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The second week of Advent is meant to be about peace. Instead, I found myself stuck in shame. So here’s the question I asked this week: How does Advent speak to our shame?
“Gloria, gloria,— “Gloria Gloria” by Jess Ray
God has come to understand us.”
This lyric undid me on a drive this week, and it made my thoughts in this potential, desired blog post fall together like puzzle pieces.
This week has held a flurry of emotional experiences. In short spurts, I’ve felt sadness, frustration, anger, and—deepest, hardest of all—shame.
A friend quoted her supervisor to me in the midst of the swirling thoughts of shame in my head:
“You cannot think your way out of shame; you must experience your way out of it.”
Shame won’t crumble beneath my self-berating nor my truth-preaching.
Shame doesn’t give up its voice in our hearts and minds that easily. Similar to how trauma has long-term effects on our brains, shame is a voice that hardwires itself into our minds. It is more than guilt, which typically is related to a real offense we feel we’ve committed; shame takes on a personal tone for things we have no real part in. Shame comes in to say it’s our fault, it’s your fault, even when it’s clearly not.
Shame needs a new experience to be overcomed. Shame needs a new story to overwrite it.
Advent offers a new story for our shame stories.
Advent is about God coming to us, to our stories, in order to understand our shame.
Sure, God knows us. He knows what we face. He has it all recorded (Psalm 119). He knows every feeling we feel, including shame.
But in Jesus, he takes that knowing a step further. He experiences what we experience. And in that experiencing 33 or so years of life, he comes to know even better what we face.
He comes to understand us.
Mary’s story was affected by shame
This week, as I faced my own battle with shame, I thought about Mary’s story and the shame that it would’ve been surrounded by. Based on the honor-shame culture she lived in, and the telling thoughts in Joseph’s mind as he considered breaking their engagement due to this strange pregnancy she faced (he did not want to bring her more shame by divorcing her publicly), Mary certainly faced shame from her immediate community as her belly grew.
Her “yes” to God shows that she did not agree with this shame narrative in her own heart, a courageous act of obedience because of the grace she encountered. Still, she faced it around her, as we all have: whispers and gossip about who we are, what we’ve done, or how we are not measuring up to the expectations of others.
God knew this would happen, and I think he wanted to confront the shame that so often dominates our days and our stories.
The shame that brought side glances to a young, pregnant woman not yet married. The shame that prompted a divorcee to walk to a well in the middle of a day. The shame that carried a woman wrapped in a sheet, surrounded by Pharisees. The shame that prompts my hot tears to fall over what feels like a complete failure.
Shame does not get the last word in any of these stories, in any of our stories.
The young, pregnant Mary gave birth to Jesus. The woman at the well found the water of life, Jesus, at that noon-time meeting. The woman caught in adultery was carried to Jesus’ feet, and she was not condemned. And me, my tears spill into vulnerable conversations and a deeper understanding of Jesus’ grace.
This is how God Advents into our shame-stories. He comes to change them. To transform us.
He is not ashamed of the shame sparks that fly around in, in us. He is not afraid of the flames of fear that accompany them.
Because he knows that the fire won’t last. The fear can’t remain. The shame can’t define us. Our shame cannot define us.
Instead, grace will. Because grace offers us peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with our circumstances.
And peace is a tour de force against shame. Peace is not a feeling that conflict is absent or died down a bit. Peace isn’t based on circumstances at all.
Peace is Jesus.
And this Jesus was revealed in what others perceived as a shameful birth—to transform shame into glory and to bring light into darkness.
This Jesus used shameful moments & stories to reveal grace and peace—to rebuke condemnation and to usher in grace.
This Jesus doesn’t let shame have the last word in any story. Grace, instead, is the last word.
And grace says, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Grace says, “I am the living water. Drink from me, and thirst no more.”
Grace says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go in peace.”
Grace says, “I can rewrite the narrative shame holds over you and give you new experiences that lead you forward into grace upon grace.”