Today’s Readings: AM Psalm 41, 52; PM Psalm 44; Zech. 1:7-17; Rev. 3:7-13; Matt. 24:15-31
A Reflection from the Rev. Dr. Sam Faeth.
Frederick Buechner once described Advent as the spiritual equivalent of that moment of anticipation when the conductor’s baton is raised, but the music has not yet begun. I’m never sure whether the sigh of longing Buechner’s description evokes in me is from the jealousy – um, I mean yearning – to craft a phrase like he can, or if it is from the startling difference between the ideal and the actual.
As a parish priest, my Advent season was occupied with the ordinary – service leaflets to proofread, retreats to lead, worship participants to recruit – all to the enthusiastic backdrop of children preparing for the Christmas pageant. As a mother, wife and organizer of all things festive, my Advent was spent in search of the Christmas tree stand (“No, not that one. That’s the one that tips.”), looking for the matches to light the Advent candles, and trying to coax my seasonal earworm from “Jingle Bells” to “Hark a thrilling voice is sounding.” Advent, for me, has often been a season of activity – long on queues and short on quiet. If Advent is that hushed moment of stillness before the music begins, then I was the sheepish soul whose ticklish cough spoils the silence.
Things have changed. The children are grown. I am retired from parish ministry and, at last, I am enjoying the luxury of space and silence and solitude during this holy season of anticipation. With the wisdom of hindsight, I feel a rush of affection and admiration for those who yearn for the ideal, who fret in the effort to get Advent “right.” But the One who is coming is not the chief of the liturgical enforcement unit, not a photographer from Southern Living, not even the Ghost of Advents Past. The One who is coming, the One we prepare for, the One for whom we wait and watch and yearn is Jesus, our Savior, Lover of our unsettled souls.
As Advent moves toward its culmination, take a deep breath and let the Spirit calm you. Pick up your Bible and take comfort in the images of the ordinary that show up in our Advent lectionary: a fig tree that needs tending before it can bear fruit; a rejected cornerstone that becomes something new; parents squabbling over the name of their child; the awkward party where nobody showed up; and the eternity shifting “Yes” of a teenaged girl. Or pick up something by Buechner, or Bonhoeffer or even Bombeck, and find the voice that speaks to you – through the evocative phrase, the model of costly discipleship, or the deep laughter that washes the moment’s tensions away. Maybe you don’t have to chant a Mozarabic rite over your Advent wreath. Maybe finding the matches and staring into the flames is enough.
The conductor’s baton is raised. The world holds its breath. But from the silence the voices of our hearts cough, stutter, cry and sing in hope – Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!