Advent is a time of waiting (especially when you’re two!)

Our Advent Wreath in Toronto

It is a common refrain from those of us who observe the liturgical calendar this time of year: Advent is a time of waiting. We remember Israel’s waiting for Jesus to come. We prepare ourselves for Christmas. We wait for His coming again in glory. It is not an extended Christmas, but a season of its own.

Waiting. Preparation.

Never has this come home to me more than living with a two-year-old!

On the First Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle on the Advent wreath at home.

‘Light the other candles, Mummy?’

My wife explained that we were only going to light one for the week. If only the concept of a ‘week’ were in his vocabulary.

Then the Advent calendar.

‘Open another window?’

Not until tomorrow.

By now, he has adjusted to the progressive lighting of candles. But yesterday, he wanted the Advent calendar more than once. He likes opening the doors, I guess!

Aren’t we all two-year-olds? And I don’t just mean those lead singers of bands at church who greet us with, ‘Merry Christmas!’ on the First Sunday of Advent. We want everything at once, now, immediately. We want our paycheque now. Cooking is an obstacle to eating. We pay extra for Amazon Prime to get stuff quicker. Who wants delayed gratification in a culture of overabundance?

Likewise spiritually. I want to be mature, but I don’t want to go through with the disciplines. I want holiness, sure. But I want it now, not after hours or years at prayer.

The people of God waited 2000 years from Abraham to the Incarnation of God the Son.

And now we have waited 2000 more for His return.

God moves slowly (or so it seems to us).

Maybe we should, too. Let’s take some time this Advent to slow down and wait for God.

Thoughts for Advent reading and whatnot (since it’s almost upon us)

IMG_1559This Sunday, December 1, will be the start of a new church year. If you go to a church with liturgical taste, deep, rich, purple hangings and stoles and chasubles and candles will appear. If not, they’ll be royal blue, unless your church doesn’t do the liturgical year at all. In which case, it will simply be another Sunday.

Advent is the start of the church year! This past Sunday was Christ the King Sunday. This coming Sunday, we will go back to the beginning of it all and remember what it must have been like to await the promised Messiah as we ourselves look forward to his coming again. Here are some ideas for helping get into the spirit of things.

Make an Advent/winter playlist. I’ve done this to help stave off the swiftly encroaching Christmas songs. Put on as many Advent hymns as you can find — ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’, ‘Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus’, and so forth — and add a few winter songs as well (this is part of helping form a barrier between yourself and Christmas, helping with the idea of expectation) — ‘Winter Wonderland’, ‘Sleigh Ride’ and so forth.

Make an Advent wreath. My wife and I have an Advent wreath, with three purple candles and one pink candle, a white one in the centre. Each night we light the candles, work through a little liturgy I’ve prepared, do a reading from somewhere in the Great Tradition alongside the Scriptures, and sing a hymn. This is our favourite Advent tradition, one neither of us grew up with but which helps add to the joy and splendour of this season, especially as the Scottish nights are so very long and so very dark.

Find some sort of devotional tied to the church year. This year I’ll be working through the Ancient Christian Devotional for Year A (the liturgical year by the Revised Common Lectionary), by Cindy Crosby and published by IVP. Each week includes a couple of ancient (or Early Mediaeval; the Gelasian Sacramentary features largely) prayers as well as readings from the Fathers on the lectionary readings for Old Testament, Gospel, and Epistle.

Alternatively, there’s the Mosaic Holy Bible. I own this and think it is fantastic. It follows the church year but not the Revised Common Lectionary. Each week has a piece of art from throughout Christian history and geography as well as prayers, poems, short readings, and longer readings from Christians throughout time and space, ranging from the Fathers to John Paul II, from Europe to South America. It is great way for people who are interested in the big sweep of the Christian faith to enter the tradition via the evangelical route.

Read an Advent or Incarnation-themed book. I have read St Athanasius’ On the Incarnation twice for Advent, now. I know of people who really enjoy reading St Augustine of Hippo’s Advent sermons. Doing this is a great preparation for Christmas because it helps get you into the depth of the theological moment that is the Word of God taking on flesh and pitching his tent among us.

Advent is here!

Our Advent Wreath in Toronto

Yesterday morning, I was at St. Michael and All Saints, my local Anglo-Catholic church, singing ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,’ and ‘Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,’ and praying the familiar prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. The vestments and hangings were the traditional deep, rich purple I am accustomed to; the priest lit a candle on the Advent wreath and prayed a prayer. His preaching reminded us that even when we feel like God is far away and has turned his face from us, He is ever near us, as He demonstrated most potently in His coming as Christ and will demonstrate again in the promised return of Christ.

Yesterday afternoon, J and I joined some friends at the opening of the Nativity scene in St. Andrew’s Square here in Edinburgh. To celebrate this event, a gospel choir sang some carols, Cardinal O’Brien prayed a prayer, the Sisters of Charity were there in their saris and wimples collecting money for the poor.

It was dark well before the event was finished (sundown is now before 4:00 PM in Edinburgh). We all went to the German Christmas Market in Princes St. Gardens and learned from a real German which food is really good and worth buying. I tried Heisse Liebe for the first time — mulled wine with a shot of rum in it. Very tasty. All Edinburgh was and is alight with Christmas lights strung from trees, the lit-up Ferris Wheel in full spin, the decorations hanging from lamp-posts, the Norwegian Pine shining proudly on the Mound in front of New College.

J and I went home where we lit our own Advent wreath for the first time. We prayed prayers and did readings that I had written/compiled, including a passage from JP2 about Advent from the Mosaic Holy Bible and the BCP Collect for Advent I. Tonight we shall light the wreath again, remembering the hope Christ is in the darkness of this transitory life. Our reading shall be a passage from the Nativity Sermon out of the Book of Homilies.

I’m still looking for passages to fill up most of the days of weeks 2-4 of Advent, so if you have any Advent readings you think I should do, pass them along!

My work has been taking on a decidedly Advently turn, itself. Besides the endless quest for manuscripts, I have just finished Leo’s sermons for the December fast and am now ready to move on to the Nativity Sermons.

And so Advent has begun. We look ahead with excitement and anticipation for what is the biggest holiday of our culture, and as Christians we remember daily at this time that birth ‘singularly wonderful and wonderfully singular’ (Leo’s Tome) in time of the timeless, eternal God Who comes to us to show us His great love as much now as in Bethlehem, as much in the darkness of our pain as in the sorrow of Good Friday.