I was fortunate enough to have a break from the pulpit yesterday, a much needed rest between a chaotic end to Ordinary Time and the outset of Advent’s multiple-sermon weeks.
In place of the traditional homily, then, I offer this collection of articles for Advent:
First, Jonathan Aigner, the ever-sarcastic musician and author of blog Ponder Anew, reminds us that we have not hit Christmas yet — no matter what Macy’s and the Hallmark Channel say. He writes:
In Advent, we put ourselves in the place of the faithful who had waited generations for their promised King. Our four-week period of hope and expectation encapsulates the longing and yearning into which Jesus finally, miraculously arrived. Advent slows us down and restores our hearts and minds so that the heaven-born Prince of Peace can be fully born in our hearts once again.
People of God, take time to ponder anew the mysterious reality of the Incarnation. Allow yourselves to feel the paucity, the emptiness, and allow it to be filled with hope in the coming Messiah, through whom all of creation would be made whole. Christmas may come but once a year, but the discipline of Advent can allow the incarnational reality to take root in our lives, and to mold us and make us into the church we’re called to be.
So wait. While everything is chaos around you, wait. Look beyond the dazzling light displays, tune out the screeching brakes on the UPS trucks full of amazonian treasures, and let there be room in your heart for the one whose presence changes everything.
I would hasten to add, though, that Advent is not just about getting ready for Christmas — and in fact it’s even less about our preparation than our expectation. I’m reading through Rev. Fleming Rutledge’s Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, in which she reminds us that Advent plumbs the despair of the human condition and reminds us of our dependence on God. As quoted in my sermon from midweek vespers, it’s about a sudden “breakthrough from heaven.” We can do little to prepare for it, and only that by God’s grace.
Liborius Lumma, a contributor at PrayTell, takes up a similar theme in his exploration of Gregorian chants for Advent. Writing on the entrance chance for the season’s second Sunday, he says:
As an altar boy, I was taught that Advent reminds us of the times when Jesus had not yet been born. Christians reenact what it was like to wait for the Redeemer, and after a symbolic season of four Sundays, the Redeemer appears on Christmas. There is some truth in this interpretation, but not very much. Advent is not a simulation of anything – just as Good Friday is not a day of sorrow for a dead friend, but a day of adoration of the one who did not refuse the Cross.
Advent is not a “What-if?” or “What-was-it-like?” season. Advent expresses human existence in the course of time and interprets this existence as full of insecurity, but also full of hope. This hope is not under our control and not yet fulfilled, but nevertheless is indestructible….
The entire chant is sung eschatology. It expresses the tension between “already” and “not yet” which shapes human existence on its way to the unknown future, but at the same time it makes audible the hope that is at the core of Christianity. Thus, Advent is not about what it was like to live before Jesus. It is about what life is like here and now – and how Christians should deal with the tension between “already” and “not yet.”
Another contributor at PrayTell, Alan Hommerding, writes about our frustration with that “not yet” aspect:
The early Church was incredibly impatient for the coming of Christ in glory. Paul and James had to put speedbumps in front of their impatience in their letters. Of course, Christians who lived in the apostolic age were geographically and temporally nearer to the Resurrection than we are. Given our distance, we may want to ask what benefit Advent’s spirit of waiting can have for us? In a world that may as well put a Santa hat on the Hallowe’en jack-o-lantern, how can we still be impatient for the coming of Christ, even for the celebration of the Incarnation on December twenty-fifth?
As I seek to practice and increase my patience, I simultaneously know that my own multiple impatiences remain, and they tend not to be about the coming of Christ. I have planned to make it something of a new liturgical year resolution to redirect my energies there. In particular, to be impatient to perceive the myriad ways Christ is still made incarnate, and the ways I can utilize my time better to help bring Christ to the world via my own life. I’d like my impatience for Christ’s many presences to open me up to hear angels in my dreams, and to feel the Spirit stir in my own body. Bernard of Clairvaux referred to these third “comings” of Christ—between the first in human flesh and the second at the end of time—as being invisible, but I believe that they are, they must, be both invisible, and very visible to the world around us. As the Spirit increases patience in the fruit of my life, may I also be granted the impatience to seek Christ’s coming this Advent and beyond.
On a more historical note, Lutheran liturgical scholar Frank Senn (one of my favorite academics) offers this series of questions and answers on December’s liturgical shift, addressing topics ranging from Advent carols and the wreath to the origins of the Christmas tree.
And once more at PrayTell, contributor Matthew SC Olver muses over the Advent wreath’s importance — namely how it has sort of stolen the show during the season.
What do we make of Advent? A time when everything around us, even our Advent wreaths and our Advent calendars, point us towards Christmas? A time when everything tells us to ignore the Advent itself? A time when many churches are singing Christmas carols and everywhere we go we are greeted with shouts of “Merry Christmas” — and in a world where acknowledging “Merry Christmas” has become a sort of cultural codeword throughout December?
Yesterday, I was greeted by a woman who said, “Happy holidays! And you know, there’s a reason for the season. It’s Jesus Christ.”
Indeed. Christ is the reason for the season. But let us remember what season it is, and eagerly await our Lord’s return in glory.