Advent is Different

What we Americans call “The Holidays” begins on Thanksgiving (or before) and continues through New Year’s Day. It is a time of eating, drinking, and spending, with distinctive decorations, sounds, and stories, and with a seemingly endless round of activities. It is also a time of generosity and service to those in need. It puts before us images and expectations of happy families and friends, with everything coming together just right, maybe even a “Christmas miracle.”

While some of us do experience such happiness, or some of it, many of us are painfully confronted with other realities – loneliness, loss, family tension, stress, exhaustion, and a sense of disappointment, if not failure. “The Holidays” are probably a mixed bag for most of us. How welcome, then, is the gift of Advent.

Advent is different from “The Holidays” even though it happens at roughly the same time. It looks, feels, smells, and sounds different. It holds off the Church’s celebration of Christmas until December 25, a celebration that is then kept for Twelve Days, continuing past the time when “The Holidays” have been packed up and put away. Thankfully, the Episcopal Church does a pretty good job of keeping Advent in all its difference, because we need it.

I used to be quite Puritan about all this, wanting the whole world to keep Advent and to keep Christmas away until the 25th. But it is a losing battle and only leads to frustration and needless isolation. “The Holidays” are our culture’s way of marking the end of the year and I join in, trying to make the best of its joys while being sensitive to its difficulties.  Advent in the Church, then, becomes a welcome space apart and away from what is going on all around us. It offers something different, something which allows for reflection and perspective.

That would be welcome enough in itself, but Advent also provides us with an opportunity to be honest about life’s difficulties. The readings, music, and prayers put us in touch with the prophets, with John the Baptist, and with Mary and Joseph before Jesus was born. They allow us to see and admit that all is not right with the world, including with ourselves, and they also invite us to hope in a God who will put things right, even if that is hard to see at the moment.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu often told how, during the Apartheid years in South Africa, he would go around telling suffering people that God was in charge. Then he would go to his prayers and ask God, “Why can’t you make it more obvious that you are in charge?’ That is the spirit of Advent. And that spirit will take us to Christmas with honest and open hearts, remembering that the baby of Bethlehem became the young man who was executed on the cross and rose from the dead, filling us with Holy Spirit, inviting us to trust that God is love.

 

The Very Rev. Dr. John P. Downey is Dean of the Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie. 

 

Passionately Sharing Truth – General Convention Day 3

Greetings from Austin!

As a first time deputy to General Convention, this experience has been a whirlwind so far for me. Being a cradle Episcopalian, I’ve heard about General Convention throughout my life. I am grateful to be able to experience this gathering at this time. I have also been blessed by being an officer on a committee (Assistant Secretary for Congregation and Diocesan Vitality). This experience has been eye-opening in terms of the workings of polity and how things are created. It’s amazing how detail oriented arguments are in every part of the process of creation of legislation. I am a detail oriented person and this goes even beyond my normal detail oriented specifications. Today, the House of Deputies voted to start the process for revision on the Book of Common Prayer. Next, this resolution for revision goes to the House of Bishops in order to be approved or rejected by the bishops of the church. No matter what, the process of revision of the BCP is a long one, spanning many years.

I want to offer you a slightly different kind of reflection about what is going on here at General Convention in this poem I have composed.

Over head the descending star
Light patterns on the ceiling
Breaking up monotony
All these meetings
People speaking
Arguing in logically fallacious ways
Yet passionately sharing truth
A changing church
A dying church
A church in the midst of active resurrection
Not quite sure where the future lies
We thought we were rising stars.
We want to be superstars
yet, we are descending
Changing
Moving in the world
accepting our new position like glass stars
Hanging in suspension
Between the earth and the heavens
Lights which show the way
Breakable yet strong together
Environment changes subconscious
We know we must hang together
So many stalactites
Creating new patterns in the world
Steps on Jacob’s ladder
Where angels move with great intention
Back and forth
For the gateway to heaven has been demolished
In the overwhelming flood of love
What stars hang in our future
What stars meet the road ahead
We must reflect the light before us
We are the light of love today.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest-in-Charge at St. John’s, Franklin, and a first time deputy to General Convention.