Advent #1

There is one among us
whom we do not know;
host of highest heaven
present here below.
– John L. Bell
Awaiting the Messiah
by Peter Rollins
There is an ancient story that speaks of a second coming of the Messiah. It is said that he arrived anonymously one dull Monday morning at the gates of a great city to go about his Father’s business.
There was much for him to do. While many years had passed since his last visit, the same suffering was present all around. Still there were the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Still there were he outcasts, and still there were the righteous who pitied them, and the authorities who exploited them.
For a long time no one took any notice of this desert wanderer with his weather-beaten face and gagged, dusty clothes – this quiet man who spent his time living among the sick and unwanted. The great city laboured on like a mammoth beast, ignorant of the one who dwelt within its bowels.
The story goes that the Messiah eventually decided to reveal his identity to a chosen few who had remained faithful to his teachings. These people met together in a tiny, unknown church on the outskirts of the city t pray and to serve the poor.
As the Messiah entered the modest sanctuary one Sunday morning, his eyes fell upon the tiny group huddled in the corner each one praying and weeping for the day of the Lord. As they prayed, those who had gathered in the church slowly began to feel the gaze of Christ penetrate their souls. Silence began to descend within the circle as they realized who had entered their sacred home. For a time no one dared to speak. Then the leader of the group gathered her courage, approached Christ, fell at his feet, and cried, “We have waited so long for your return. For so many years we have waited patiently for you to come. Today, as with every other day, we prayed passionately for your arrival.”
Then she stood up and looked Christ in the eyes:
“Now that you are with us we have but one question.”
Christ listened, knowing already what it would be.
“Tell us, Christ, when will you arrive?
The Messiah did not have an answer but simply smiled. Then he joined the others in their prayers and tears. He remains there still, to this very day, waiting, watching, and serving in that tiny, unknown church on the outskirts of the city.

The Word of the Lord (Advent #4)

God’s story is true.  We know that God’s story is true because God gave us his Word – that Word who came to us as one of us, and died for us, and descended into hell for us, and rose again from the dead for us, and ascended into heaven for us.  The Word became the living truth for us, the only truth that can make us free.  Part of that freedom is mortification.  Part of that freedom is the Cross, for without the Cross there can be no Resurrection.

When was the last time anybody asked you, “Do I have your word?”  Or when was the last time anybody said to you, “I give you my word,” and you knew that you could trust that word, absolutely?  How many times in the last few decades have we watched and listened to a political figure on television and heard him say, “I give you my word. . .” and shortly thereafter that word has proven false.  In the past year alone, how many people have perjured themselves publicly?   Sworn on the Bible, given their word, and that word has been a lie?  Words of honour are broken casually today, as though they don’t matter.

Small wonder that when God tells us, “I give you my Word,” few people take him seriously.

“I give you my Word,” said God, and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

– Madeleine L’Engle, The Rock that is Higher

"Come, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come" (Advent #3)

Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come
In your fearful innocence.
We fumble in the far-spent night
Far from lovers, friends, and home:
Come in your naked, newborn might.
Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come;
My heart withers in your absence.

Come, Lord Jesus, small, enfleshed
Like any human, helpless child.
Come once, come once again, come soon:
The stars in heaven fall, unmeshed;
The sun is dark, blood’s on the moon.

Come, word who came to us enfleshed,
Come speak in joy untamed and wild.

Come, thou wholly other, come,
Spoken before words began,
Come and judge your uttered world
Where you made our flesh your home.
Come, with bolds of lightning hurled,
Come, thou wholly other, come,
Who came to man by being man.

Come, Lord Jesus, at the end,
Time’s end, my end, forever’s start.
Come in your flaming, burning power.
Time, like the temple veil, now rend;
Come, shatter every human hour.
Come, Lord Jesus, at the end.
Break, then mend the waiting heart.

– Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season.

What I’m Listening To: Christmas/Advent

I left the house today!  I decided to walk down to the local mall to pick up a few things and to get some exercise after not leaving the house at all yesterday.  Before I went, I took the opportunity to update my mp3 player to get some Christmas music on there for the walk.

After all of my griping about Christmas carols and how much I don’t want to hear more cheesy music about shepherds and angels, I began to listen nearly exclusively to Christmas music this week (CBC radio still makes up the other bit of my listening). Since my tastes are so picky, you may rightly ask what on earth am I listening to? Wonder no more, here is what is on shuffle in iTunes at the moment (in no particular order):

  • Jars of Clay‘s Christmas Songs. This is pretty much my sole shout out to a Christian band’s take on Christmas because, at the risk of being repetitive, I often find them a little cheesy. However, I like Jars of Clay’s arrangements of some classic Christmas stuff and they have a couple of my favourites on there like Gabriel’s Message and In the Bleak Midwinter.
  • I’ve been on a Bruce Cockburn kick for the last number of months now, so its not really much of a surprise that I like his Christmas album, simply titled Christmas. He has the Huron Carol on there, in (I’m assuming because I can’t understand a word of it) the original language, plus a number of other carols in other languages. Despite his periodic mumbling sound, it’s Bruce. Enough said.
  • At the mall I foolishly walked into a music store.  There I discovered that Loreena McKennitt has a full length Christmas album out called A Midwinter Night’s Dream. So I got it. I’ve been listening to her Christmas EP, Winter Garden for a few years now, so it is nice to have a longer album. It is her usual with crazy cool instruments and beautiful voice. 
  • A new find, but certain to become a favourite, is Advent Songs by Sojourn, apparently a church in Kentucky. Most are new songs, although there are some new arrangements of classics. I don’t normally go for new Christmas songs either (picky, aren’t I?), but there are a few which have already gone on repeat several times and I’m working on figuring out a couple on guitar. That has to count for something! I know this is one I’ll be listening to for the next couple years and possibly even outside of Christmas time. 
  • I grew up listening to The Roger Whittaker Christmas Album, on LP every Christmas from St. Nick’s in Beaconsfield to Christmas on Bleecker. It is now embedded in my consciousness and no Christmas is complete without it.
  • I have enjoyed Steve Bell‘s music for awhile now, and love his Christmasy album, The Feast of Seasons, especially Ready My Heart, The Angel Gabriel, and Coventry Carol. I say Christmasy because there are some songs that have a Christmas or Advent feel to them and others which don’t, yet fit all the same.  It is Steve doing what he does best
  • Jen kindly pointed out another classic that I believe we also had on LP and listened to without end.  I have indeed been listening to a certain Christmas Album by the wonderful Boney M because again, Christmas would not be complete without it (and I need to have a little crazy 80s music going on at times).

Enjoy.  I have been.

In the Bleak Midwinter (Advent #2)

Warning: random collection of thoughts.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent.

I went to St. Andrew’s Catholic Cathedral for Lessons and Carols this week. It was the first time I’d been inside of that beautiful building. One of the carols they sang is, for some reason, a favourite of mine. It is not one of the more popular carols and the first verse doesn’t seem to have much to do Christmas other than snow (which we don’t even get in Victoria).

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

– words by Christina Rossetti

I love the carols that are a slightly minor key (O Come, O Come Emmanuel) or are about things other than wisemen and shepherds, angels and cute babies. Not that there is anything wrong with angels and wisemen, I just seem to get tired of those much sooner than I do the other ones.  The carols I am constantly drawn to are the old English ones like the Sussex, Coventry, and Wessex Carols. The minor ones like O Come O Come Emmanuel, Ready My Heart, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, and In the Bleak Midwinter. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they didn’t get sung over and over in Christmas Pagents when I was a kid. Maybe it is the lyrics. 
There is something about the mystery of anticipation that is attractive and in the advent carols it rings loud and clear. This attraction is the reason I love advent so much. If we always had everything figured out, there would be no need to have a period of anticipation and expectation to “Ready our hearts for the birth of Emmanuel.” But we need the time to prepare.  And we don’t know what to expect.  Each year brings new surprises and new events (as the last week in politics has shown us…) to challenge us.  We have this gift of time to prepare; lets not be caught unawares.

Bah, Humbug

I visited a mall yesterday for the first time in ages.  It was a bit of a shock to see Santa’s village set up with the elves for taking pictures and then, around the corner, to see a gift wrapping table.  Although I’m not sure why I was so surprised, it being December and all.

I’ve been getting into the mood of advent; the anticipation, expectation, and preparation, but I’m not yet ready for Christmas.  I’m especially not ready for big Christmas trees, pop singers singing the latest and greatest mix of Christmas songs, and gifts everywhere.  I feel a bit like a grinch at times.  Can’t we dial back the Christmas cheer and spend some more time in reflection on what this season really means?
I am less excited by the little baby born in a manger in Bethlehem than I am by the thought of that little baby’s life and teaching and eventual return.  Advent means the coming of a notable person, thing, or event.  I would much rather celebrate that Christ has come, Christ has risen, and that Christ will come again than celebrate a fat man in a red suit.

Advent #1

Advent Carol Service tonight for evensong.  The sun is going down around 4:15-4:30 right now and evensong starts at 4:30 so it was nice and dark to show off the over 500 hundred candles that lined the nave, gallery, and chapels.  It was absolutely stunning and the perfect way to start the season.

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,

till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.  He did not wait

till heart were pure.  In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made FLesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wit till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

– Madeleine L’Engle

photo credit: Natalie

Welcome to the first Sunday of Advent.  This is the season of expectation, anticipation, preparation, longing, and yearning.  We remember the longing of the ancient Israelites for the Messiah to come and we reflect on our own waiting for the second coming of Christ.  Like the yearning of the Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out for a deliverer, may we continue to cry out against the injustices in out world, remembering our hope of deliverance by a God who hears and has promised to bring peace and justice to the world.