Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Advent is over for another year and what we have waited for is finally here: the first advent, Christmas. This year, after blogging on the intense, but beautiful O Antiphons, I was almost afraid that the coming of this first coming of Jesus would be a bit of a bathetic crash for me this year. The exalted titles behind the O Antiphons and the dramatic salvation story of Israel which goes on behind them almost threaten to overwhelm the simplicity of the Christmas story as we have it from the Gospels. After all,  the birth of a simple infant to a tradesman and his wife in the middle of a no-account town in a troublesome, but minor province in a now dead-empire a couple of thousand years ago could seem to be a let down for someone awaiting O or Clavis Jesse or Rex Gentium, but it isn't. It isn't because there is more to the story than just the birth of a baby. More was born on that day over two thousand years ago than just a baby. The hope that this story is just the beginning of the restoration of the world to its rightful state first arose that day. An invitation to participate in that restoration more fully than we could have asked or imagined echoes that night. It doesn't matter that that restoration is still going on. It doesn't matter if that restoration sometimes seems to stall. It has started and the hope that it brought with it emerged that night in Bethlehem.

So, tonight, on the eve of Christmas, we are called to rejoice at this beginning. Rejoice because God has restore what he has already called good. Rejoice because God come to be one of us. Rejoice because the lion will lie down with the lamb and the Prince of Peace is still coming. .

                                        Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel. 

Merry Christmas to all my readers. May the coming year be a wondrous one, filled with joy and fulfillment!


Monday, December 23, 2013

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

 Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!

With Emmanuel, we come to the end of the O Antiphons and to the cusp of Christmas. I don't know if that news fills you with joy or with dread, but the last days of Advent are marching on toward Christmas, that moment in time when God broke into the mundane march of human history and, by doing so, transformed it utterly. At the end of the day, this revelation of God's presence in our lives, both communal and individual, changes everything and gives us real hope that the world will be set to rights and that grace will win out. It all starts with a baby in a manger and ends with the full revleation of God's redemption of this world. Those are the advents we remember in this season and which call us to witness to God's love of this world, yesterday, today and in the days to come. 

Our antiphon starts with Emmaneul, whose name translates as 'God is with us'. One way we could go with our consideration of this antiphon is to examine the admittedly interesting historical context of this antiphon. We could talk about the original prophecy to Ahaz, its (admittedly partial) fulfillment in the life of Ahaz' successor, Hezekiah, its transference to the expectation of a messiah to rescue Israel from its bondage to its eventual assignment to the person of Jesus Christ. However, that would involve a rather extended romp through Old Testement and inter-testamental history which, perhaps, would do little to edify most readers, who might wonder what this antiphon has to do with anything today. 

I think the place I have to start with this antiphon is with that reminder which the name gives of God's presence. This antiphon, by connecting itself with the name Emmanuel, reminds me that God is never far from me, but rather is with us through whatever is going on in our lives. Now, that is a bit of a Chrstian truism and, what is more, a rather pious one, but I wonder sometimes if I always fathom why that is important. I certainly don't think that I have always done justice to the extent to which that the God who is with us is the answer to that longing that I know my soul has for something more than myself. Many of the problems that I've faced in my 20s and 30s could have been better addressed by recognizing that the anxiety and loneliness that I experienced in those years were signs of a God-shaped hole in my life. It has taken me decades to realize that and I'm sure that it will take decades more to learn the habits needed to see that God who is with us all the time and to learn how to respond. That is the work of a lifetime and I know that I've barely started. 

Of course, one of the primary problems in seeing God in our lives is the myriad of ways that He can be found. Yes, of course, I pray and, given the time, I even meditate. Both are important and both are something that I spend time doing; not always well, not always thoughtfully, but I try to be consistent with my little prayer and that helps. Of course, I can also point out those important spiritual turning-points where God nudged my path unexpectedly and, even, a little frighteningly. But, these are exceptional by their very definition as turning-points. No, the real challenge is seeing God in my everyday life as I rub shoulders with colleagues and students, strangers and friends. That isn't so easy, partly because God has a way of disguising himself quite cleverly and partly because I don't always want to meet him in those uncomfortable moments when I want to take charge and do something I want to do for a change. I say, "for a change'", but all too often that isn't the change. God is with us, but I'm not sure I always want to pay attention, even when I know that it is better for myself and everyone involved when I do. 

Emmanuel reminds me both of my longing for God and where that longing can be satisified. God remains with us through everything we do or experience, but He does more than that. Somehow He manages to take all that we do- the good, the bad and the ugly- and make it work to the good. Somehow he saves us, from ourselves mostly, merely by abiding with us. May God remain with you and you with Him.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

 King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makes one out of two, come to save man, whom You have made out of the dust of the earth!

Kingship is a bit of a tough sell these days, so this antiphon already starts with a discordant note for the modern listener. Kingship just feels so mediaeval and seems to go along with those things which cause people to dismiss Christianity as hopelessly outdated and irrelevant to these much more enlightened (and democratic) times. Seeing Jesus as King is more likely to cause people to turn off than it is to inspire. Yet, there is something about this title for Jesus which resonates differently than a mere king. 

Notice that this antiphon celebrates Jesus as the King of the Gentiles. That is interesting on a quite a few levels, but, for our purposes, largely because of the persistent prophecies in the later books of the Old Testament which saw one of the primary signs of the coming Messiah to be the acknowledgement of Israel's priestly authority by the Gentiles (the nations). So, we get prophecies about the Gentiles pouring into Jerusalem to worship along side Israel at Mt. Zion. These magnificent images of peace in the early part of Isaiah make possible by the Gentiles coming to Zion and pounding their spears into pruning shears, but don't happen because the Gentiles are compelled. Instead, it is voluntary submission of all peoples to God's priestly people and, through them, to God himself which brings about this peace. This represents the restoration of the nations from the rift which tore them apart at Babel and it is Christ, as king of both Israel and the Gentiles, which bring together these two peoples together.

This unification of Israel and the Gentiels is further reinforced by the image of the cornerstone in this antiphon. The cornerstone of a building takes two walls, approaching at 90 degree angles, and makes them one, It also providing a major structural support for the whole edifice. Furthermore, Jesus refers to himself as the cornerstone which the builders rejected, which I'm sure we're expected to have in mind here. Yet, it is the function of the cornerstone joining of two into one which caught my attention. In this world of division and acrimony, we very much need a few cornerstones to draw us together. All to easily, we can divide the world into a chosen and righteous Israel (us) and an unchosen and damned Gentiles (them). We see this all the time as we watch liberals damn conservatives and conservatives return the favour as the same old conflicts flash through conventional and social media like periodic thunderstorms. It is a persistent tendency of people to divide themselves into different camps and wall themselves off from dissenting opinion. And that makes perfect sense to me. I don't know about you, but I'd really prefer to believe in my own righteousness, thank you very much and reject those who disagree with me as not worth listening to. Unfortunately, this antiphon suggests that all of us are, in fact, one, so separating out the unworthy is no longer our job or our concern. If God is the common king of us all, we have no call to divide into two, but rather seek its joining into one. 

In the end, Israel and Gentile, liberal and conservative, believer and atheist, all of us share a common humanity. We are, even if only metaphorically, formed out of the same mud. We all need some kind of salvation from the mess that we've made of the world and our own lives. What this antiphon is saying is that, whatever our differences, we share the need for a solution and that solution is found in the same king. This king doesn't lead armies out to fight the forces of evil. Nor does he divide the people into the worthy and unworthy. Instead, he calls both Israel and the Gentiles to His mountain to share in the solution and in the joy of release from hostility. Peace will come to Israel and the Gentiles and, as I hope, to you and yours this season of Advent. 


Saturday, December 21, 2013

O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Sun of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death! 

Here we pass from the darkness of O Clavis to the breaking dawn of O Oriens. The hope which was latent in the previous antiphon emerges, as it were, into the full light of day. That image is important to me because, all too often, I'm tempted to focus on what has gone wrong and what could go wrong in my life, rather than those flashes of light which remind me that God is still working in the world.It is easier to sit in the darkness sometimes 
than to seek out the illumination which this Antiphon seems to promise. That sounds a bit crazy,
I know, but, for many years, I've thought this to be the route to realism because if one didn't expect good things, there would be no need to be disappointed if they don't come. And, if I'm to be honest, I have to admit that I am still tempted to think this way sometimes.

Yet, this light is compelling. It is the dawning light, breaking through the darkness. It is the sun which disperses the fears of the night and reveals a world where the good and bad can be seen and sorted out. It is a light which doesn't set, but lasts forever. It is the light of the New Jerusalem, which needs neither sun nor moon because God's glory is enough to keep it lite. It is the promise of a life lived openly with God and in harmony with Him. If Jesus is the light of the world, isn't this the kind of light that we expect Him to be? Advent is a season when we both remember and await the coming of Jesus, so is it surprising that we also sing of the breaking dawn of his coming in this antiphon?

What is more, I don't think this dawn light is something from the indefinite future which most of us assign to the second coming of God. It isn't the spotlight on the 'pie in the sky when we die', but rather this light breaks into our lives in unexpected and awesome ways. It breaks in during the difficult times, when help comes from an unexpected direction. It breaks in when we speak with a wisdom we don't really have, but somehow have discovered how to say. It breaks in when we take a look at our lives, not with the lens of what is missing, but with the lens of what is filling it with good things. My own experience with this light has convinced me that the world, however flawed, is still a world filled with mystery and grace which goes all the way back to God's creative energies. It commands my gratitude for what is. That changes the polarity of my thinking from the negative place I defaut to, expecting and fearing something bad will soon happen, to a positive hope that the graces that I see around me will only grow, eventually, to overcome the negative things that linger in the world. Gratitude and hope is a reasonable response to the coming of dawn, any dawn. How much more so with this dawning of this eternal day of God's kingdom! We live at a awkward time in history, in between the deep darkness of a night which seemed like it wouldn't end to the glorious beginnings of a joyous day which will not end. The sun is coming up at last. 


Friday, December 20, 2013

O Clavis David

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death. 

Today's Antiphon takes us to another place that most people would sooner not be: prison. Prisons are not, understandably, very happy or inviting places and it might seem odd to approach them at a time when the world is highlighting the joy of Christmas (and of Christmas giving!), but that is Advent for you. Advent is not a feast, but, rather, a time of waiting and reflection as we wait for the coming of Jesus into this world. Besides, wasn't this part of Jesus' first proclamation about himself at Nazareth that 

                                     "The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed
                                      me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me
                                      to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight
                                      for the blind, to release the oppressed; to proclaim the
                                      year of the Lord's favour" (Luke, 16-19

The Key of David we see here is just another one of those signs for Jesus as a Savior of all, not just for me or the members of my church or even just Christians. The Advent of God has a real impact on the world around us and it is a powerful one because we are promised that this Key of David (Jesus)  can open what nothing else will (and close it!). In fact, that degree of power should unsettle us a bit. One might be forgiven for worrying that this power will be used to exclude not to include. That fear has some reason because all too frequently the image of keys (usually, Peter's) is used to exclude those we consider are damned or who are outsiders. Yet, aren't keys also used to open up, to include people? Does it, rather, rest with the kind of person who uses the keys whether keys open or close? In some ways, the real question about this image isn't the key, but the kind of God who wields them. If we believe in a harsh and judgmental God, the Key of David threaten our exclusion. If we believe in a loving and forgiving God, these Key invites our inclusion. And I would suggest that, if we take seriously the imagery in this Antiphon, we mean the latter use of the keys. 

After all, these keys aren't being used to lock up those in prison, but rather to release them. The Clavis David lead out those sitting in this prison, away from the shadows and into the light. What's more, these captives are not so much prisoners as people who are bound by we know not what and for reasons unknown to us. There are many ways to be bound and to feel that we are held captive. Perhaps we are in a literal prison. Perhaps we are imprisoned in an unhappy situation, or imprisoned by habits and compulsions beyond our control to break away from. Perhaps our grief is imprisoning us. I don't know. Yet, what we have in this Antiphon is a promise of release; that, somehow, someone will lead us away from our prisons, that somehow there is hope for us captives. 

So, we're back to hope again, which makes sense. One of the things I like most about Advent and these Antiphons in general, is that they look forward to a hope that is not just an easy "look[ing] on the bright side of life" rightly satirized by Monty Python, but a hope which looks at the difficult things in life, but which believes that redemption and salvation are coming. That makes for a tougher-minded hope and an infinitely more resilient and practical one. 


Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Radix Jesse

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

Branch of Jesse, which stands as a standard of the people, over Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry. 

I admit that I found this antiphon a bit challenging today, partially because I'm not entirely sure what to do all this talk about  kings and Gentiles in this antiphon. Well, actually, I think I know what one could do about them. In this antiphon, the Branch of Jesse represents the signum  (the military standard) of Israel which leads it to victory over its enemies. Therein lies the source of my discomfort because that kind of imagery could lead to one of two theological moves I'd prefer not to take. First, we could imply that God's signum should be our own which we can lead against our (and thus, God's) enemies. This move would produce, in its extreme form, all the incoherence of a Crusade in which the followers of the Prince of Peace slaughter their fellow-humans with the sign of a cross. Or we could see ourselves as the persecuted Israel, surrounded by her enemies, but saved by God in some miraculous manner. Both of these images presume a violence which just isn't part of my lived experience (thanks be to God!) or the experience of anyone in, say, North America. Culture wars aside, we North Americans still have a pretty cushy deal because the most we have to face is the dismantling of some of the perks of cultural Christianity and, perhaps, at worst, a bit of obnoxious prejudice from this or that cultural despiser. Really, all this talk about standards and deliverance seems to be coming on rather too strong. 

Yet, when I start thinking about it, what I find interesting about the image in this antiphon is that, despite the military undertones implied in it, it, actually, doesn't lead to violence. There isn't a sense that this standard says 'Kill them all!" or such like. Instead, what seems to be happening is that, at the very sight of this signum, the powerful shut their mouths and the hostile outsiders which surround Israel begin to call upon God, the Branch of Jesse, for themselves. The image which remains isn't that of a battle for supremacy or even for survival, but rather a conversion of one's enemies. The observer is awestruck and silent and soon begins to invoke the God he has so unexpectedly encountered. Hostility is transformed into friendship, danger into deliverance. And all of this is achieved without violence or fighting. 

Of course, life isn't so simple that all we have to do is unfurl our standards and the whole world will convert to what we believe. We will always find people who find our faith nonsensical and our beliefs absurd. Yet, this antiphon shows us something about what it can mean to come to God in these days. For myself, my early encounter with God shocked me pretty profoundly to the point that I didn't really know what to say about it. Only in retrospect, do I realize that it sparked years of searching out who this Jesus person was and why he was butting into my life in such an unexpected way. And, only in retrospect, do I see those moments when I invoked that mysterious God I barely knew anything about as I, painfully and almost spasmodically, sought to learn more about Him. All this was and is messy, but it produce the hope of deliverance from my character defects and my faults, even if that deliverance doesn't happen on my timetable or according to my plan. Perhaps that is why this antiphon ends with a plea not to delay, since it sometimes feels that this hope has already been delayed enough. Perhaps it is only in following this signum that we find that hope realized. 


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

O Adonai

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento. 

 Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm! 

 In the brief moments I've had to reflect on this antiphon over the last couple of days, the image that keeps getting my attention is the burning bush. That's understandable as that is one of the most vivid, if freaky images in the Bible. The idea of a bush burning, but not being consumed is enough to get the attention of anyone and it sure got Moses'. It startled him into realizing that God was right in front of him and he was standing on holy ground. In that sense, the image is truly sacramental- a physical sign of the divine presence. The uncanniness of this should unsettle us, even if familiarity might insulate us from how weird a sight that bush must have been.

 What is more, it seems to me that we are also looking at an image of God in all His strangeness and power. The image of the burning bush makes me think of the unusual power (and unpredictability) of God's love which cannot be consumed, but rather blazes on and on. It reminds me of the tongues of fire at Pentecost which descended on the disciples and allowed them to praise God in the languages of the world- foreshadowing the translation of Christianity for many peoples. The fire of the Spirit is supposed to burn in the hearts of all believers as we seek God's way in this world. The burning desire which I think all of us have for justice, for goodness and for peace serves as a reflection of the fire of the Spirit. Those desires are a reflection of God's faithful love for us and for the world He created. They are part of the fire which burns for the good of our neighbour and the world around us and is not consumed, not matter what we ourselves do because the fire doesn't originate with us, but rather with God.

 Yet, I admit that I don't often tap into that fire. In truth, I am rather more like the Abba Lot, who is reported to have gone to another desert monk, Abba Joseph and confessed "Abba, as far as I can, I keep a moderate rule, with a little fasting, and prayer and meditations and quiet, and, as far as I can, I try to cleanse my heart of evil thoughts. What else can I do?". I manage my daily prayer. I try to meditate and pray (some days are definitely better than others!). I try to let go of 'bad thoughts' which lead me places that aren't good for me. I don't really fast and quiet is at a premium in my life, what with two children running around the house. And I share that sense that all that, while good, falls short of that exhortation that, if I wanted, I could become all flame with the love of God. That fire seems to be thousands of miles away from me pretty much every day, but that love which blazes for into the world reminds me to hope for better, even when I am trudging along spiritually, day to day. That fire, which didn't consume the burning bush, which didn't consume the disciples or even Abba Joseph, shines forth on my good days and guides me to seek God where I am, reminding me that I am ever on holy ground where redemption is found. May that redemption shine forth for you and yours this Advent season.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

O Wisdom

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ. 

Wisdom that comes out of the mouth of the Most High, that reaches from one end to another, and orders all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence! 
(source: http://www.fisheaters.com/customsadvent10.html)

Wisdom is an under-appreciated characteristic in this day and age. We tend to think in rather different terms, assuming that the mere accumulation of knowledge and qualifications serves to demonstrate that the worthiness of a persons' contribution to discussion or debate. Yet, wisdom seems to be something else than merely compelling others to listen to us, but, rather, it has a reflective element that we seem to have neither time nor desire to seek. Wisdom isn't primarily about what we know, but rather understands a relationship to what we know and the people around us which sees all of it as somehow integrated. It is that integration which gives wisdom its depth. It applies the ability to take the long view, to eschew the short-term gain in favour of what is best over the long-term. Perhaps this is why wisdom seems so difficult to attain and why it is difficult to value in this peculiarly amnesiac culture of ours.

Yet, wisdom has always been difficult to attain in all ages. The reason for this difficulty is that it is remarkably difficult for any person to maintain the long-term reflective view needed to achieve true wisdom. True wisdom, it seems, should be able to start with the beginning of time and see to the end of it again. True wisdom, as this antiphon suggests, has to be an attribute of God. It is only God whose Wisdom can be felt a fine usque ad finem- from one end to the other, from the beginning of time to the end of time, from one edge of the universe to the other edge. And it is only God's Wisdom which can create the order that we see and enjoy in this universe. We are, whether we acknowledge it or not, dependent on God's Wisdom to keep our own chaos at bay and that Wisdom will outlast us and our petty efforts to pretend we're in charge.

So, if we're attentive, we see God arranging the world 'mightily and sweetly'. I love the juxtaposition of these adverbs. That God arranges the world 'mightily' is hardly surprising, if we presume a God who is omnipotent, he is going to be do things mightily. Yet, he acts 'sweetly', not harshly or bitterly. He acts 'sweetly', filled with grace and an attention to what is good. Yes, of course, I know. It is frequently difficult to see the 'sweetly' in the world as it is today. A lot of distinctly not sweet things happen everyday and one can be forgiven for thinking that seeing God as acting 'sweetly' int the world borders on delusional. Yet, that 'sweetly' reminds me to look for the pleasant traces of God's sweetness, of his grace, of his good work in the world. That 'sweetly' reminds me of the hope found in the goodness of this life, when, frankly, I want to focus on the injustices or hurts which I see in my life. God acts and will continue to act 'mightily' in the world and that might be terrifying if we did not remember God's sweetness, which delights in the good and the pleasant. It delights in the same goodness and pleasantness that we dismiss with a 'yes, but....' when reminded of it. That sweetness is a reminder that we can live in gratitude for the good that we see in our life and that is a viable alternative for pessimism and despair. The problem is that we often have to learn gratitude, while pessimism is, altogether too easy to practice.

So, that is why we learn the path of prudence. Again, prudence is one of those unpopular virtues- one which looks frumpy and old fashioned. Yet, prudence, while a scarce phenomenon, remains important and relevant. Prudence, at its root, is the human relative of Wisdom. It is the recognition of one's limits. That recognition tends to go against the grain for our culture, nurtured by the power of positive thinking and message of self-help. Prudence begins with the recognition that we are not and will not be gods, which should be a relief to the prudent person. Ultimately, God is the one with true Wisdom and it is prudence which recognizes our limitations in this area. We are not God and that is, because of the state of our 'wisdom', is a good thing. The path of prudence encourages us to eschew the immediate and see ourselves in the longer view. It helps us to move past the disappointments and disturbance of our day in order to see the long-view; that God's grace created this wondrous world and that that same grace will redeem the mess we've made of it. And it is this sense of perspective which gives us the hope we need to seek out God's Wisdom as a guide for our life. That path isn't always easy, but it has its comforts.

May the God of Wisdom stay with your on your path today and always.


Sunday, December 01, 2013


"The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 

In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills;all the nations shall stream to it. 
Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks;nation shall not lift up sword against nation,   neither shall they learn war any more." Isaiah 2, 1-4 NRSV

Advent is upon us and that is a good thing. It is a good thing because it is all to easy to how God enters into this world, in dramatic ways and in less dramatic, everyday ways. For me, the last two months of Ordinary time are times of incredible busyness as I return to school after a two month break and get back to the busy routine of a thriving Latin program. Advent hits me just after report cards and just as deadlines for registering for extra-curriculars are just coming due. The coming of advent is, for me, a reminder to watch for the ways that God is entering into my life daily and how I very often miss it entirely. 

It is, of course, very easy to get lost in the daily grind, so my experience is hardly an unusual one. Yet, I know that, for me, it is those daily advents which connect me to God and keep my perspective where it needs to me- off myself and onto what God is calling on me to be and to do where I am. Those daily advents connect me to those around me and keeps me from dwelling in my head and thinking that I am in control of the things and people in my life. Advents, whether they are of the daily variety or that of Christ, which, so far, is unique in human history, include more than a little layer of mystery because our sense of what is coming remains unknown until it is here. Who could have anticipated the coming of God's son in 1st century Judaea? And who expects the moment when the ordinary becomes extraordinary in the middle of a conversation or a class or a coffee with a co-worker, when the mystery of another person or of God's healing presence suddenly reveals itself unexpectedly? No one can plan for those little advents and, yet, they remain precious because they are the raw material for hope which is a precious commodity these days. 

Yet, Advent is more than even these little moments. There are bigger Advents as the passage of Isaiah which I quoted at the top of this post suggests. This passage of Isaiah is familiar, of course, to any of us who hang around our churches during Advent; so familiar that I wonder if we really get the wonder of the vision. Amid the chaotic world of the last years of the Judaic kingdom and the exile which followed, Isaiah dared to dream of a time in which Jerusalem would not only experience peace, but it would be the agent of peace throughout the whole world. That is incredible, given the reality that Isaiah was himself facing at the time. And it hasn't lost its power over centuries of war and injustice in the world for both Jews and all people. 

The reading of this passage at church today was also a reminder for me to look for the peace in the here and now. That, of course, calls me to face the injustice and hostility of others, but, even more so, my own. A few weeks ago, I had the occasion to reflect on my tendency to retreat into a stronghold to deal with my own failings as well as whatever difficult things occur to me from time to time. Now, that isn't all bad. We are constantly reminded that God is our stronghold, but I recognized that that defensiveness, occasioned by anxiety, also tends to cut me off from people and from finding ways to do good in the world. As I reflected further on this, a thought jumped into my head, just as the Eucharist was starting, that asked me 'what would peace look like?' And that thought has stuck in my head for the last few weeks. What this passage says about that question, I think, is not only that the weapons which my anxiety thinks I need will be transformed into the tools of peace and abundance, but, also, that I must rely on God's justice if I want to find peace, not on my control of the situation. And that is hard because I want to control things from inside my little fortress. The fact that my attempts to do that usually end badly is evidence of how effective a strategy that is. Perhaps it is time to trust in the new tools God has given me in order to get on with the work in front of me

So, Advent is here, not a moment too soon.