“You too left Egypt when, at baptism, you renounced that world which is at enmity with God.” — St. Augustine
The Benedictine Nuns at Oxfordshire had a silencing snow to bring a profound stillness to the start of Advent:
The mantle of snow lying over much of Britain this morning will not be welcomed by all but it is the perfect gift for the beginning of Advent. Snow is mysterious, beautiful, silent. It both conceals and reveals. It draws us away from the ordinariness of life to its extraordinariness, and it does so softly, silently, almost stealthily, just like Advent.
At Vespers this evening we shall sing the first of those haunting Advent chants, full of Israel’s longing for the coming of the Messiah. Then we shall enter into the special silence of this season: the silence of waiting while the mystery gradually unfolds, like a winter rose on Jesse’s ancient stem.
And what was the chant?
Tremble, O earth, before the Lord,
in the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool
and flint into a spring of water.
– Psalm 114
And the third antiphon: “I am coming soon, says the Lord; I will give to everyone the reward his deeds deserve.”
Tremble, O earth, indeed. I read the antiphon and immediately thought of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta’s line, (paraphrased): “When we meet God, he will not look at what we have done, but at how much we have loved.”
That, of course, reminded me that St. Therese of Lisieux’s thoughts on bringing to God either a thimble or a goblet full of love.
If we are to be indicted by how much we have loved, by how much we love day-to-day, by what love accompanies our actions, our thoughts, our behaviors, our remarks, our snarks, our prayers, then I suspect many, many of us who believe we are “doing alright” in the love department, and who presume we’ll be dragging a wine barrel full of love to our meeting with Jesus, will be surprised to discover that–standing in his perfect and unerring light–we are presenting to him a spilled, half-empty goblet, at best.
Advent is a time for waiting, and also for taking stock. Post-Thanksgiving, I read the headlines about “Black Friday”–the me-first excesses, and the whole mindset that says it is permissible to dehumanize oneself (or to participate in dehumanizing others) as long as one is saving 50% on a “must-have” piece of plastic, or on electronic instrumentation that within weeks will be broken, tossed aside or outdated, and I regretted the materialism that feeds all of that.
We are all materialistic, of course. We live in a prosperous age, and we are daily tantalized by things that are “new” or “improved.” The perfectly-working phone we used yesterday is not good enough today, because today’s phone has yet another capability that one “must” have, in order to “stay connected” because our myriad options just aren’t enough. There aren’t enough ways for people to get in touch with us, at every moment of our lives. The serviceable shoes must be thrown out because they are “last season’s.” And what is the point of living, if you don’t have Ugg boots to trot around in?
Thank God for Advent! Thank God for 28 days in which to turn away from all of the “new” and “improved” must-haves-of-the-season in order to ponder some ancient things that cannot be improved upon; psalms and prophecies – a promise of a new way, and fresh beginnings, brought to us by the One who Is, Was and Ever Shall Be; who existed before all and will remain when all is ended.
A promise of light in a season of darkness and bone-chilling cold – and cramped hearts full of fear and bitterness and blame. The Authentic Light we so long for that we set our houses and trees ablaze in artificial light, and wonder at the small, fleeting comfort we find, there.
The True Light, of course, will set the sun aside, like a moon in daytime. It will shine exteriorly, without blinding us; it will permeate our souls and we will be truly illuminated.
In that light, that Originating Light–the Light in which we see Light itself–our hearts will be warmed and dilated; our shrunken, constricted vessels enabled to flow again with love.
And then, we will get another chance to choose: the thimble or the goblet?
Advent is a time for getting our heads and hearts together, so we can choose wisely.
A few Thanksgiving and Advent reads to help get things started:
I showed a picture of a “cherpumple” to my wife and she agreed with me: it’s absolutely disgusting.
Some things just aren’t meant to be mashed together like that.
But I have to wonder if we haven’t done something similar with Advent and Christmas. For all intents and purposes, we have managed to create one massive season – “Chradvent” – that conflates two distinct seasons into one. And it’s starting earlier and earlier.
Hundreds of radio stations started playing Christmas music the day after Halloween – many of them all Christmas, all the time, 24/7. The week before Thanksgiving, I was amazed to walk by an apartment on 108th Street and see the lobby fully decorated, complete with a fully lit Christmas tree and wrapped gifts. Last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I went down to Sergei’s Barber Shop on Ascan Street for a haircut and saw workers unloading Christmas trees to sell. How anyone could expect a Christmas tree to live a month or more is a mystery to me. But people do it. I saw cars going down Queens Boulevard with trees strapped to the roof. Even before Thanksgiving, it seems, we’ve started to celebrate “Chradvent.”
Msgr. Charles Pope and the recipe for readiness:
Marcia Morrissey: Give Thanks in ALL Circumstances
Pat Gohn: The God Who Makes Himself Small
Rocco Palmo: The Waiting
Beginning to Pray: The Peace Established by God
Brutally Honest: Prepared to meet the king?
YIM Catholic: Appreciating Advent as only a convert can.
UPDATE: I noted last week that I might be closing comments for the first week of Advent. Haven’t decided on that, yet. Deacon Greg has shut his comments down for week one, and the place already seems saner. I may keep comments open this week, and close them on the second week, to encourage folks to go more deeply into it.
Advent Reading: if you forgot to find something suitable to read for the season…