Reflections During Advent
This year’s Advent reflections focus on Advent as a journey. Each one draws from the appointed Revised Common Lectionary readings for the various Sundays in Advent, and ultimately they make connections with the Lumunos themes from this past year: faith, hope, and love.
Love at the End of the Advent Journey
Luke 1:30. Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God.
In a hymn at the close of his long poem, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio, W. H. Auden writes, “He is the way. Follow him through the Land of Unlikeness; you will see rare beasts and have unique adventures.”
My hike in the Alleghenies last fall was a unique adventure. The trails took me along bright and sunny spots on the mountain. They also led into darker places on the mountain’s narrower, shady slopes where a dense tree canopy blocked the sun and the temperature dropped several degrees. From a high clearing, I could see part of the park lake in the valley far below. The lake was just across the road from my cabin — but from where I was, I could not see my cabin or any other buildings in the park. I also crossed several stream beds, though autumn had been dry, and the water was little more than a trickle.
As for rare beasts, I saw a few birds and squirrels but no black bears. Probably I should not have expected to, for typically — the recent bear attack notwithstanding — black bears are shy and reclusive animals. I could not say for sure whether or not any bears saw me.
Perhaps Advent has also been a unique adventure. Perhaps you yourself have met a few rare beasts along the way. Together we have encountered Jesus and John the Baptist through their words in Mark’s gospel. We have also heard from the gospel writer John and from the Psalmist. Like my brief conversation with the woman I met on the trail, our exchanges have been brief. On your own walk you have undoubtedly met other rare beasts — some real, some imaginary, some dead, some very much alive, some wise and kind, some that may have seemed menacing until considered in a different light.
Today is not only the 4th Sunday of Advent but also Christmas Eve. Where is it then that we end our journey? Have we come to an overlook with a lovely view — a sleeping baby in a stable visited by watchful shepherds, gentle animals, jubilant angels, and cunning magi? Or, as we come into this place, do we see more deeply into the troubled world of then and now — the world of innkeepers denying hospitality to vulnerable, weary travelers, the world where a jealous and vengeful Herod lingers in the wings. Do we find any hints of those innkeepers or of that Herod dwelling in us?
Perhaps the most important questions we ask at the end of the Advent journey have to do with love. According to the Talmud, love, perhaps a little like black bears, can shake things up. It is love — no, Love — that we meet at the stable. Do we fully comprehend the awesome power of the Love that lies swaddled in the manger, the Love that brought us here? What might it ask of us as the Christmas season unfolds? What preparations have we made? What provisions do we have? Who will be our guides on this next stage of our journey?
Happy Fourth Sunday of Advent, and Merry Christmas!