Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers

Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, BCC, PCC


The Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 18th, 2022

Excerpt from


Elizabeth-Anne Stewart

Unable to understand the concept of surrender, many of us would balk at allowing God free reign in our lives. Clinging to the illusion of control can be a primary "spiritual block," making us reluctant to let go of our wants and desires; however, this "letting go" is precisely what moves us from mere religious obligation into being fully available to God. "Yes!' is the key to loving and risking; it extends us beyond the limitations of our egos into our true, heroic selves. "Yes!" -- when uttered in response to God's invitation-- is a "yes" to "Being" itself and to becoming what one desires to become because this is what God desires for us. "Yes!" is the negation of all that is death-dealing and soul-destroying; it is the creative word that brings forth life from chaos, from hopelessness, from despair. "Yes!"



* What aspect of today's Gospel gives you most cause for reflection?

* To what extent do you allow your dreams to guide you?

*How does God speak to you and how do you trust the authenticity of God's Voice?

*Where do angels figure in your spirituality? Are they "real" or do you regard them as mythical entities?


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Greetings, SBT Readers!

When is a "backstory" too much? When do personal details overshadow deeper truths and more pressing concerns? And when, if ever, does the world really need a daily dose of dirty laundry, no matter how royal? Without re-hashing the contents of Netflix's Harry &Meghan or the scathing views of critics, suffice it to say that the docuseries appeals to the voyeur in each of us -- to the baser instincts of Sussex fans and of the merely curious. Whether one is glued to the TV or simply reads media commentaries, it is hard to escape the mind-dulling cocktail of victimhood, blaming, vitriol, pettiness and spite. Of course, I am being very opinionated here, but far from being a "Christmas Special," this docuseries reflects the worst in human nature, not the best. Such drama is like a Christmas-stealing Grinch, an unrepentant Ebenezer Scrooge whose only response to the season is "Bah humbug!" Instead of uplifting viewers and promoting a much-needed positive message, this sorry saga dampens the Christmas spirit. Racking up 81.55 million viewing hours in the first week of its release, Harry & Meghan is like a drug that numbs us to the pressing needs of suffering humanity, transforming viewers into "couch potatoes." The war in Ukraine? This is old news. Floods in Sudan -- when did this happen? Teens shot outside their Chicago high school? Someone should do something about the gangs...

With Christmas just a week away, we would do well to "de-tox" from this media event and from anything else that clouds our consciousness and undermines goodwill. How about switching off Netflix and listening to Christmas choral music instead?

Advent Blessings!



Link to the Sunday Readings

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.

When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,

but before they lived together,

she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,

yet unwilling to expose her to shame,

decided to divorce her quietly.

Such was his intention when, behold,

the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,

"Joseph, son of David,

do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.

For it is through the Holy Spirit

that this child has been conceived in her.

She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,

because he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means "God is with us."

When Joseph awoke,

he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him

and took his wife into his home.

Mt 1:18-24

As I looked through my photo archives for an image for this week's SBT, I realized that I had never actually seen a depiction of Joseph's dream; in fact, the image that I ended up using reflects what artists have typically highlighted at this time of year -- the Angel Gabriel's visit to Mary in Lk 1:26-38. From an artistic point of view, I can see that the Lucan account offers far more scope for engaging viewers than a painting of the sleeping

Joseph. Perhaps I am biased, but I detect more color, poetry, and mystery in the encounter between Gabriel and Mary than I do in Mark's story; the first, of course, directly presents Mary as an agent in her own journey to motherhood, whereas today's Gospel is about Mary with Joseph cast in the role as the one who will protect her. In this version, Mary is no longer the subject but a dependent woman whose fate has been decided by God and by her husband.

Ideally, both Gospel accounts need to be viewed side by side. Luke's narrative of the Annunciation is more than a tender encounter between angel and maiden. Set against the backdrop of Elizabeth's miraculous pregnancy, this narrative not only stresses that Mary has found favor with God, but also explains the role she is to play in the Incarnation; the passage ends with Mary's powerful "Yes" to all that is about to befall her, a "Yes" that is at once both a statement of faith and an act of loving surrender. In Mark's account of Joseph's dream, the angel defends Mary's honor, explains how she has conceived out of wedlock and instructs Joseph to accept her as his wife. Joseph's task is to obey, not question, and the purpose of the narrative is clearly to present Jesus as the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecies.

Luke's Annunciation is multi-layered, offering the reader-- or listener-- the opportunity for personal reflection. Mark's narrative, on the other hand, seems less contemplative and more informative.

My main issue with Mark's text is that it completely omits the "backstory." The evangelist tells us that Mary "was found with child" but doesn't inform us who found this out or how many people knew, or even what their reactions were. The fact that Joseph intended to divorce Mary indicates that he was shocked and angry enough to call off the marriage. Perhaps he consulted his family, or Mary's family, or even the local rabbi; perhaps he refused to believe Mary's account of how she happened to be with child-- and who can blame him? But none of this seems of interest to Mark-- his only interest is to establish Jesus' spiritual legitimacy.

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means "God is with us."

For the early Christian community, like Mark, what was important was that Jesus' lineage was of the House of David and that he fulfilled the biblical prophecies. That there must have been family drama is a given, but it is also a distraction. While we might like to know how news of Mary's pregnancy initially affected each of the characters in the Christmas story, we don't need to know. Instead, the texts invite us to believe that with God all things are possible -- a virgin conceives, a woman past menopause gives birth and an estranged husband is willing to see from God's perspective and obey.

And us? In what ways do we cooperate with God's plan for the world? What difficulties do we have to encounter and how do we, like Joseph, have to adjust our thinking? To what are we saying "Yes!" this Advent? Saying "Yes!" to God may mean letting go of prior plans and wishes; in fact, every "Yes!" also involves a "No!" -- a turning away from old habits, attitudes, and aspirations. May angels disturb our dreams and give us the clarity we need to embrace God's greater Dream!

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that sanity will prevail and that all those suffering on account of the terrible conflict in Ukraine will find the comfort and resources they need.



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Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart | |

C. All Photos by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart,

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