Saturday, November 29, 2008

Advent

One of the small joys of my vocation is that I get to spend Saturdays puttering around the church more or less alone. No other staff are around (well, the organist pops in and out, but she and I are friends); phone calls and walk-ins are rare. I find it an ambience that lends itself to contemplation as I go about my getting-ready-for-Sunday chores, and some pretty good praying sometimes happens in such an environment. 

Today was even more special than usual because I got to tweak the details of what my inimitable Facilities Manager and my wonderful Altar Guild had already accomplished in giving the church an Advent makeover: simple greens where the flowers usually are, wrought-iron candlesticks that are used only during Advent and Lent, no frontals on the altar, and, of course, an 
ample Advent Wreath that sits on a stand to the left of the aumbry. And this year a little something extra: I had a beautiful large icon of our patron saint moved from the narthex into the nave (with a proper lamp hung next to it) where it can serve as a focus of piety rather than something we walk past without noticing. 

I love Advent. And I mean Advent-as-it-is-in-itself, not merely a pious-sounding new label for "the holidays." I love the distinctive rhythym of the season--beginning with the Great Litany (I particularly enjoy chanting "beat down Satan under our feet" with some measure of solemn gusto) before rehearsing the Dies Irae-like pangs of eschatological darkness and exhortations to vigilance, moving on to the imprecations of John the Baptist tempered by the messianic reveries of Isaiah, then on to the Annuncation and Our Lady's fiat mihi, with the Great O Antiphons and Lessons & Carols helping to pick up the pace toward a denoument of incarnational joy in the Midnight Mass of Christmas Eve.

But I also appreciate Advent for being--of all the liturgical seasons--the most like real life. Advent is about always straining forward in unfulfilled yearning. It's about the paradox of "now but not yet." It's about waiting and hoping and getting ready for the Big Day when the Event for which the Chicago Cubs winning a World Series is the most apposite metaphor finally arrives. Most of us spend most of our lives yearning for something, hoping for something, waiting for something. It can be something as trivial as a traffic signal changing from red to green and as complicated as an intimate relationship that sometimes runs and sometimes crawls and frequently stumbles but always shows promise of (someday) settling into a nice comfortable gait.

I write, of course, as an Anglican Christian, and as an American, and both of these states of life (or, more accurately, the combination thereof) lie within the shadow cast by the season of Advent. We wait (for every word that proceeds from Lambeth Palace). We hope (for a positive outcome from the next of meeting of ... you name it: the Primates, the House of Bishops, the Joint Standing Committee, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Covenant Design Group, CAPA, the Global South Primates, the leaders of GAFCON, the Common Cause Partners, the Communion Partners, etc. etc.). We prepare (for the next secession of a diocese, for the next deposition of a bishop, for the unveiling of a new province). We ask, "How long?" We wonder whether we have enough oil in our lamps. And then we wait some more and hope some more and prepare some more.

Will Christmas ever get here?

At the level of cyclical chronos, of course, Christmas never fails to "get here." (Alas, for the retail industry, there are only 29 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, compared to 32 last year; yes, there are people who keep track of such details.) And that inviolable certainty, compounded in its effect the more times one actually experiences it, serves as a sign of hope and encouragement for anyone (i.e. pretty much everyone) who struggles with a cycle of yearning-turning-toward- fulfillment that is larger and longer than 365 days, including Anglicans like this unworthy blogger who are tempted on a daily basis to abandon hope for a happy issue out of our afflictions. (To say nothing of this unworthy Cubs fan.)

Veni, veni Emmanuel! Captivum solve Israel.

Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, but I think you wait, hope, and prepare for all the wrong things. You are clearly way too focused on the Anglican Communion and not nearly sufficiently focused on our Lord and Saviour, or so it would seem from what you have written here.

We are to await the coming of our Lord, both His first coming in the Incarnation, and His second coming at the end of time as Judge of the Nations. We strain forward toward these things expectantly because of the great reward that awaits us as Christians, but we must be properly prepared to receive our Lord when He comes.

All of the things we look forward to expectantly in Advent have everything to do with the catholic Christian faith and nothing at all to do with the various Anglican entities that you listed.

Fr. Sam+

Dan Martins said...

Fr Sam, I won't argue with the positive affirmations you make, but take issue with your denials. Yes, we wait, hope, and prepare for the coming of Christ in glory. In the meantime, we wait, hope, and prepare for a host of other things, and these "smaller" waitings help form us in that work of "larger" waiting.

TL said...

Fr. Dan
I think that Fr. Sam has a very accurate and valid point and criticism. While we wait upon the Lord's coming we are to about His work. I and many are not waiting upon a host of other things as life will surely bring them and those of which we wish it didn't. But we are suppose to be busy doing the work with singleness of heart that the Lord has called for us to be doing while we wait upon His return.
I have been waiting years (many for decades) for all Christian denominations to come together as one in God as He would have us be but it has not happened yet so I continue planting the seeds and doing the work He has given me to do all the while getting on my knees every chance I get. I would rather wait upon the Lord and His coming and bring things into His plan in His time than wait upon those things that are in man's hands that always seem to wind up rather messy and messed up.
Have A Blessed Advent
TL Dillon
San Joaquin Diocese
Fresno, Ca

Mousie and Christy's Mommy said...

Fr. Dan...

It was you and Dragonfly that helped me to understand the incredible beauty and love of the Advent season. Because of that, this is my favorite "church season" also! I await the coming of our Lord and Savior...but I also await those "other things!" I am encouraged that Christmas does always come. Thank you.