And we begin again. Year One for Daily Office, Eucharistic Lectionary C. And the external and internal fight between our reality and the secular world’s reality. Out there it is already Christmas, and two weeks before the Nativity of our Lord, they think they are counting the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Isaiah 1:10-20 rips into us. The Lord God speaks, refusing the burnt offerings of the temple, given by those with blood on their hands, not the blood of lamb or goat, but the blood of sin, of injustice to the vulnerable. But wash your hands clean, the Holy One says, and be willing and obedient. Or else retribution will fall upon you. Be washed from your sins. As John did, announcing the coming of his cousin Jesus, his cousin the awaited Messiah, God incarnate. In Luke 20:1-8 Jesus is questioned, tested, mocked by men of authority, Temple authority, but perhaps not God’s authority. What is your authority, they ask, but Jesus turns the question around to ask, what was John’s authority? And the Temple authorities reveal themselves. Hypocrites is a word Jesus has used. If they say John’s authority came from heaven, would they be forced to accept Jesus’ authority, Jesus, the heretic, the law breaker, the troublemaker? But if they said John’s authority was only human, they could dismiss John and Jesus as jumped up madmen. And face the wrath of the people, the people whom they are vowed to serve. And Jesus mocks them right back. If you haven’t the courage to speak of John, I will not tell you where my authority comes from. And we know that Jesus has the authority, the authority of his heavenly Father. And that Jesus is on his way to the Cross.
If we haven’t the courage to confess John, no less Jesus, we are lost. And in Advent we are given four weeks, more or less, to ponder the authority of Jesus the Christ. And also to reflect on the absence of Jesus, not as passionately as Lent, but none the less, as we slip into the loud and materialistic world of secular Christmas. And perhaps slip away from the majesty of God who bends to earth, our earth, as a human, and divine, as a child. A child who is already marked with the way of the Cross, and a hunted refugee within days of his birth. And so we must wait. We must stand firm against the temptations of instant and profligate satisfaction with the things of this world. Things that pass away. And so we wait holding the fear and anxiety back with disciplined silence and prayer. From the first candle lit on our Advent Wreath, as we kindle the fire that will not pass away, as we prepare for the Nativity with the O Antiphons. Four long weeks. We wait. Sometimes I get the urge to write poetry, and this came to me for Advent.
Blue of twilight,
The dangerous time, too dark to see, too light to notice,
Shapes blurred, melting into one another.
Waiting. Waiting for the night. The Light.
Prayer, silence, fasting.
Listening for the stifled screams of the girl in labor,
The first cry of the babe newborn.
The stifled screams of the woman at the execution
The silent cry as He drains us of our pain, our sins,
Transformed by love.
But first the labor pains,
First the birth of the child, of the world, of eternity.
Can we not drink deep, lingering with the child, that sweetness soon gone?
Can we not indulge ourselves in celebration, excess, profligate desire fulfilled,
In the dangerous time, too dark to see, too enticing to care?
Drawn out of Reality, the Truth, sucked into the glamour of the world?
Must we wait? Silent, praying, waiting
For the miracle, the one miracle,
In time without time? When temptation screams around us
Drowning out the birth cries of mother and son?
Are we forgiven for weeks of peppermint and gingerbread?
The roasted meats and cakes dripping with delight?
Yes, the child, the man, the Sacrifice forgives, will feast with us,
Dance with us
Give gifts to us.
But first we face the void,
When it all begins anew.
Waiting. Hoping. Yearning
To embrace that One.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God with us.
I sometimes wish for a simpler time, when Christendom reigned. When everyone knew what Advent was and what the Twelve Days were not. Granted, it was not a time of gender equality, or tolerance, and I would not have the ease of writing on a computer. But it would feel good not to be part of a shrinking and marginalized religion, when I know, a knowledge beyond doubt, beyond logic, that Christ is Risen and has given us eternal life, but demands humility, service to the needy, and total obedience to the will of God. We are so like the first Christians, the newly born church of the first century. And we need to keep our faith strong, supporting one another, reading the wisdom of the saints, receiving the sacraments, and absorbing scripture deep into our bones, lighting the candles one by one. Advent is important, as important as Lent. It is all part of the sweep of Salvation, the babe, the man, the Christ. The Sacrifice who is yet to be born, but already marked with death on the Cross. The Teacher who leads us through the narrow gate of his sheepfold, and guides us to humility and compassion. And the babe is born and it is begun. Make this a good Advent.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.