By Lawrence N. Crumb
In 2018 December is the month of Advent, a mystical time when the Church year comes full circle and overlaps itself. It is, as we are often reminded, the beginning of the liturgical year, the time when we think about how God prepared the people of the Covenant for the coming of the Messiah, through the work of patriarchs, prophets, and psalmists, and we reflect on the announcement of the angels to Zechariah and Mary about the imminent births of John the Baptist and his cousin, Jesus.
It is also, in a sense, the end of the Church year — a time when we think about the Second Coming and the Last Judgment at the end of time. Just how we can relate to events so long ago or so far in the future is a mystery, and thus the element of mystery — always a part of the Christian experience — is especially present at this time. We await something truly awesome, and a kind of awed hush should be our natural reaction.
In Advent we especially appreciate the restoration of the First Testament to the eucharistic lectionary, as we share in the life of the people of the first covenant. Readings from Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Minor Prophets, and 2 Samuel help us to understand their longing for the Messiah and the extension of the Davidic kingship. Like Mary the expectant mother, bravely riding the donkey to Bethlehem, the entire nation had been pregnant with expectation for the birth of a Messiah. As we read portions of the Hebrew Scriptures, we can gain a fresh sense of how God cares for us by preparing us for better things to come.
It is the Gospels, though, that set the tone for each Sunday. The first Sunday gives us the three expressions of the Synoptic apocalypse: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves” (Luke 21:25). The second and third Sundays are about John the Baptist, whether the prediction of his birth (including the canticle Benedictus Dominus) or his preaching. The fourth Sunday is about Mary, whether the Annunciation, the Visitation (including the canticle Magnificat), or the Nativity.
Advent is an appropriate time for approximating the meditative quality of a retreat as closely as is possible in our hustling, bustling world just before Christmas. Finding a time and place of quiet may not be easy, but it can be done.
Since many churches are not open during the week, a quiet corner at home or at work can usually be found, at least for a few moments. If a prayer book is at hand, or brought along for the purpose, the Advent collects and the psalms appointed for the season can help to set the tone of a meditation or provide its principal content. The current readings in Forward Day by Day can provide food for thought, as also the Daily Devotional published by TLC.
Many Advent hymns are suitable for private prayer. Any or all of these practices can be, not only a welcome break from the commercial world, but also an enhancement of the joy that will come when Christmas is celebrated in hymn and sacrament. An Advent calendar has a window for each day, but the Advent season is a window into eternity.
The Rev. Lawrence Crumb is priest in charge of St. Andrew’s, Cottage Grove, Oregon.