are called to just such ministry is the founding principle and the one non-negotiable understanding for membership in this ring. Thank you to Julie for the reminder that it's not such an obvious conclusion for all people, and that there are sisters out in the world wondering if they will be able to answer God's call in their lives. May we all be set free to faithfulness.
Come thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free.
Advent heralds the arrival of a new way of being in the world. The Divine has broken into our world, shattering the boundaries of the limits we assumed defined our existence. Hope was incarnate in the most unexpected of guises – giving testimony in its very form to the freedom it delivered. Freedom from the fear that this is all there is – that the patterns of this world hold the only answers available to the questions of our souls. Freedom from the oppressive lie that in a world of scarcity all we can do is secure whatever we can for ourselves by whatever means necessary. Freedom to have hope that there is a light shining in the darkness.
This Advent of hope ushers in a life-affirming freedom that is ours to live into. And yet we continue to act as if we are afraid to claim that freedom – or more precisely to allow others to claim access to this limitless way of life. Even the very proclamation and remembrance of the incarnation of hope gets subjected to our fearful limits, forcefully sheltered from being transformed by the very boundary-breaking hope that it is. We await the precious birth and then promptly place Jesus in prisons of our own making – ostensibly to serve him, but in truth to ensure that we can control his message and dictate who is allowed access to it. Therefore it becomes hard to think of Advent without also recalling to mind the words of Frances Croake Frank’s poem “Did the Woman Say?” –
Did the woman say,
When she held him for the first time in the dark of a stable,
After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,
“This is my body, this is my blood”?Did the woman say,
When she held him for the last time in the dark rain on a hilltop,
After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,
“This is my body, this is my blood”?Well that she said it to him then,
For dry old men,
Brocaded robes belying barrenness
Ordain that she not say it for him now.
It is far easier to turn the woman into a spiritual metaphor of ideal submission than to let her be free to physically participate in the life of Christ (then and now). The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness refuses to open its eyes and let it chase the shadows away. But Jesus came to set his people free.
Paul Ricoeur defines freedom as “the capacity to live according to the paradoxical law of superabundance,” or in other words, to embrace the surplus of meaning in the already and not yet of the eschatological event of the new creation. Hope broke into the world and redefined everything. We are no longer bound by the limits of scarcity which persuade us that to share our food or power with another is to deprive ourselves in some way. Hope opens up the possibility of living into the Kingdom of God, of letting go of limits in order to embrace abundant life. It is the living hopefully into the much more promise of Romans 5:15 – “For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.”
Advent is about abounding grace at work setting people free to live into this limitless hope. It is about agreeing with Mary that already in the past, present, and future I AM that I AM has “brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” It is about recognizing the upside-down sense of a King being born in a stable. It is about letting go of the fearful power-plays we have imposed upon the breaking of bread. It is about realizing that it is only once we share what we have (be that our resources or even the space where our voice gets heard) that we find there is a surplus leftover even after we have all had our fill.
Advent is about expectantly anticipating the freedom Christ promises by living into that very freedom now. It is about shattering the constraints we have shored up around ourselves in order to let the light in.