Advent …………… the feeling is mutual.
Thoughts on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2017 – Gaudete “Rejoice” Sunday
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
This multi-layered reality we call Advent is at risk of being left-behind. Those who have little appreciation for a religion, a theology that is so much deeper than a “me and Jesus” narrowly bounded morality can neither see nor comprehend this reality of a time of preparation. And since Black Friday and Green Monday and Local Tuesday each have more impact these days than Gaudete Sunday, it’s no wonder that commercialism trumps faith these days. Advent, it seems, has gone the way of Decoration Day – remember that one? (Millennials may need to consult older Boomers for that one.)
Nevertheless, in the interest of complexity and depth and layers let’s do a recall. Advent is an event – all 4 weeks of it – that celebrates arrivals: three to be precise.
First, the arrival of the Word of God in history as a human being. At a certain and very specific time and place a baby was born – the son of Mary and Joseph. These two were a down-on-your-luck couple who couldn’t leave on their trip to Bethlehem early enough to provide some comfort to the very pregnant and ready to give birth wife (and soon to be Mom.) They couldn’t beat the crowds and so wound up in a stable. This is the first arrival.
Second, the arrival of the Christ into my life – into your life. Whether this experience is as of a lightning bolt or whether it is that gradual deepening into relationship as we mature and grow in faith – this is the arrival that makes it all personal. This is what transforms brother Jesus into the loving Christ in our here and now. This is the second arrival.
Third, the arrival of the Christ of the cosmos. Often this is spoken of as and end-of-time event. Where would fundamentalist Christians and certain right wing zealots be without a great end-time cataclysm? Of course, the divine joke is on them since this arrival is what theologians refer to as eschaton. It is the always already presence and activity of Trinitarian energy which enlivens us even today. Won’t folks be surprised when the arrival of end-time will be something they should have seen all along. We always already know what we need to know – and that is, God is love! This third arrival further complicates Advent’s layering – namely, it is layers within layers.
So, Advent is quite complex and worthy of reflection and celebration.
Advent is also about spectrums. Today’s first reading ends with a vision that takes us from wasteland to blossoms, from the desert to a flower garden. We hear every year at the Christmas Eve Service the prophet Isaiah’s straightforward yet always nuanced statement, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The spectrum of Advent pictured as a wasteland at one end and a garden at the other end, as darkness at one end and light at the other end, may not be as complicated as the layers of Advent. But they nonetheless speak to faith that fashions our life.
This Advent Jean and I have been on a spectrum that I call the Abandonment Spectrum. Before you feel too bad for us be assured there is a happy ending. We lost Wylie, our dog, the week before Thanksgiving to post-surgical complications. His loss was as tragic as it was unnecessary. Even though we had him for only nine months – we rescued him last February – he had quickly became family. He was 12 going on 13, or so we thought. The same week we lost him his original owner (of 12 years) let us know that Wylie was actually 14 going on 15 (next March).
Be that as it may, his loss had us feeling pretty lost, empty, banished and still grieving for his very energetic ways – even in his advanced senior status. His loss was the influence on my starting Advent with disinterest and emptiness. As we grieved we agreed that we were not ready to be dog-less. And last Monday, I went to Ohio to pick up a 5 month old Irish Setter puppy who had been rescued by a wonderful and caring woman, Lynne Mansfield. She had rescued 4 puppies from a breeder who no longer wanted them since they were too old to bring in the big bucks. It was a three day whirlwind from contact to visit to selection, but now our Connor Pierce is home. And we are enthralled.
Which gets me back to abandonment. In the writings of both philosophers and spiritual masters abandonment exists on its own spectrum. The spectrum runs between feeling banished at one end to feeling enthralled at the other end. For example, when one abandons oneself to God it may start out as feeling banished and separated from divine presence and consolation. But abandonment also means the fullness which God fills into the spirit/soul at the other end of the spectrum. This fullness is a feeling of enthrallment. In the last month we have been at both ends of the Abandonment Spectrum.
So, I am happy to reveal to you the secret of moving from emptiness, banishment, and all the rest on to new energy, connection, and enthrallment. The secret is get a puppy! Or an adult, or a senior dog – or any animal companion for an enthralling inter-species bond of connection and love.
Now, if that secret is not the solution that fits your personal abandonment spectrum, in other words, if my puppy secret is insufficiently loaded with theological depth, then maybe what John Haughey, SJ says on Enthrallment may be just the ticket.
Haughey writes of the promise we live by which is to share in the life of God. We have promise and hope in our spiritual lives and in our daily action that recalls God’s third arrival from earlier. Of the Trinitarian God who is always already among us Haughey says:
“When the Spirit brings us into communion with the mutual enthrallment of love between the Creator and the Son we will know full joy.”
“The joy in the Spirit that we experience now gives us a foretaste of communion in the Trinity’s enthrallment which will be our eternity.”
Today we celebrate our 7th Anniversary as a community. How gratifying it has become to get to know each other. How wonderful is the sound of pre-service conversations and connections with each other. And how deeply moved we all are at the faith sharing we have experienced together.
This may be a spectrum that takes us from darkness, or disconnection, or emptiness to light, and connection, and fullness. But I’m certain that this end of the spectrum is open-ended. So, Congratulations to all who are part of and support our Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community. May our mutual feelings of thanksgiving and sharing faith light our way from Advent to Christmas.
Anoint us, Almighty One,
to preach Good News,
to set captives free,
to begin a year of favor.
Anoint us into your priesthood of believers.
As we prepare and rejoice at this time of new birth and renewal
show us the excess of your love in us, in the world, in all your creation.
Let the peace you bring make us perfect in holiness, always
ready to make the rough ways smooth – as you direct us to do.
Emmanuel, we pray with confidence that you are with us in all
time and space, now and forever. Amen! (JR)