O Come, Divine Messiah!

advent-policeThe above cartoon recently popped up on my Facebook feed. It’s by the Rev. Jay Sidebotham, and depicts ‘the Advent police’ citing people for putting up Christmas ornaments and singing Christmas carols during Advent. Silly, right? Normally I would just chuckle and keep scrolling, but for some reason this particular image made me stop and really look.

Can you imagine if there really WERE an Advent police? I know for a fact that the dollar store downtown would be awash in violations, since I’m pretty sure I recall the Christmas aisle being set up the week before Halloween this year. Think of all the fines that could be set aside for mission funds! (Just kidding.) Then again, how many of us are really able to go the entire four weeks before Christmas without trimming the tree or humming a few bars of ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ when we hear it played over the store loudspeakers while doing our Christmas shopping?

As a former (recovering?) church organist and cantor, I find Advent to be one of the most fascinating times in the church year. Though the calendar year is drawing to a close, it’s just the beginning of the liturgical year – a time of quiet, preparation, and yes – anticipation of the coming Savior. The days are shorter, the hymns on Sunday a bit quieter than during the season after Pentecost, and the readings talk about waking from sleep and preparing the way of the Lord.

One hymn in particular makes me marvel every year: ‘O Come, Divine Messiah’.  If you’re not familiar with the tune, please do look it up on YouTube. The music is light, just a tiny bit bouncy, but combined with the lyrics it’s an amazing summation of the anticipation and longing of the Advent season. We wait in the dark and quiet of these weeks of December, yearning for Jesus to come to Earth for our redemption and to bring joy and light into our lives.

“Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.”

I finally made a note in pen at the top of my sheet music to tell the choir not to speed up at that point, because every. single. time. we sang that piece they would get so excited it was like trying to hold back runaway horses. “Hurry, Jesus! We’ve been waiting for so long!” Women in their 80s were singing with all the enthusiasm and impatience of my two year old daughter – “Now, Mommy? Now?”

It’s a busy time of year, and many of us have to-do lists as long as our arm, making our physical preparations for the coming of the Lord. Try to take a few moments this week, though, to quiet your mind and enjoy that thrilling anticipation that comes from having to wait.

“O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.”

Megin Sewak is Communications Specialist for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. 

Receive Advent As A Gift

advent-1812702_1280As we prepare to enter another season of Advent, we are given the gift of waiting.  So often, we focus on what we want, but Advent invites us to focus on what God might give us.  Instead of expending our effort on choosing what we would like and striving to get it, our energy goes into preparing our hearts to be open to what is coming.  This preparation is much harder work, but ultimately more fruitful.

One of the lies we tell ourselves is that if we work hard enough, what we think is best will come to us.  Really, though, however hard we work, we are always handed a jumble of broken leftovers from the pursuits and plans of others.  We can toil desperately to make that mess into the gift we have decided we deserve to be given.  But we cannot create what we truly need to satisfy us.

Advent provides the space for us to strip down our projections and put away our projects so that we can see where the divine gift for us is to be found in the midst of life’s pains and paradoxes.  We shut off the flashing lights and neon beacons so we can simply see the stars around us.  We step out of the buzzing cacophony and make space for silence where the still, small voice may beckon.  We close the Facebook feeds and the commercial messages to open the prophets and the psalms preparing us to recognize what we can’t yet imagine.  We stop jockeying for candles-141892_640position and simply sit beside our brothers and sisters until these erstwhile allies and enemies become nothing less to us than the true image and likeness of God.

Advent helps us hand over our wills, our imaginations, and our desires so that in the crucible of waiting they can be purified into hope.  We cannot learn hope until we have learned to stop and let go of everything except for God’s coming to us.  Then God’s coming will fill every nook and cranny of our being, occupying our every thought and hunger. We will be able to recognize the Messiah come into the world because we will have become nothing more than a Messiah-shaped outline waiting desperately for God to fill us.

The waiting of Advent allows us to recognize and receive the Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace amid shepherds and Latin-speaking IRS agents two thousand years ago.  That same waiting allows us to recognize and receive the body of Christ in the gifts placed on the altar and in those gathered around it, as well as in the least of our brothers and sisters for whom whatever we do we do also for Jesus.  Our Advent waiting will also allow us to recognize and be received by the Son of Man in his crucified glory at the last day.

Our souls are saturated with so much stress and striving that we cannot wait to wait.  Receive Advent as a gift and dive into it deeply.  Wait until we can’t imagine wanting anything but Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector at St. John’s, Sharon.