(first published December 9, 2010)
The liturgical season of Advent, which began this past Sunday, beautifully mirrors the natural world around us. Plants and animals close in on themselves for a time of hibernation that is ultimately the sustenance needed for renewed vigor. In a similar way Christians are asked to quiet their minds and prepare for Christ’s coming. Images of dark and light abound in the readings and music, just as the light of day is most precious in its contrast to night’s darkness. The duality of Advent is represented as well in the comfort we are encouraged to feel when we hear about a Savior’s birth, contrasting with the discomfort of the prophets’ words. Comfort, comfort…you brood of vipers!
Like the Chinese philosophical concept of yin and yang, the contrary messages of Advent are interdependent. The anticipation we have for the coming of Christ in the flesh, a baby in a manger, is paired with the coming of Christ at the end of time. What do we have here, a beginning or an ending? Both?
There is an African-American spiritual that inadvertently reflects two possible mind-sets for this time of year. Taking its inspiration from the Gospel of Matthew 24:29-31*, My Lord, what a morning is sometimes written as My Lord, what a mourning. Slavery’s oral tradition obscures the song’s original meaning, but it isn’t a stretch to imagine that those who first gave voice to spirituals were closer to mourning.
Light and dark. Comforting words and admonitions. The joy of welcoming an infant Savior and the fear of being unprepared for God’s expectations of us. Morning and mourning. Each part of these pairings has something to teach us, but ultimately light, joy, comfort and morning will win, if we so choose.
*Matthew: 24-31 (NRVS)
Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from on end of heaven to the other.
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Where I’ll be:
November 27-January 1– organist/choir director at Christ Episcopal Church, Rockville, Maryland, while their Music Director is recuperating. (www.christchurchrockville.org)
December 14, 7:30 p.m. – concert with Zemer Chai, The Mansion at Strathmore. (http://www.zemerchai.org/upcoming-performances-cr3j)
December 13, 15, 16 – World Bank/IMF Chorus concerts, Magnificats by John Rutter and Johann Pachelbel for choir and orchestra. 1:00 p.m. (www.wbimfchorus.org/news)
December 17, 10:00 – Washington National Cathedral, Bethlehem Prayer Service, simulcast (https://cathedral.org/event/bethlehem-prayer-service)
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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.