The Fourth Sunday of Advent

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My soul magnifies the LORD, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
Luke 1: 46b-48

by Beth Carroll

There is an altar you find in the average American church. It is sturdy and strong; virtually indestructible. It is forged in a crucible called perseverance. This altar is built to last with only the best materials. Earnestness for its foundation. Busyness and zeal its twin pillars. Stability, stick-to-it-iveness, devotion, and doggedness, each a leg to the thick grand table holding the elements: The bread of Iron Will and the wine of Grit. This is the nourishment of our Christian life.

There is a forgotten and forsaken road you find on the outskirts of the average American community. One section is underneath a highway overpass. There are tents piecemealed together with scraps of tarp, a Hefty Cinch Sack, and a sheet of particle board found in the dumpster behind a nearby strip mall. It keeps out some of the rain, but very little of the shame. There, on an empty over-turned paint bucket, sits a young woman. She tiredly stares at the shriveling Styrofoam cup in the dull flames of her small fire. She does not dream, because she cannot sleep. A smoke she bums off the guy at the bus stop and a swig of vodka from a plastic flask, her sacramental nourishment. Even the lowliest of servants scoff at her squalor.

The Spirit of the Lord came upon the average American church. He quietly entered its pillared front door and walked into the sanctuary and sat briefly on the creaky back pew. There were many smiles and handshakes traded by the church-goers, but no one noticed today’s visitor. No Marys sat at his feet. The Marthas sat transfixed by the altar up front.

The Spirit of the Lord stood during the reading of the text, “…he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty…” He made his way back to the church’s entrance. He stepped out onto the bustling street, pulling his coat collar up to cover his cold ears. He made his way down the road to the overpass and found the young woman sitting on the bucket. A slow, knowing smile filled the face of the Lord as he spoke to her, “Mary, I have a job for you.”

Beth Carroll is a student at Western Theological Seminary, while also working as Director of Youth Ministry at Hope Church in Holland, Michigan

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