Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advent Begins

This brief season of Advent seems to almost get lost every year. In a world in which my neighbors hang their Christmas lights up the day after Thanksgiving, and the stores are already piping carols through the air, these four weeks of preparation and anticipation seems out of step.
Even within the Church, it seems that sometimes we're not sure exactly what to do with this season. Following the Eastern Orthodox tradition, many congregations make it into a Winter Lent of sorts.

I tend to see Advent as a season of expectation, or more specifically, a time to rediscover hope. We prepare for the arrival of Christ as a child in the manger, the First Advent, while also anticipating Christ's coming again in great glory; the Second Advent. At the same time, we also create an empty place within our own hearts where Christ might be born anew.

We yearn for deliverance from the brokenness of this world. The Israelites in Egypt cried out from their slavery. This is the cry of all of us who recognize that this world is broken, and we can't fix it. Our hope of deliverance is placed in a loving God who has heard our cries.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Desiring deliverance from this world's brokenness would of course include a recognition of our own personal contribution to this state. So penitence is certainly an aspect of this season. But I think that Advent calls us to recognize that our world is broken in ways that are much bigger than our own interior lives. It is beyond our control. But to avoid falling into despair, we let this awareness allow hope to take root and grow, bursting into full bloom on Christmas day.

We begin this season shrouded in darkness, with one solitary candle to show us the way. I don't know if it is the season, or just my own personal state at the moment, but I have found a deep heaviness of spirit settling upon me over the last few days. Despair is a demon that I must regularly confront. I imagine some of you know this particular malevolent spirit as well. May we never forget that we do not have to face it alone; we place our hope in a Savior who will deliver us, and his angels who move among us.

The Episcopal Cafe's "Speaking to the Soul" site is offering a reflection that I found to resonate quite strongly with me today, as it seems to capture my understanding of this season of Advent quite well. It is from Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, who wrote this piece in a Nazi prison shortly before he was hanged in 1945. It is entitled Beginning to Shake. Here's part of it:

...We may ask why God has sent us into this time, why he has sent this whirlwind over the earth, why he keeps us in this chaos where all appears hopeless and dark and why there seems to be no end to this in sight. The answer to this question is perhaps that we were living on earth in an utterly false and counterfeit security. And now God strikes the earth till it resounds, now he shakes and shatters; not to pound us with fear, but to teach us one thing—the spirit’s innermost moving and being moved.

Here is the message of Advent: faced with him who is the Last, the world will begin to shake. Only when we do not cling to false securities will our eyes be able to see this Last One and get to the bottom of things. Only then will we be able to guard our life from the frights and terrors into which God the Lord has let the world sink to teach us, so that we may awaken from sleep, as Paul says, and see that it is time to repent, time to change things. It is time to say, “All right, it was night; but let that be over now and let us be ready for the day.” We must do this with a decision that comes out of these very horrors we have experienced and all that is connected with them; and because of this our decision will be unshakable even in uncertainty...
Uncomfortable, but true, words, at least from my current perspective .

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington is once again offering their online Advent Calendar. They provide artwork, a meditation, lessons, a "Carol of the Day" and a suggested action for each day of the season. It is a wonderful resource for those looking for a daily discipline to adopt during Advent.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


No comments:

Post a Comment