Next Friday, on one of the darkest nights of the year, a group of cold and shivering believers will gather for an Advent Eucharist in a drafty old barn just outside of town. The frozen-faithful will sit in the dark on bales of straw with the light of one candle to center their awareness. This yearly Advent-assembling is the only reason for the barn’s still standing after more than one hundred years. It waits, that is all it does and so we join its patience for this one spot of time.
We who are older would love to have the anticipation of our youth as we once waited for Christmas and endured Advent. We would love to have the impatience we had for the “Big Day”. We wish we could be excited for the celebration of the birth of our Savior as much as we were excited about the other kind of wonderful presents. We are not calloused, we are just accustomed.
This week of Advent, we have to, must take time, to pinch a moment of longing. Is there a bale of straw around for a sip of silent darkness?. There is the old-barn of a world whose only reason for being is to receive the Gift of its dignity. There might be a candle to splash its warm light on the faces of your closest faithfuls. We prepare by our getting in touch with our basic human longings for The Gift!
It is “Rejoice Sunday” flowing from the words of the Entrance antiphon, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.” Phil. 4, 4. There is a sense of excited joy spoken by the prophet in our First Reading for this liturgy. The verses might sound rather familiar, because Jesus, in the fourth chapter of Luke's Gospel unrolls this very passage, reads these lines and turns to His Nazareth-neighbors and announces that this reading is actually about Him.
This poem splits the chapter before and after this one. Those deal with the resurrection and beauty of Jerusalem which is going to return to its world-centering dignity. The prophet is pictured here as the favored one of God. This prophet has been called and given the mission of bringing back to life and freedom the people of Israel as does the earth bring back its vegetation to the gardens.
The real mission of the prophet will be to bring back a sense of grateful relationship to the people. God has been so lovingly good that “justice” is the proper response to such abundance. “Justice” here means a strong sense that God has been good in action and the receiver should reflect that generosity and gratitude in sharing those gifts with others.
In the Gospel from the first chapter of John, we hear, as we did last week, about a prophetic character, The Baptist. These verses are taken from the first part of John’s Gospel known as the “Prologue”. As in a musical play, melodious hints are displayed immediately before the actions and themes of the play are presented.
John’s Gospel is not real subtle. Once the reader catches on, he/she gets hit over the head often with the same ideas. Jesus is Light and Light is Life. There are those outsiders, such as those interrogating John as he performs the Jewish purification ceremonies who will always be questioning Jesus throughout His life. The priests and Levites and then the Pharisees accuse John with their questions and the answers they receive will not, and never do, satisfy them. Throughout the whole of the Gospel, this theme works its way up to the death of the Light. As we say, those in the “dark” never got It, never saw the Light. John states clearly that they do not “recognize” and so the tension-theme is struck. John testified to this Light, but here, very early, John states clearly that he, the Baptist, is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke. He, John, is announcing that outward baptism, (water) and inner baptism (Spirit) will be the mission and life of the One Who is to come.
We are likely to hear these days about “that old Christmas spirit.” For many of us it is a backward look. There were the “traditions” of decorating, family gatherings, reunions and reconciliations. I would love to return to the spirits of my own clan. My father was the oldest child during Advent and into Christmas. He loved getting presents for us that he knew he would enjoy our receiving and his playing with. His father had died from the “Influenza” when my father was five and he was always making up for lost Christmases. Going back into my memories allows a slight touching of the “old” spirit; it is harder, yet more important for us to have the spirit of Advent, of waiting for the “new” spirit to bud forth in our new gardens.
I do pray with a sense that God, too, is making up for lost time, my lost time going backward to find something in my present. Something is always being prepared; something is always coming. As my mother delighted in her husband’s being her youngest, at least during the days leading through Advent, so does God delight in us, in our being so unaware which leads to our being so surprised. If expectation is not dampened by demand, then our rejoicing will flow from reception. As the little girl prayed to God, “Thank you for my baby brother, but what I asked for was a puppy.” Rejoicing is not the same as satisfaction; it is more about the simplicity of wonder. Advent is not about going back to better times, but experiencing the Light which is leading us somewhere deeper.
“Say to the anxious- be strong and fear not, our God will come to save us.” Is. 35, 4
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