We've said that advent is a time of waiting and a time of preparation. We are waiting for the coming of Jesus - God made man. We are preparing to receive our Lord in the manger, in our hearts, and when He comes in glory to judge the world.
I think one of the greatest sentences ever said to God comes from Mary: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word."
Now most of us like to think we would respond like Mary if faced with an archangel's request. But I don't believe that is the case. As evidence for my belief, I simply point to all of history.
We spend too much of our lives saying (or living as if we had said), "Behold, I am no one's slave. Let it be to me according to my word." By the way, the Greek for "handmaid" is the feminine form of "doulos" - slave.
We want to think of ourselves as the captains of our own ship. The master of our own destiny. We want to sing, with Frank Sinatra, "I did it my way!" That is very self-satisfying. But it is also self-defeating. "My way" is not the same as God's way.
My way focuses on getting my needs met and my desires fulfilled. God's way is the way of self-emptying and the turning of desires into desire for God.
So, how can we ever say "Behold, I am God's slave. Let it be to me according to your word." I believe that is the purpose of Advent.
Being a slave, in Jesus time, meant one of three things. Either you were born a slave, your people were defeated in war, or you had too many debts so you (and your family) were sold into slavery. In all three cases, it was possible to purchase your freedom.
Let's look at those three ways of being a slave. The first is easy - being born a slave. We don't mind this metaphor too much - after all, no one is responsible for his or her birth. We are all born as slaves to sin. We don't really mind being part of a race of people enslaved to sin.
The second, however, is more complicated. Being defeated in a war. We don't like defeat and we hate to admit that we have been defeated. We are in a spiritual war and, without God, we are fighting on the wrong side. Are you ready to admit that you can't win the battle on your own? Are you willing to admit that you are in rebellion against God and need to surrender? Are you ready to accept defeat at God's hands and become his slave?
The third path to slavery is also not pleasant - being sold to pay debts. Our sins are like debts that need to be repaid and we cannot pay them. We don't have the capital or income to pay the debts we owe. Are you ready to accept that you cannot pay your debts? Are you ready to accept slavery as the just reward for your debts?
Now, here is one of the greatest paradoxes of the Christian faith. Slavery leads to freedom. The first path to freedom with God is to recognize your poverty of self. It is to realize that you have nothing that is not given to you from God and that you have mis-used and abused what God has given for your. By accepting slavery with God - by surrendering to Him, we become people who have been freed.
See, God wants free men and women, but they only way they can be free is to stop being slaves to themselves or to their desires or to their sins. So we must first become slaves to God. Then God gives us our freedom. We are given spiritual wealth beyond our imagination when we surrender to God. We are given victory in our battles when we let God fight for us. We are freed from self and from sin and from death when we allow God to guide us.
As we approach the Feast of the Incarnation, let us practice saying "Behold, I am God's slave. Let it be to me according to His word."