Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
Amen. I’m not sure any other word has meant more to me the last six months or so. For thirty-plus years, amen was just a thing, the lifeless punctuation of prayer.
“…In the name of Jesus, Amen.”
Amen was like a divine seal validating the whole thing. Without a concluding “amen,” did my prayer really count? I wasn’t sure, and I wanted my prayers to count, so I said it. Sometimes twice.
But it meant nothing other than that.
Then I read about the meaning of the word in a book by Pete Enns. Amen comes from the Hebrew word ‘aman, which refers to trust. This word, ‘aman, first appears in the Bible in Genesis 15:6:
“And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.”
The context, of course, is God’s promise to Abraham of an heir (Isaac) and descendants as numerous as the stars. In plain sight, a preposterous thing for God to say. Scandalous, really. Because, in rational, logical terms, this just couldn’t happen.
But, Abraham, to his credit, said yes to God anyway. He “amened” God’s promise despite being unable to make sense of it.
Amen is far from a throw-in word at the end of a prayer. It’s a declaration of trust. Amen is a bold word, a courageous word, an affront to suffering, anxiety, uncertainty. It’s an I-am-placing-my-feet-firmly-in-the-ground kind of word. I know the promises of God make no sense, but I stand firm in them regardless. Anxiety, I see you on the horizon, but I refuse to cower in your presence. My God is with me. I will not back down.
Amen saved me for the first time about six months ago. I was struggling through another day. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a relentless, head-to-toe illness. It’s not content with robbing you of your energy. It goes for kill shots, sometimes in the gut with debilitating nausea, other times in the mind with a haze so thick it’s almost painful. For the better part of a week, this demon had me backed in a corner, void of the strength to defend myself, alternating right and left jabs with increasing ferocity. To be honest, I stopped looking for a referee to step in and end the bloodbath. Instead, I began wondering (maybe even hoping) the blows would finally finish me. There’s a kind of death that’s worse than losing the breath in your lungs. They call her Despair, and I met her in my little office. She appears when the darkness swallows every last ray of light, leaving just nothingness.
Then, I heard it, faint, as if it were on its last breath.
I heard it again. Then, after a moment, again.
I wish I could say the darkness lifted and the demon tucked his tail in fear that very moment. No such thing happened.
What did happen – something I knew was the very presence of God – was that I began to cry. Not a cry like that time I watched The Notebook. This was a healing, full-body sob. I knew this to be the presence of God because this illness won’t allow you to cry. You might feel the sensation that accompanies crying, but nothing happens. Like your tears are held, hostage. I hadn’t cried at all in months and months.
But, somehow, “amen” released the chains and the buildup of pressure from those months of unreleased tears flowed from my eyes for an hour or more. The Bible speaks often about mourning, as if it somehow connects us with God. I’ve always wondered why. Now I know. Crying releases more than tears. It also rids the body of pain and anxiety, clearing space for hope and healing.
“Amen” saved me that day. That little word, in a moment of despair, became a ray of light.
Since then, Amen has become my one-word response to uncertainty and fear and suffering.
Like last week, for example, when I read a story about an orphanage in India where a dozen or so kids died from malnutrition and mistreatment from caretakers. It was gross reading, and afterward, I was tempted to become cynical, to lose hope in humanity. But, as this voice pressed in close, I instead put my foot down and remembered God’s faithfulness.
You might think something as simple as saying amen is a cheap response to injustice and evil and oppression.
Amen is no passive, cop-out, however. As a statement of trust in a God who hates all evil, amen is a call to action. That day, in my office, amen meant calling my wife and allowing her to share my grief (an act of faith and vulnerability for me). For Abraham, it meant going on with his life as if the promise were coming to true. For Mary, the mother of Jesus, amen meant something similar, moving forward with hope and joy despite the potential for public shame, excommunication and maybe worse.
So, we arrive at the end of our Advent journey. But the journey never really ends. The Promise is with us, every day, at all times. Hope is here. Love is here. Joy is here. Peace is here. Contentment is here.
Between this breath and our last, however, we will encounter struggles. We will encounter anxiety and uncertainty and loss as well. For the promises of Advent to remain close to our heart, we will need a lot of amens. God can be trusted. He really can. He will never leave you. His presence is with you right now, and always.
For those times when we might forget…Amen.
Start practicing “Amen” in your life.
God, for all the pain and suffering and doubt I will inevitably face in this life, help me to remember the promises of Advent. You are with me. You are for me. You will never leave me. I love with all my being. Amen.