Advent--a time of preparation. I think it has taken me this long--62 years--to come to appreciate these little seasonal reminders the church has given us, to help us remain mindful. Each season seems to carry a unique message, and all these individual seasonal messages add up to a yearly calendar that helps us keep sharp our sensitivities to things it might be easy to start taking for granted--a remindful calendar-- a remember to pay attention calendar.
The time of preparation dramatizes the ritual of birth and death that is played out every single day, and reminds us to be ready. The Christ may come at any time, but we must be ready.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming".
Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday. The Eastern churches' equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs in both length and observances and does not begin the church year, which starts instead on September 1. At least in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, which is the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive.
Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming."
What follows is a little list of things to remember in Advent written by Martin Luther:
HOMILY II: THE COMING OF THE KING.
FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT. (FROM THE GOSPEL.)
"Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek," Matt. xxi. 5.
"THIS is a prophecy of the Advent of Our Lord Jesus Christ, about which there are three signs. First, the dignity of Him Who is coming; secondly, the utility of His Advent; thirdly, the manner in which He came. Of the first sign we read in the Gospel, "Thy King cometh;" a merciful King; a just King; a wise King; a terrible King; an omnipotent King; an eternal King. A merciful King in sparing; a just in judging; a good in rewarding; a wise in governing; an omnipotent King in defending the good; a terrible King in punishing the evil; an eternal King in ruling eternally, and in bestowing immortality.
Of the first, Isa. xvi. 5:
"And in mercy shall the throne be established."
Of the second, Isa. xxxiv.:
"And behold, a King shall reign in justice;"
Isa. xvi. 5:
"And He shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David."
Of the third, Ps. Ixxiii. 1:
"Truly God, is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart."
Of the fourth, Jer. xxiii. 5:
"I will raise unto David a righteous branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute justice and judgment in the earth."
Of the fifth, Esth. xiii. 9:
"Lord, Lord, the King Almighty, for the whole world is in Thy power."
Of the seventh, Jer. x. 10:
" But the Lord is the true God, He is the living God and an everlasting King ;"
S. Luke i. 33:
" And of His Kingdom there shall be no end."
Of the seven, collectively, 2 Macc. i. 24:
"O Lord, Lord, God, Creator of all things,
Who art fearful, and strong, and righteous, and merciful, and the only gracious King."
Wisdom in the Creator, mercy in the pitiful, goodness in the good, justice in the just, severity in the terrible, power in the powerful, eternity in the eternal. This is the King Who cometh to thee for thy profit. Here the use of the Advent is noted, for it was seven-fold as applied to the present time: First, for the illumination of the world; second, for the spoliation of Hades; third, for the reparation of Heaven; fourth, for the destruction of sin ; fifth, for the vanquishment of the devil; sixth, for the reconciliation of man with God; seventh, for the beatification of man.
The Son of God did not want to be seen and found in heaven. Therefore he descended from heaven into this humility and came to us in our flesh, laid himself into the womb of his mother and into the manger and went on to the cross. This was the ladder that he placed on earth so that we might ascend to God on it. This is the way you must take. If you depart from this way and try to speculate about the glory of the Divine Majesty—without this ladder—you will invent marvelous matters that transcend your horizon, but you will do so at very great harm to yourself."
Now, something I really enjoy, in giving these sermons, is reading great poetry aloud. The great poets, like the great saints, grapple with spiritual problems and give us comfort of a different sort than the scriptures, although it is like the scriptures, in that it tells the truth. Here are four truth -bearing poems:
Who has not found the Heaven - below - Will fail of it above - For Angels rent the House next ours, Wherever we remove –"
John Donne (1572-1631):
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.
"Come, saviour of nations wild,
Of the maiden owned the child
That may wonder all the earth
God should grant it such a birth.
Not of man's flesh or man's blood
Only of the Spirit of God
Is God's Word a man become,
And blooms the fruit of woman's womb.
Maiden, she was found with child,
Nor was chastity defiled;
Many a virtue from her shone:
God was there upon his throne.
From that chamber of content,
Royal palace pure, he went;
God by kind, in human grace
Forth he comes to run his race.
From the Father came his road,
And returns again to God;
Unto hell it did go down,
Up then to the Father's throne.
Thou, the Father's form express,
Get thee victory in the flesh,
That thy godlike power in us
Make sick flesh victorious.
Shines thy manger bright and fair;
Sets the night a new star there:
Darkness thence must keep away;
Faith dwells ever in the day.
Honour unto God be done;
Honour to his only son;
Honour to the Holy Ghost,
Now, and ever, ending not.
Emily Dickinson’s Poem #1309 (on the Paradox of Advent):
"The Infinite a sudden Guest
Has been assumed to be –
But how can that stupendous come
Which never went away?
Heaven is so far of the
Mind That were the
Mind dissolved - The Site - of it - by Architect
Could not again be proved -
‘Tis vast - as our Capacity -
As fair - as our idea -
To Him of adequate desire
No further ’tis, than Here -
The Journey of the Magi was written by T.S Eliot in 1927. Many interpret this poem as a reflection of Eliot’s own journey from agnosticism to Christian faith.
"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.
I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this
Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like
Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death."
- T.S. Eliot
Rainer Maria Rilke:
Annunciation to Mary
"The angel’s entrance (you must realize) was not what made her frightened. The surprise
he gave her by his coming was no more than sun or moon-beam stirring on the floor would give another, — she had long since grown
used to the form that angels wear, descending; never imaging this coming-down was hard for them.
(O it’s past comprehending, how pure she was.
Did not one day, a hind that rested in a wood, watchfully staring,
feel her deep influence, and did it not conceive the unicorn, then, without pairing,
the pure beast, beast which light begot, — )
No, not to see him enter, but to find
the youthful angel’s countenance inclined
so near to her; that when he looked, and she looked up at him, their looks so merged in
one the world outside grew vacant,
suddenly, and all things being seen, endured and done
were crowded into them: just she and he eye and its pasture, visions and its view,
here at the point and at this point alone:- see, this arouses fear.
Such fear both knew."
The following are two short but meaningful quotes, and a longer piece from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From his God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas:
“God can make a new beginning with people whenever God pleases, but not people with God. Therefore, people cannot make a new beginning at all; they can only pray for one. Where people are on their own and live by their own devices, there is only the old, the past.”
“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent”
The Coming of Jesus into Our Midst
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
When early Christianity spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus, they thought of a great day of judgment. Even though this thought may appear to us to be so unlike Christmas, it is original Christianity and to be taken extremely seriously. When we hear Jesus knocking, our conscience first of all pricks us: Are we rightly prepared? Is our heart capable of becoming God's dwelling place? Thus Advent becomes a time of self-examination. "Put the desires of your heart in order, O human beings!" (Valentin Thilo), as the old song sings.
"Our whole life is an Advent, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people will be brothers and sisters."It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God, whereas the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked over the earth. That is why we find it so strange when we see the marks of God in the world so often together with the marks of human suffering, with the marks of the cross on Golgotha.
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience."
[Sidebar: There is an interesting ramification of the idea of FEARING Christmas; it is that Christmas, like all second comings, comes like a thief in the night, and inevitably catches us unawares, and unprepared. Christmas is a reminder to remind ourselves that human life is a serious business that requires serious people to PAY ATTENTION. KEEP YOUR LAMPS LIT.
Back to Bonhoeffer:]
"Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy.
God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be - in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. Therefore we adults can rejoice deeply within our hearts under the Christmas tree, perhaps much more than the children are able. We know that God's goodness will once again draw near. We think of all of God's goodness that came our way last year and sense something of this marvelous home. Jesus comes in judgment and grace: "Behold I stand at the door! Open wide the gates!" (Ps. 24:7)
One day, at the last judgment, he will separate the sheep and the goats and will say to those on his right: "Come, you blessed. I was hungry and you fed me." (Matt. 25:34). To the astonished question of when and where, he answered: "What you did to the least of these, you have done to me?" (Matt. 25:40).
With that we are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people. He walks on the earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you and makes his demands. That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of the person in our midst. Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?
Christ is still knocking. It is not yet Christmas. But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate goes the longing for the final Advent, where it says: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5).
Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent - that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: "On earth peace to those on whom God's favor rests." Learn to wait, because he has promised to come. "I stand at the door?" We however call to him: "Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!" Amen."
[Sidebar: Even if a person makes it the disciplined purpose of his life, to remain fluid and open to the subtle influences spirit has on mundane existence, there will still naturally be moments of greater intensity, like a planet orbiting closer to the sun may feel the greater heat. Christmas is the season of lights because the seasonal darkness, by contrast, brings out the light of spirit more brilliantly.
What follows is a statement by James Joyce followed by commentary by Joseph Campbell; together they make a nice reminder that the Christ is everywhere and in all of us:
From James Joyce's Ulysses:
" ... Are you a god or a doggone clod? If the second advent came to Coney Island are we ready? Florry Christ, Stephen Christ, Zoe Christ, Bloom Christ, Kitty Christ, Lynch Christ, it's up to you to sense that cosmic force. Have we cold feet about the cosmos? No. Be on the side of the angels. Be a prism. You have that something within, the higher self. You can rub shoulders with a Jesus, a Gautama, an Ingersoll. Are you all in this vibration? I say you are ... "
And Campbell's commentary: "Joyce (I believe) says we are all in this vibration. The miracle of the Incarnation is the Magnificat of each one of us: Florry Christ, Stephen Christ, Zoe Christ, and so on—we are all particles of the Christ. Very frequently, you know, Joyce brings out key thoughts in a totally contrary kind of language and situation. So his essential message here—and this is the Gnostic message—is that the face of God is the face before you: your friend, a stranger, or whomever."
The great find of this week's meditations on Advent comes from, you guessed it, Rudolf Steiner:
Now we revisit Rudolf Steiner's insight into the The True Second Coming - by Robert S. Mason "
"Another tremendous revelation from Steiner's spiritual science concerns the true nature of the Second Coming of Christ. Steiner was adamant that the physical incarnation of Christ can happen once and only once.
"Just as a pair of scales can have only one balancing-point, so in Earth evolution the event of Golgatha can take place only once".
The amazing fact is that the Second Coming is happening now, but that most of mankind is unaware of it. Actually, the term "second coming" is not in the New Testament; the Greek word is parousia, meaning roughly "active presence". It was this "presence" that Saul/Paul experienced on the road to Damascus; Paul being mankind's "premature birth" of the coming new experience of Christ.
Parousia was translated into Latin as adventus, which means arrival, thus helping to give rise to the expectation of a physical arrival of Christ. The original Greek term seems in consonance with Steiner's explanation. In fact, it is the driving force behind the "apocalyptic" convulsions and struggles of our time.
For, as the picture is given in the Apocalypse of John, the bottomless pit is opened, Michael casts the dragon and his hosts onto the earth, the vials of wrath are poured out, and Babylon is overthrown -- all in preparation for Christ's triumph that brings the New Heaven and New Earth. Most of us are unaware of this present Second Coming because it is not happening in the visible, material world, but in the "ethereal" region of the earth. "Ethereal" means the system of "formative forces", bordering on the physical, that raise inert matter to the realm of the living. . .
[ . . . the Second Coming shall be a tremendous event, not limited to a particular location:"For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be."The ethereal is super-physical, not bound by the laws of material space; Christ's appearance in the ethereal earth is everywhere-at-once. And since the ethereal is super-physical, some degree of super-physical vision, or "clairvoyance", is needed to see into it."
Notice that Steiner places great emphasis on developing clairvoyance, not as some rarely discovered miracle, but as the stock-in-trade for the devotee on the spiritual path. He encourages us to develop "super-physical vision"--it's just one more way of paying attention.
Moreover, contrary to some of the comments I have quoted above, Steiner is telling us that Christmas is not about the FIRST coming of the Christ, it is about the eternally unfolding SECOND coming of the Christ. Now, as we have admitted above, there must be moments of heightened intensity in the rhythm of life, but it must also be admitted that the theme song of Christmas has always been, "Live in the spirit of Christmas all the year long." Perhaps the realization, waiting for us at Christmastime, is that, with each passing year, our own personal capacity for love and virtuous acts is expanding like the eternally unfolding SECOND coming of the Christ.
Let us pray:
Jesus we fear your coming, as we fear all great and terrible things. But let us embrace our fear, as a virgin wife embraces her husband for the first time, and push onward to the light. Amen