My favorite Advent poem is Denise Levertov's. I wrote a bit of commentary at the bottom.
‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, 'How can this be?'
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
A breath unbreathed,
She did not cry, "I cannot, I am not worthy,"
nor "I have not the strength."
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
opened her utterly.
We Protestants, most of us, do not spend a lot of time engaging with Mary. If we do, we learned how from someone else, someone whose tradition offers a slant different from that of our own.
Maybe one of our children died, and someone said to us, "Mary."
"No one mentions courage."
Courage is required: To accept a pregnancy, to push a child into the world, to let go of a small hand and watch it wave from a classroom door, to deposit a pile of luggage at camp, or college, or the airport. Such commonplace events; no one mentions courage.
Courage is required: You do not know. Until you do.
When I was in first grade in Florida, a little boy in my class suffocated on a balloon at a birthday picnic at the beach. I remember the sound of the siren as the ambulance raced past our house that evening, before we learned what had happened.
This past week-end, a family lost a boy to suicide. "And so this is Christmas . . .". One of my friends lost her son in the same way on Christmas Day itself, almost eleven years ago.
And for us, for me . . . Without Mary's courage, from Annunciation to Easter, what would there be?
You open to what comes.
You hope that there are iridescent wings.