My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.”

—Luke 1:46-49

The watchword for this third week of Advent is “rejoice,” and it is connected with Mary whose “soul doth magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46 KJV). This week also has a different color than the other weeks of Advent: pink, for joy.

Mary’s words and the change in liturgical colors remind us that this time of waiting and preparation is a joyful time, that even in the midst of fasting and repentance we can know joy because, as Mary sang in the Magnificat, “God has done great things for [us].”

In my Protestant upbringing, Mary was simply a Jewish peasant girl who was the mother of Jesus. I’ve since learned that Catholic and Orthodox Christians have a much richer and more symbolic understanding of Mary. They call her theotokos, Mother of God, God-bearer. She is the symbol of humanity itself, fallen but willingly entering into a restored relationship with God through her “yes” to the angel’s proclamation that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

Evangelical Christians talk a lot about inviting Jesus into our hearts. Mary was the first to do this—and she invited Jesus not just into her heart, but into her physical body. By bearing in her womb the Son of God, she makes possible the Incarnation and, thus, later, the crucifixion and Resurrection. In so doing, she turns the mourning of our fallenness into the rejoicing of our redemption. It is God who does these great things, to be sure, as Mary herself proclaims, but how great a God we serve, that he would allow us, invite us, long for us to participate in his redeeming work in the world.

For one friend of mine, the annual sending of a Christmas letter is a way she reflects on the past year, noticing with joy (and sometimes surprise) the ways God has been present and faithful in her life and also the ways she has been able to be part of God’s work in her corner of the world. Receiving this annual missive, I rejoice with my friend in the great things God is doing in her and through her.

During Advent, we are to be like my friend, joyfully aware of the presence of God in our lives. And like Mary, we are to wait actively, joyfully, and expectantly for the new life that has been, is being, and will be born into the world. Also like Mary, we are to be agents of this birthing.

We are to bear the Joy-Light of the world into the world.

—an edited excerpt from my book