Consider, for a moment, the paradox of time, which marks the basis of all of history — the “life cycle.” New life is made possible by and depends on aging and old life. By definition the two cannot stand alongside one another, since their relation depends upon precedence and succession. The young do not catch up to their elders, but remain ever after. I will never be a middle-aged peer of my father; my children, should I be blessed with them, will not have known me in my 30s. All pass time together concurrently but at different stages, according to a common, unrelenting schedule.
This, it turns out, is the pattern of both nature and grace. The end of one year yields the dawning of another; “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The grammar of our season proposes a rich theological understanding of this passing of time: Advent, that is, coming or happening. The French avènement and avenir neatly illustrate the small semantic distance between arrival and future, bound up with the “Advent” of their common source. Here is the start of the Church year, marked by God’s own historical arriving: “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4); and marked, simultaneously, by our anticipation of the Lord’s terrible and triumphal return as foretold in Scripture. In between come patient markings of the outworking of providence, as in St. Luke’s early prophecy after the finding in the temple: “His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (Luke 2:51-52). Here, as in all things, our Lord and his mother prove exemplary.
We follow behind, in our various ways, by God’s grace. We gratefully place our fragile lives and ministries within a larger pattern of obedience and promised fulfillment. We pray for healing and generosity, for clarity and wisdom, and for blessing. We acknowledge the faithfulness of those who have gone before, and strive with trepidation (doubtlessly not enough) to reap that for which we did not labor — “entering into” their work, “gathering fruit for eternal life” (John 4:36-38).
Here at home, I often think of the history of The Living Church and its old mission, articulated with commendable clarity 135 years ago and by subsequent keepers of the flame. The Morehouse family perpetuated TLC by folding it into their publishing house in Milwaukee, pouring two generations of editorial love and keen intelligence into the pages of the magazine from 1900 to 1952. May they rest in peace and rise in glory, and pray for us. Likewise the Rev. Dr. Carroll Simcox and the Rev. Canon Dr. H. Boone Porter: sturdy stalwarts whose contributions to TLC spanned six decades, from the 1940s into the 1990s. And there were others, like Peter Day, a layman who left his editorial post at TLC in 1964 to become ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church.
May all who long for a living Church be given the grace and courage to advance the cause, especially in the new days ahead. Seeking the will of God, on earth as it is in heaven, let us ask only for daily bread, in the steps of our earliest forbears — who “day by day spent much time together in the temple, broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all the staff of The Living Church, with every wish for the Lord’s blessing on you and yours! We are grateful for your support and partnership, which makes our common ministry possible. Onward to 2014, in the name of Christ.