Peace Born through Shadow

Every day thousands of people leave home, enter waters of chaos in a dubious boat, and seek new beginnings elsewhere. These huddled masses bob on waves where whales lurk beneath and waters condensate above to form clouds the shape of burning buildings and torpedoes.

There is no peace there.

The torpedoes fall as rain, waves capsize boats, and humans enter the depths. Be certain, no one perfect falls into those waters, save the children. An alcoholic bobs along in a life vest along with the elderly woman who stole her neighbor’s husband forty years prior. A widower with a violent streak sinks as quickly as the young woman who sold herself to pro cure the money to gain passage on the boat.

Every soul is muddled, and the sea is a sort of unprecedented chaos. Broken people come in contact with the insurmountable power of water praying for new birth.

In the beginning, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. It was dark. Chaos reigned, and God flew with an outstretched arm to suppress the turmoil. Calm fell upon the face of the earth so that new life could be born.

Much later, a teenage, middle-eastern girl, Mary, is confronted by a messenger of God and is justifiably distressed through and through. Greatly troubled. It’s a phrase only used here, but implies chaos in the soul. The messenger consoles her by telling her that she is highly favored, and that God is with her.

His message: In ten months the Prince of Peace will emerge through a breaking of the waters.

Mary’s obedience to this painful transition will change humanity as did Eve’s disobedience. The birth of the curse will be reversed through the birth of the Resurrection. All of human history rests on this moment.

Name him Jesus, Mary. Feed him healthy food, Mary. Redirect his toddler tantrums, teach him how to choose good friends, and make sure he goes to Hebrew school. Raise up God, Mary, and His kingdom will never end.

All I need is your virgin womb, says the Lord.

Humans hold a lot from God -- time, money, the second cloak we bought on sale at Macy’s last year that’s only been worn once.

We’re especially possessive of our bodies. Let us design them with good looks, no scars, no burns, disfigurements or diseases. We choose to whom we offer them. My body. My choice.

This is why rape is the ultimate violation, and rightly so, for our bodies are sacred spaces, temples of the living God.

Yet God asks for Mary’s virgin womb, to which Mary replies, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

She is highly favored indeed.

This divine/human conception narrative wasn’t new. Often ancient gods disguised themselves to trick and impregnate women. Yet, the God of Creation put these fables in their place by meeting this young woman on her turf, identifying Himself clearly, and coming to Her gently. This was not another divine rape story, another “Haha, I tricked you for a good time” tale with Zeus.

No, this was the God of the chaotic ocean who is simultaneously sheltering fragile souls in the cleft of the rock with His hand. This is YHWH, gentle and good.

Even so, this true and kinder divine conception put Mary in grave danger. A middle-eastern, single, pregnant woman could be destroyed. Her betrothed could leave her to fend for herself with no option but to board a boat for a foreign land, praying for peaceful seas and welcoming hearts on the other side of the Mediterranean.

Surely all of these thoughts ran through Mary’s mind, yet the Spirit of God stretched over the chaos. The power of the Most High overshadowed her. It’s the same covering with which God enveloped Jesus at the transfiguration. It was a Divine embrace through which the holy one would be born.

In Advent, God comes near.

And as in every season, God asks for everything. Even so, God never takes the most intimate places of us without a purpose.

The discomfort of a donkey ride in the third trimester, the side glances at the market, the blood and water expelled on hay in a pauper’s cave in the agony of childbirth…it was all to save the world.

Life was born through chaos because one middle-eastern girl surrendered all under the enveloping cloud of God.

As the weather cools and snowflakes begin to swirl, may we notice the turmoil around us-places where God’s covering can birth shades of spring. Maybe she’s the new widow living next door, or the homeless with agitated minds, souls emerging out of waters where Arabian soil was dredged in hasty departures. . . To them may we courageously say, “God is near,” and overshadow them with His love. May we see each person this Advent season as one for whom the Prince of Peace was born through the virgin womb of a young middle-eastern woman who was willing to give all to God, and through whom, the New Creation killed the curse.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Tiffany Dahlman Spiritual Director and M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary Worships with the Helen Street Church of Christ Fayetteville, NC