Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent: The time before the dawn

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the season of expectation, the time before the dawn of Christmas and the birth of Christ. Advent is sometimes mixed up with Lent, but that is a mistake.

Advent is a time of prayerful introspection and preparation, but it is more than that. Advent is the time of waiting and looking outward for the light on the horizon. It is a time to especially think not of ourselves but what we can do for others, especially the poor, the sick and lonely.

In the Anglican tradition, the color blue is used to mark the liturgical season: the deep Indigo blue before dawn and the traditional color of Mary.

Today is also the beginning of a new church year -- and so let me wish you a blessed and happy New Year! We are now in Lectionary Year B, the year that explores the Gospel of Mark, the first of the gospels to be written. I will have much more to say about this extraordinary and often overlooked gospel as the year progresses.

I am not preaching today. I hope you will join us to hear the Rev. Dr. Ann Willms, our associate rector, who is preaching. The lessons for today are: Isaiah 64:1-9Psalm 80:1-7, 16-181 Corinthians 1:3-9, and Mark 13:24-37.

For your pleasure, I leave you with a reflection written by Joan Chittister:

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What is Advent About?
By Joan Chittister

A friend recently gave me a textile wall-hanging from Peru that makes clear that the process of finding God in the small things of life is as profound as it is simple. A pastoral scene of palm trees and rural lean-tos has been hand-stitched by peasant women, quilt-style, across the top of a felt banner. Under it is a calendar of thirty small pockets, each of them filled with something we can’t see. Every day until Christmas, we are invited to find the part of the scene that has been pocketed for that day and attach it to the scene above, one piece of hand woven cloth adhering to the other as we go.

Some of the pieces are of benign and beautiful things; some are not. There are bumblebees and angels, wild animals and dry straw, a branch-laden peasant man and a weary-looking woman. But there at the end of the days, as common as all the rest of the items in the scene, is the manger, the sign of the One who knows what life is like for us, who has mixed His own with ours. Now, we can see, all our expectations have been worth it.

Advent is about learning to wait. It is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow, only that whatever it is, it is of the essence of sanctification for us. Every piece of it, some hard, some uplifting, is sign of the work of God alive in us. We are becoming as we go. We learn in Advent to stay in the present, knowing that only the present well-lived can possibly lead us to the fullness of life.

Advent relieves us of our commitment to the frenetic in a fast-paced world. It slows us down. It makes us think. It makes us look beyond today to the “great tomorrow” of life. Without Advent, moved only by the race to nowhere that exhausts the world around us, we could be so frantic with trying to consume and control this life that we fail to develop within ourselves a taste for the spirit that does not die and will not slip through our fingers like melted snow.

It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realize that its coming depends on us. What we do will either hasten or slow, sharpen or dim our own commitment to do our part to bring it.

Waiting — that cold, dry period of life when nothing seems to be enough and something else beckons within us — is the grace that Advent comes to bring. It stands before us, within us, pointing to the star for which the wise ones from the East are only icons of ourselves.

We all want something more. Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you? Is it a place that is really comprehensive enough to equal the breadth of the human soul?

–from The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

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