Apparently I wrote it after having written something and messed up trying to publish it. That explains the italics inside the parentheses.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Advent (one more time...)
Also, I decided to try to do this tonight instead of tomorrow since my short term memory has an expiration of about 15 hours. Ask me what I preached about on Sunday evening and I can reproduce it almost verbatim. But ask me on Monday and I'll say, "Uh, what were the lessons?"}
One thing I love about Advent is that it is about seeking the light in the gathering and deepening darkness. Days are getting shorter and shorter when Advent begins and we are called by the Prophets and the liturgy to 'look for the light'. That seems to me to be a lot like life--always looking for light in the darkness. Advent is quintessentially optimistic, just as I am. So, in loving it, I am affirming my own world view and philosophy.
I don't know how it works in the Southern Hemisphere since all the Church Year seasons would be reversed. Imagine Easter, not in Spring when all is coming to life, but in Autumn as things die. And Advent and Christmas would be in Spring moving toward summer in the Global South. The metaphors don't work south of the equator. Maybe that's one reason that Global South Anglicans and Anglicans in the Northern Hemisphere are always at odds. That's just a thought to ponder. Metaphor is important. Symbols matter. I can't conceive of Advent when it is getting lighter and lighter and warmer and warmer.
Christmas falls, in the Gregorian calendar, three or four days after the Winter Solstice. So, in fact, days are getting shorter and nights longer right up to the week of Christmas. But here's something to ponder: in the Julian Calendar--the one Julius Caesar commanded be observed--the solstice fell always on December 25. So the night of Christmas Eve was the longest night of the year and Christmas began the coming of the light.
It wasn't until Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar of the western world in 1582 that the Solstice was backed up 3 or 4 days to correspond to the actual tilt of the earth. So, for 1581 of the 2010 years of the Common Era, Christians celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus on the solstice. Talk about metaphor and symbol and the lengthening of the Light!
Back where I come from, in a place more rural and mountainous than most people can imagine, railroad tracks were like kudzu, they were omnipresent, every where. Wherever there was a coal mine, their were railroad tracks for the coal trains to take it to Pittsburgh for steel or to Roanoke and Cincinnati for Electricity. And it is hard for even me to remember how narrow and twisted the valleys were between the mountains.
Where Bern, my wife, grew up, for example, this is what it looked like:
MOUNTAIN, ALLEY, HOUSE (built wide, not deep) TWO LANE HIGHWAY (barely) HOUSE, ALLEY, STREAM, ELEVATED TRAIN TRACKS, MOUNTAIN.
Try to picture that--two rows of houses, a pitifully narrow two lane road, two alleys and a stream pinched between two mountains. From one mountain to the other in Gary #9 (Filbert was the post office) was about 50 yards. Imagine living in a valley that narrow and deep.
So, because the valleys also curved around to accommodate the mountains, the railroad tracks crossed the road over and over. At every railroad crossing there was a sign in the shape of an X. On the four arms was written
That was because the trains were going rather fast (to get the coal somewhere else asap) and the roads were so twisty and the mountains so intrusive that you really needed to stop, look as far as you could, and listen to hear the train whistle that was blown each time the tracks crossed a road.
You'd be amazed, I think, at how many cars got hit by trains, even with those warning signs.
Advent is like that X shaped sign for us.
STOP in the busiest time of the year to seek the Light.
LOOK for God in the hustle and bustle of the holiday time around you.
LISTEN for the Angel wings and Angel songs over the chaos and chatter and babble of the malls and the TV and the radio.
Advent is meant to 'slow us down' just when the culture is hurrying us up.
Advent is meant to have us more attentive just when the culture is most distracting.
Advent is meant to attune our senses to the presence of God in places unexpected, surprising, thought impossible.
That's what I like about Advent--it is so terribly counter-cultural. It's like standing on tip-toe, anticipating light in the deepest darkness of all.