Advent and Antiphons through the years…

On this day, last year, this is where I was at – still thinking of Advent and what it means, but under very different circumstances.

It is amazing how fast time goes by, how our days pass almost in a blur unless we stop to take stock. And it’s also amazing how much my mutton-chopped, exceedingly loud 16 year old has taught me. And how much my brother is teaching me, still.

Some of my Evangelical friends have wondered to me, via email, what the purpose is, of the Liturgical Year – why we Catholics, and others, put so much stock in “ritualistic” sorts of things, like Advent, and its trappings – the purple vestments, the Advent wreaths and such. “Jesus came once for all, he doesn’t keep coming,” one lady wrote to me – “Christmas is a wonderful season. Why do you need a whole Advent season, too?”

I can only answer by saying…look at what I wrote last year, and what I have written this year…Christ is constant, but our lives are not. We can get so caught up in things, in working, paying bills, making deadlines, tending to our families. I’ll stipulate that perhaps I am a particularly needy sort of person, but I have a strong feeling that – knowing myself pretty well – if I had not the Advent season, and all the church’s wonderful tools for teaching, prayer and worship during this time, I might not have been able to stop, at some point in each day, to consider what Christmas really means, to think long and hard, or slumbery/prayerful about what exactly has transpired, here. Because it is monumental, this Coming – it is the Coming of Love in a way never before (or since) encountered.

And yes, it “happened.” But if God is outside of Time, and we know He is, then it “is happening” right now. And when I pray, each day, “come, Lord Jesus” I pray for that Coming of Love, I pray for that moment when heaven reached down in song and succor and cradled earth, albeit in the guise of One needing a cradle. When I pray “come, Lord Jesus” it is also “maranatha,” Come again. Come, still. Come, everyday, to needy, weak and helpless me.

Advent is the Coming. The season helps us to make ourselves ready – make straight the paths in the wilderness of our fickle, changable, distracted, all-too-human hearts.

I think this year I have been so cued into the Incarnation perhaps because it has been a year in which death has played a large part, both my brother’s passing, the passing of the loved ones of my friends (do take a second to check in on Kobayashi Maru and wish him will in his first Christmas without his brother, Ed). And then the health problems of my in-laws, and even my own…it’s been such a year of clenched teeth and held breaths…finally, in Advent, I feel like I’ve been able to exhale and look up in wonder rather than in supplication. Like a shepherd tired from the day’s rounding and believing that tomorrow brings nothing new, I look up and – gasp! – The Incarnation – the Creator come down to us – I haven’t been able to stop thinking of it, and marvelling at it, all Advent. A pal who goes by an unusual handle of Shiloh emailed this meditation:

Can you imagine the mind shattering glory of Heaven’s angels singing their joy, devotion and love at the birth of the baby Jesus?

Having let Him go from their midst, and disappearing from their close contact while He made himself into that form which could be born human, then as He promised them, He is born of the Holy Mother of God in the lowliest circumstances, and His Blessed Holy angels find Him right where he surely told them He would be.

Can you even imagine their shouts of Joy? Could a human heart withstand the stupendous majesty of their chorus?

Indeed. God kisses the earth, and nothing has been the same since. We should be trembling to know it, trembling – not in fear – but in awe and humility and thanksgiving. But no, maybe that’s not quite it, maybe God doesn’t just kiss the earth, for a kiss cannot last.

Rather, God comes, as bridegroom – the real bridegroom who weds himself to us, divinity to humanity -and shares with us that most intimate privilige of marriage, the joining of two into one, the mutual dependence, the mutual committment. What God has brought together, no man may separate. We are One. But every marriage, even the best, needs constant attention, constant giving…constancy. Call the repetitious seasons of Advent, then, year after year, a renewal of our wedding vows, complete with honeymoon…

This is how I ended my post from last year. Everything has changed. Nothing has changed. What is Eternal and outside of time is Still. As it was in the beginning, is now and evermore shall be:

I cannot help – in these final days of Advent – to think about what God did, in a lonely cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem, when He condescended to enter into the pain and fear, the tumult and whirlwind of the world…when he “set his tent among us,” not merely “dwelling” among us as lofty king, but literally “with” us, with hunger, the capacity for injury and doubt…

God entered in, not with a cacophany of noise and a display of raw power, but as the humblest and most dependent of creatures: a baby, lying in a manger, a place for the feeding of animals. He, who became Food for the World, entered with silence, as though he had put his finger to the quivering mouth of a troubled, sobbing world and said…”ssshhhh…it is alright, I’ll keep you company…”

It will be alright.

In the final week of Advent, the week before Christmas, the prayers and readings at Vespers are particularly beautiful, in no small part because of the ancient and traditional “O” Antiphons which precede the recitation of The Canticle of Mary, the Magnificat: My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my being proclaims the greatness of my savior.

For tonight, the O Antiphon reads: O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust…

Oh, Amen. Indeed, amen.

Be patient, my brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer awaits the precious yield of the soil. He looks forward to it patiently while the soil receives the winter and the spring rains. you, too, must be patient. Steady your hearts, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, my brothers, lest you be condemned. See! The judge stands at the gate. As your models in suffering hardships and in patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Those who have endured, we call blessed. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and have seen what the Lord, who is compassionate and merciful, did in the end.

James 5:7-11

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