Sunday, November 27, 2011

From the Latin "adventus," or "coming"

Advent wreath (image "borrowed" online)

One of the tasks of the week past was to change the frontal on the altar at church from the green of “ordinary time,” in place since Pentecost, to the purple of penance --- and of an extraordinary time called Advent.

A job best handled by two people, this involves manipulating an eight-foot lead bar that holds heavy strips of embroidered brocade and fringe in place, slipping it out of the long pocket of one (without poking through nearby stained glass), then into the pocket of another, all the while balancing on slippery marble steps.

We also removed the paschal candle from its big turned holder and replaced it with the oak wheel that supports an Advent wreath --- pine branches around four smaller candles to be lighted, one per Sunday, during the season, and one large Christ candle, to be lighted on Christmas Eve.

All this is purely symbolic, of course, but full of attributed meaning --- among the ways to mark the completion of one cycle of a church year and the beginning of another. So let me be among the first to wish you a happy new church year on this the first Sunday in Advent.


I’ve been waiting for the first “let’s put Christ back in Christmas” of the season, followed up by heart-felt condemnation of the hapless clerk who wishes customers “happy holidays!” instead of something more religious. We know it’s coming from the discontented, who feel as if they’re losing control, or from the scroogish.

The secret here is that Advent can be an antidote to some of that discontent, although it is a tradition lost to many protestants whose forebears, in their zeal to cleanse the church of frills, threw this baby and others over the fence with the bath water.

Fair warning, however, Avent is low-key, without much glitz, and unlikely to boost the economy.

On the one hand, it’s time of expectant waiting in preparation for telling again the story of the Christian tradition’s first coming --- when Creator, omnipotent, omniscient, aloof, cranky, prone to smiting, unexpectedly put on creation and jumped feet-first into it in the unlikely form of an infant who, as he grew, distilled cosmic demands into only one --- love, of God and of one other.

But it also is a time of penance and introspection, looking toward the great inconvenience of a second coming and a promised judgment, perhaps based on how well we’ve done in fulfilling commandments given after the first. How unfair.


Those familiar with the mysteries of the Revised Common Lectionary also will know that the new year now dawning is “Year B,” an arbitrary designation that prescribes Mark 13:24-37 as the Gospel lesson of the day.

This passage is all about that second coming, but as with much of scripture, is open to various interpretations including (but not limited to) theories that the coming already has been accomplished, that we’re living it incrementally and, among the “left behind” crowd, that the elect soon will lift off bodily to glory, thumbing their noses at everyone who miscalculated.

The concluding admonition, however, applies to all:

But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake --- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: “Keep awake.”


Considering the record, a second coming more perceptible than the first seems unlikely; and those anticipating what humans imagine a cosmic event to be probably will be as disappointed as those first anticipators of a Messiah were when rather than God-the-destroyer that man of peace and love and sorrows was revealed.

In all likelihood, we’re going to have to keep working at this until we work it out.

Which is why the urgency of the warning to “stay awake” or “keep watch” --- and by implication to work --- is important.

How many times have we all said lately, “these are troubled times,” then overlooked the obvious --- that the solutions to all those troubles were distilled long ago into that pesky commandment to love God and one another, then to behave as if we really do.

There’s an Advent thought for you. And by the way, if someone wishes you a “happy holiday” this year --- just smile and say “and Merry Christmas to you” in return.


We'll be getting together at 4:30 this afternoon at St. Andrew's with our friends from First Lutheran to present an Advent Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. All are welcome!

1 comment:

Elzan said...

Well said