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The Lectio Letter - Issue #38 - Advent 2021 - Part I - Happy New Year Christians!
No, I haven’t lost my mind. Yesterday, was the first day of the Christian New Year. Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Christian Calendar.
“O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
o come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!”
As an interruption to the normal lengthy Lectio, I’m going to send a few “short thought” emails through Advent for members only. If you think someone else you know would enjoy this, please encourage them to sign up (they can unsubscribe after advent with no hard feelings).
What is Advent?
Maybe you find the idea that the new year has, in fact, already begun simultaneously exhausting and disorienting. Maybe you’re anticipating entering in to a slow Christmas season, to celebrate and prepare for the new year before you rally yourself again for the activities of 2021. But, there is something significant about advent being a slower and more reflective beginning to the year for Christians. Advent and the Christian Calendar is an invitation to tell time differently.
And phew, we need a new way of telling time. Time is not just a passive marker. Time wants to tell us a story, to root us in a context. Unless we pay attention to our relationship to time, and our movement within it, we will be unknowingly formed into the rhythms and priorities of our cultures which so often leave us adrift without the deep roots that can anchor us in the storms of hurry and anxiety. This season is the run-up to Christmas, is always characterised by rush and busyness. Buying gifts, preparing for guests, organising events. But what if you took time to stir some deeper longings and cultivated your sense of desire for the coming of Christ this Advent?
Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus meaning “coming”… the coming of Jesus celebrated at Christmas! It may seem trite to rehearse the expectation of Jesus again, like being forced to politely feign surprise when you already know what’s inside the gift you’re opening. But the repetition and rehearsal of this story is not just to commemorate something in the past; instead, it’s to train us how to live in the present and to long for a new future.
Getting into the Story
In Advent, we rehearse the longings of the people of God throughout history for the coming of the Messiah. In doing so, we don’t just rehearse their longings but we train our own for the second coming. Things are broken, uncertain and fractured in our world and we spend Advent taking stock of these things. We reflect on it not in morbid hopelessness but so that our celebration of the incarnation (Christmas), can also train us to long for his second. For the time when death will lose it’s sting, and the wrong of the world will be set right.
In the past years, I have found fresh appreciation for the stories of Mary and of Simeon (both found in the first couple of chapters of the Gospel of Luke) as people who longed for God’s Kingdom and gave their lives for the hope that was set before them.
These are not, to use a phrase coined by my friend Trent Sheppard, “stained-glass super heroes”, these were real people captivated by real hope in our real God. Let Frederick Buechener’s words inspire you to see the real lives in these stories and allow the Spirit to breathe new grace for your real life being filled with real hope and anticipation this advent.
“Whatever else they may be, the people in the Bible are real human beings…and it is not the world of the Sunday School tract that they move through but a Dostoyevskian world of darkness and light commingled, where suffering is sometimes redemptive and sometimes turns the heart to stone. It is a world where although God is sometimes to be known through his life-giving presence, there are other times when he is known only by his apalling absense. The Bible is a compilation of stories of what happened to these human beings in such a world, and the stories are not only as different from one another as the people they are about but are told in almost as many ways.”
- Listening to your Life, Frederick Buechner, p. 309
Mary and Simeon were not all that different from you and I, real people, living in the real world, a world Buechner reminds us that has “darkness and light commingled”. Advent, by the Spirit of God, offers us real hope by rehearsing the stories of hope from people like Simeon and Mary.
Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending with Lyrics (Choral) (4K)
May your longings, desires and hopes for Christ, His coming and His Kingdom rise this Advent season.
til next time,