Comfort, comfort you my people,
Tell of peace, thus says our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness
Bowed beneath oppression’s load.
Speak you to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell them that their sins I cover,
And their warfare now is over.
For the herald’s voice is calling
In the desert far and near,
Bidding us to make repentance
Since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise in meeting
and the hills bow down in greeting.
Make you straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits God’s holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o’er earth is shed abroad;
And all flesh shall see the token
That God’s word is never broken.
-Johannes Olearius (1611-1684), Trans. Catherine Winkworth 1827-1878)
During a children’s sermon on Sunday, I asked the children if they knew what special day it was in the church. One of the children eagerly raised his hand and after I called on him, he said with a smile, “almost Christmas.” He was right, and I told them that in the church we call almost Christmas Advent.
I remember as a child, that Advent was a torturous time, as I could not wait until we tore into the secret things which resided below the tree. I would sit in church each Sunday of Advent, hoping and praying that the candles would hurry up and light so we could get on with it.
We speak of Advent as a time of preparation, a time of waiting, a time of expectancy. In my mind, when I think of preparation, good things do not come to mind. I think of preparing for an examination by studying for hours upon hours. I think of preparing for a performance in which I practice the same things seemingly endlessly. Every week I prepare for Sunday, which can be joyous, unless the sermon is not coming and it feels like I am running in a hamster wheel.
However, preparation can also be exciting. Last year at this time, I was feeling Advent in a very personal way. When I moved here to Milwaukee, my beloved stayed behind in Michigan for over two months to wrap up her employment. She would move here for good two days before Christmas. For me, then, Advent 2011 was not just waiting for Christmas, not just waiting for the return of Christ, but also waiting to be reunited with my beloved. This was a time of preparation. I tried to organize our flat so that it would be welcoming when she would arrive. I tried to work ahead at church so that we could have a few days together when she came. I planned what I would say when she walked in the door, and more. This was a time of joyful preparation, eager anticipation, and waiting.
The most difficult thing associated with preparation and waiting, for me, is to slow down enough to do it. In order to prepare for something we have to stop rushing and hurrying with other things. Without slowing down we forget the anxious yearning of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and the gloriously haunting minor key in which the common tune, VENI EMMANUEL, is written. Without slowing down from the daily grind to take note of the world, of ourselves, we can miss the fact that the world is desperately in need of redemption, we are desperately in need of redemption, and that the needed redemption has arrived and is continually unfolding.
In her book, Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesus, Keri Wyatt Kent discusses the importance of slowing down because, “you cannot experience [the deep love of Jesus] in a hurry” (Ch. 3, para. 3) Unfortunately, Advent is an incredibly hurried time for myself (as well as clergy in general). I have to make sure the decorations are up, that I have enough ornaments for when folks decorate the holiday tree in the narthex. I have to organize and run the Christmas Store, which is a program that we have so that low-income folks can purchase gifts for their family. I have to plan the Christmas Eve service, as well as get things ready for the next Sunday when I am annually out-of-town with family. In the meantime I have to continue checking up on the high number of my parishioners who are in the hospital/rehabilitation facility/just out of the hospital, write thank you letters to donors, and write fundraising letters so that our church might be able to stay open.
All of this is some sort of preparation, unfortunately it is not the preparation that Advent calls for; this is the hurry that distracts us from experiencing the deep significance of Advent, it is the hurry that does not allow us to experience the “deep love of Jesus”, and it is the hurry that pulls us in other directions away from the comfort that today’s hymn celebrates.
Can I hear the herald’s voice calling? Am I taking this time to make repentance? Am I preparing a way for God? Do I even know how to? Am I allowing myself to be caught up in the raptures of the love of Jesus?
If we are sprinting through life, cell phone in one hand, cappuccino in the other, we cannot ‘lay hold of that Life and power’ that comes when we know we are deeply loved. We cannot experience the healing power of Jesus in our lives. Hurry injures us. (Kent, Ch. 3, para. 10).
Similarly, hurry hinders us from seeing that “the kingdom is now here”, and places an obstacle to obeying the “warning cry”, and stops us from experiencing comfort given to we who “who sit in darkness, bowed beneath oppression’s load.”
This Advent will be one in which I am intentionally slowing down to experience the eager anticipation of waiting, while I invite others to experiencing the love and comfort that comes from God’s reign being at hand.
Slow Down! It’s Advent.
This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta
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