“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us.” This morning I woke early, around 4:00 a.m., feeling the press of Advent beneath my ribs. It was a beautiful morning, a slow-to-lift darkness, and the eastern sky soft against the horizon. Around this time of December, I always feel Advent is too short, and I wish the season would go on just a few more weeks.
It’s twelve days to Christmas eve. We haven’t put up a tree yet, and we haven’t played any Christmas carols at church. My prayers have been alternately celebratory of the beauty of this time of waiting, and lamentation, full of passionate yearnings for peace. The words of one of our Advent hymns, “Come now, O Prince of Peace, ” seem especially appropriate this year, after the vitriolic presidential campaign, the deep unrest in Syria, and the violence in Gaza. I wait for the end of the war in Afghanistan, as do so many people, here and there.
Always this time of year, prophecies of the kingdom come close, side-by-side with scriptural images of the “refiner’s fire,” “precious gold,” buds on a fig tree, stars falling, good news of a new dawn, a father’s beautiful song to his newborn son, as Zechariah sang to the infant John “and you my child, shall be called the prophet of the most high.”
The church’s role is much like John the Baptist’s: we are strangely, paradoxically, the body of Christ, and we are prophets of the Most High all at the same time. What do we make of this strange relationship to the already/not yet of our lives? We announce the Lord’s advent with joy and wonder, as prophets do, AND we embody the risen Christ in the world, in our words and deeds, in our ministry. We are Christ, and we point toward Christ beyond ourselves, as John did, and we are not fit any more than John was to tie Jesus’ sandals.
Advent is a season of returning, of homecoming, literally and figuratively. It’s a good time to come back to church, if you’ve been away for awhile. And if you are someone who has been here at St. Paul, and hasn’t been for a while, please know that I miss you. I found a passage from a pastoral letter from the second century, written by a church leader to his flock: the writer spoke of the gap he felt in the Body of Christ when someone was not there. He felt it in himself. It wasn’t that he took it personally, he just felt the longing for wholeness in the Body of Christ. We need each other, as believers, in mutual communion.
Advent invites me into the world of paradox, of holding more than one truth, of living in different times than the rest of the world, of waiting for a newborn, and greeting an arrival that already happened. And Advent, too, invites me to the resurrection, for this season would have no meaning, were it not for the Risen Lord, who returns again and again to us, as vulnerable as a child in the arms of his parents. May he return to you, as softly surprising as dovesong on a dark winter morning. May he shine for you as stars in the night sky. May you know his light, as our ancestors did so long ago, on the brink of a new age, waiting for the dawn to come. May this season offer you the blessings of Advent, the sure knowledge that Christ is Risen, and the invitation to welcome him to the warm home of your heart.