When you stand in this drafty season of Advent, the longer you try to stay your course the more the wind picks up – pulling you in every direction. Advent just raises too many questions for us, especially those of us who perch on faith’s thin wire.
Is this a time to prepare or begin to celebrate?
Are we waiting for the birth of Jesus or the judgement of God?
Are the messages from the pulpit meant to be somber when the people in the pews have already popped the cork on Christmas?
How does a religious leader hold her ground in the gale force winds of so much pressure to lighten up, decorate the church, enjoy the holidays?
Advent is hard to understand; it always has been. Preachers get swept up in the strong winds of this season, drafts that have nothing to do with weather. What is the message of this season?
I have been reading Diana Butler Bass’ Advent devotions online and today she had a message about prayer, from which I took the poem below.
The poem reminded me what Advent really does for us. At its core, it invites us to journey, like Moses, to turn toward a light we can see but don’t understand. Advent invites us to find our footing on holy ground. This time the holy ground that beckons is not a dessert path but a stable. Advent calls us to stand at an empty manger and find the sacred potential in this humble place. Advent invites us to refuse to run around in circles all December, but, to reflect instead on life in its fullest measure. Advent’s darker days come with an invitation to pray – not the prayers of careful crafting but the empty silent prayers of wordless wonder. Stepping toward the unknown is frightening and yet the only way to really move into holy space, to the light of something new that comes from God. It took courage when Moses was more curious than afraid, and it took courage for the shepherds to get up and “see this new thing.”
I wonder if the dimness of the afternoons in this season of diminishing light is just unnerving at a primal level. It is hard to consider that God might be doing a new thing, or shining some new light on the world. English poet, George Herbert, saw how hard this leap toward new light could be and yet described the vault in his poetry.
Most of us don’t want to stand still at a manger and wait. What George Herbert’s poem reminds us is that, hard as to really do Advent, the rewards for our effort are like the rewards of prayer – a bounty that is hard to describe, except in poetry.
Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age, God's breath in man returning to his birth, The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r, Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, The six-days world transposing in an hour, A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, Exalted manna, gladness of the best, Heaven in ordinary, man well drest, The milky way, the bird of Paradise, Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood, The land of spices; something understood. — George Herbert