Reflections by Angela Johnson & Sophie Callahan, Candler School of Theology
Joyful Anticipation in Unlikely Places
- Angela Johnson
During my first year at Candler School of Theology I had the honor of serving as a chaplain at a minimum-security facility for pregnant inmates. It was while working with these mothers that I began to see advent in a new way. Like Mary these women were scared and joyful at the thought of what God was doing for and in them. However, there was no encouraging cousin Elizabeth or faithful fiancé Joseph to support them. Instead there were armed guards, state case workers trying to find ways to keep their babies out of the foster care system, and a couple of student chaplains.
After giving birth, the women are transferred to a traditional state prison, which is a verydifferent type of facility. In December 2014, I visited the prison and it was everything I imagined: barbed wired fences, heavily armed guards, multiple security points, and huge metal doors that clanked loudly when they closed.. The prison building was not pleasant, however it was here that I experienced the beautiful spirit of advent. My assignment was to help with Baby’s First Christmas, a program where family members and, if possible, foster families, bring babies to see the mothers. I witnessed the joyful anticipation of mothers waiting to see their little ones, some for the first time since birth, and I watched as they rejoiced while holding and nurturing their babies. Yes, it was in this unlikely place that I felt the spirit of advent.
God has shown us that God can do the most amazing things in unlikely places. A prison is an unlikely place for joyful anticipation. Mary, as an unwed teenager, was an unlikely vessel to bring forth the Messiah. A dirty manger was an unlikely place for the birth of the King. A bloody, ragged cross was an unlikely place to find hope in the Savior. Jesus’ coming is proof that there is joy and hope in the most unlikely places. During this advent season, I invite you to seek Jesus with joyful anticipation and hope, no matter the place..
Ready or not, here he comes...
- Sophie Callahan
Only a handful of doors on my chocolate Advent calendar have been opened. When I miss a chance for daily chocolate, something is up. Perhaps it’s the end of the semester writing frenzy, paired with the chores required to travel and see family, all following in the wake of an exhausting political season. Whatever the combination, I know I’m not alone in my weariness this time of year.
A part of me longs for an idyllic Advent the way others must long for a picture perfect Christmas celebration. Cozy and calm, able to step away from the craziness of the consumer madness and choose instead to read a devotional with a warm drink in hand and focus on the deeper meaning of the season. And yet, I realize, a blissful Advent makes no sense when we consider the first arrival of Jesus into the world.
Jesus was born into a world of strife, into the chaos of a census count, into a community of oppressed people living under the Empire. The arrival of Jesus came despite the people’s lack of preparation, and yet, it was everything a weary world needed. Thomas Merton wrote, “Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited.”
As my spiritual director reminded me this week, luckily for us, God’s arrival is not contingent on our being ready. God doesn’t wait for me to light the Christmas tree and brew a cup of coffee before I can “encounter Christ” through a carefully worded Advent devotional. God is already here, even in my life that has crowded out most of the room for God.
Even when we’re not ready, Christ arrives.
Even when we’re weary, Christ finds us.
Even when we’re suffering, Christ is present.
It won’t be idyllic or picture perfect, but Christ continues to bring the Kingdom in the midst of our Empire. We are invited in the Advent season to create space for God, because God in Christ has already found a way in.
Angie is a third year Master of Divinity student from New York City. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Spelman College in 1995, and worked in corporate America for 20 years prior to enrolling at Candler. Angie has a passion for service and connecting people. She serves as President of the Candler Black Student Caucus, Resident Intern for Emory's Office of Spiritual and Religious Life, M.Div. Peer Advisor, and is a Pitts Theology Library Scholar. She currently serves as the Connection Group Coordinator for Impact Church in Atlanta and volunteers with AIDAtlanta. She is on the ordination track for Deacon in The United Methodist Church where her ministry will focus on Pastoral Counseling. When she is not studying and serving, she is creating memories with her sons, Johari and Ayinde.
Sophie Callahan attends Emory University's Candler School of Theology, where she is a third year M.Div student pursuing the Justice, Peacebuilding, and Conflict Transformation concentration and the Religious Education certificate. Sophie graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University in 2010 and then worked in various non-profit organizations. She is a district licensed minister in the Church of the Nazarene and is passionate about engaging people of faith with social justice work. At Candler, she serves as co-President of Candler Social Concerns Network, a group that mobilizes students for activism, particularly by coordinating anti-death penalty efforts in Georgia and encouraging the grocery chain Publix to join the Fair Food Program.
About Candler School of Theology
Located in Atlanta, Emory University's Candler School of Theology is recognized as one of the Seminaries that Change the World: Class of 2016-17. To learn more about Candler, visit candler.emory.edu.
To learn more about Seminaries that Change the World, visit www.stctw.org.