Joyfully, I find Advent a very complex season.
It is an artificial season in some ways – it arose in our church history for any number of reasons, and it is not as though it is tied particularly to any natural season, like the fall or winter. It is a kind of teaching tool, a pedagogical help, that developed as part of baptismal preparation, preparation for Christmas, and a general season of fasting and penitence (very like unto lent). And indeed, some Christian churches do just fine without it. However, Advent has become a central piece in our Anglican world, and if you spend much time around Anglicans it can become hard to do without. It brings many gifts.
The complexity settles in as we explore the themes of Advent – They are layer upon layer. Centrally, Advent has become a season of preparing our hearts for the ‘advent’ (appearing, coming) of our Lord. We open ourselves, and take up spiritual practice that will deepen our faith and better our world. But the ‘advent’ we prepare for is not only the Nativity remembered at Christmas, but the Parousia as well – the moment that we are promised when all things will be set to right, and all things, and all actions will be seen as they are in God’s eyes. Advent is an invitation to a journey toward a personal reckoning with these two events, and how they express themselves in our lives.
And this journey begins early on with a consideration of our hopes and longings – the real feelings and experience of living as humans in this world. Some of us are joyful, some depressed, some content with their lot, others fighting at every turn. Some of us know horrendous violence and abuse, while others seem to have gotten off scot-free. The rich are the least generous and the most loving communities are bound in suffering and humility. Advent calls us look and settle ourselves to these realities. Reality is often an uncomfortable thing.
As we examine ourselves and our world in this way, it seems we are more able to discern God’s Word in the midst of us. If God is God, the world he loves is this world. If God is God, the people God must love are these people. If this is true, than the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is not a hallmark moment for warm feelings, but an expression of God’s solidarity with us in our plight. And the Parousia (Last Judgement) is not an event aloof from our experiences, but it is the good being made better, and the particular evils we face being brought to justice. It is the hope of every true humanitarian brought to fullness. It is news that every ounce of faith is more solid than we thought. Advent’s proclamation is good news.
And all this hope and longing, news, and reality settles down within us in the most intimate and striking way: God-with-us. The plump flesh of a helpless infant foretold by prophets, and passed on through the Christian church. It is a moment that we are invited to consider as if for the first time – what if this is our Maker in that stable? How do we change our lives if we come to know that such divinity came to exist in weakness for our sake – as first fruits of a divine life that we too may live? Jesus invites us always to be his followers, and his call begins by meeting us where we are: in the very life we live, in our place in Edmonton, in our connection to St. Augustine’s church.
Our worship at St. A’s will encompass all these themes this year. We will hear the invitation to walk with Christ, settle ourselves to whatever pieces of our world we can, we will seek out the good news in our midst, and meet in our worship the Christ-child. Thank goodness we have at least four weeks to explore them together. And each of these four weeks we will put our worship in to practice with various calls for donations and appeals. Details come further in this newsletter. For the 6 of you who were able to take in the Advent Quiet day, hosted by Pat Jameson, you have set yourself in good stead – it was a fine entry into Advent, and a chance for that long sought-after silence. Thank you Pat for your leadership. For those of you who find the Christmas season difficult on account of loss or grief or whatever, there is also a “Blue Christmas” service we are sharing with Grace United across the road on Dec. 15th at 7pm. This is in addition to our Sunday gatherings.
Thank God that we have a complex season to match our complex lives. We each bring our mix into community and worship. Know that you are all beautiful in your complexity, and I am so pleased to be sharing this piece of your lives with you. I pray that the love of God would support and encompass every part of you, day by day. You have my ear if you need it, you have my invitation to serve or share ideas as you desire, and you have my call to seek out the work of Christ in our congregation together. I celebrate much about this community, and I mean it truly, as I have said to some of you, that I draw much excitement from our community and neighbourhood here. My excitement is particularly for God’s work in us, in you, and in his church.
And if you need some encouragement – come join us in our celebration of Advent. 8am and 10am on Sundays. For those looking for a more contemplative exploration drop by the Ancient-Future community which meets at 5pm each Sunday with potluck to follow. If you are not able to join us for whatever reason, I pray you would find your own ways to mark and participate in the season where you are.
God bless us as we meditate together on God-with-us.