Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reflecting on Advent

Christmas is coming and the world bustles about in eager anticipation of the festivities and jovialitaies of the holiday. Even in this increasingly secularized society there is a palpable feeling of jubilance. This is the season of giving for some, the season of family for many, the season of hope for others. Many churches are decorating with lights and greenery and planning myriad parties, potlucks, concerts, and other galas. Bishop Sutton, in his sermon this morning, reminded us that as the liturgical calendar presents for us today as the first Sunday in advent, we are encouraged to step away from the mirth and prepare ourselves for the coming of the King.

Juxtaposed against the laughter and chipper cheerfulness we see around us, the season of Advent has been interjected into the calendar of the church as a penitential season. The liturgical calendar, the calendar whereby the church has measured time for these many centuries, begins with a time of reflection and preparation. Where just this last Wednesday, during the eucharist service for Thanksgiving, and the services that have preceded since Easter, the Gloria in Excelsis has been sung as a joyful and exuberant proclamation of praise, during this penitential season it is silenced. This season calls us to wait eagerly for the coming of our King, but to do so with reflection and preparation of ourselves for that coming.

Imagine if you will that you knew that in one month you would be visited by an earthly king. Would you not spend a large portion of that month in preparation? You would clean your house from top to bottom, and then go through it once or twice more. You would have your clothes picked out long in advance and schedule an appointment with the hairdresser shortly before his arrival. In this season of Advent we are doing just that. We are anticipating the coming of the King of Glory, the Incarnate Son, the Word made flesh. Not only are we remembering His incarnation, which would be cause for celebration enough, but we are also looking forward to His return. He came in the incarnation as a feeble child but will return as the conquering victor.

In the midst of the bustle of the world around us, the church has the gift of the Advent season to help us prepare ourselves for this anticipated coming. This is a time to repent and to humble ourselves before God Almighty. It is a time to recommit ourselves to His service.

Allow me to share the words to one of my favorite hymns, which I find to encapsulate the whole of the Advent season. In silence and wonder we are penitent in preparation for His coming, reverently reflecting upon His worth for our worship. Just as our joyous praise fully resumes in response to the presence of our King, we join the angels as they ceaselessly cry Alleluia. These ancient words are from the 4th century Liturgy of St. James:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

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