If I asked you to condense the gist of it into just two words, I wonder what two words you would use to capture the heart of the season called Advent. Maybe your two words will change as the season unfolds. Undoubtedly, they will. Just now on the front end - with new colors and candles, new prayers, and what you've heard of the Scripture - which two words would you choose to describe Advent?
(A time of sharing as folks shared their two words - which were probably as good or much better than anything good in the rest of what follows.)
Here are my words: Eager longing.
Let me tell you a story about eager longing.
Back before Rebekah, the kids, and I moved to Madison and joined the community of faith at SFH, I served a parish just outside of Corpus Christi, Texas - a coastal city a few hours south of Houston. Corpus Christi is a wonderful city, but it's not on the way to much of anything. You go there to go there. If you are headed to other places, the road to Corpus Christi is the longer way to go.
One of the reason people do go to CC is fishing. It's a big reason why a lot of folks live there. If you love to fish and live in Texas, Corpus Christi is the place to be. While I enjoyed living on the coast, I don't care for fishing, and I am deathly allergic to fish. Ah well...
Anyway, every year there was this diocesan fishing tournament hosted at a town two up from ours on the coast. The cause was tremendous - funds for the World Mission efforts of the diocese - and folks from all over the diocese - which spanned from not quite Austin to the Mexico border - would come out to participate.
Though I don't care for fishing, and couldn't eat the fish, I would usually look for a couple of regular fishing guys to go out with, confident that at least I probably wouldn't drown. And they were great friends with which to share a boat. Better than this anti-fishing fisherman deserved.
But fishing starts early - we'd meet up at 5 a.m. And fishing is smelly - we'd have a couple buckets of shrimp as bait. And fishing is not always rewarding by the traditional "catching fish" measure. In a few years of tournaments, my prized haul totaled one sock and a string ray. One year we skipped lunch in hopes of better luck, leaving us sunburned, fishless, and hungry at day's end. My bishop that year said I looked like Tom Hanks from Castaway. Har har.
There was a highlight, though. Even when the fishing was bad (and it usually was), there was this banquet at the end. And more than the bacon-wrapped-shrimp at this banquet, I looked forward to the banquet for the gathering of amazing friends from all over. I had the privilege of serving two churches in that diocese over just less than six years. Throw in a Cursillo, Vocare, and some other diocesan events, and to be in the presence of most of those friends at one time was something close to an overwhelming joy. You have friends like this, too. The "I don't even have to think about how I am with you" friends. Those kinds of friends.
So the last year we did the tournament, I came home from the a morning of not catching fish, sunburned. I showered, cleaned up. Rebekah and a baby Annie joined me in the car. And we headed up the highway for a twenty seven minute ride. And I had that "can't wait to be there" bug.
After what seemed like an eternity - minute twenty-five - I spotted the sign on the horizon, about a mile away, saying that Rockport, our exit, was just a mile after that. Two more minutes until the banquet.
And then a sound - not a mechanical, vehicular, or car crunching sound. But a bodily sound. A baby, bodily sound. A liquid, projectile, across the backseats kind of sound. I pulled over. Rebekah jumped out and started mopping up the mess, which was everywhere. After sometime, we saddled back up. I took a wistful glance back at the sign. One more mile. I looked at Rebekah, and smiled, and we turned around and, at drove the twenty-five minutes back home.
Eager longing. The reality was fully present. And yet we would have to wait.
Advent is about coming, Christ's coming. Which means it is about our waiting. And I've wondered how our worship can be marked in ways that reflect this. That the doing that needs doing is not ours, can't be filled with words, leaves us wondering what it means to wait with love and patience.
And so we'll pray our prayers of the people this Advent in silence. There are stations around the chapel. You can paint prayers on rocks, write words of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication on the marker board, especially your intentions for the Church and the world. You can sit in silence. Light a candle before the icon of Christ. Come up and kneel before the altar. One theologian invites us to imagine the candles on the altar as Mary and Joseph and shepherds and oxen, all come together around the presence of Jesus. That's how we come to the altar, too, in this season, I guess. As sheep around the creche. Together in silence, we'll wait.
We'll start the silence with singing (the first verse of hymn 66) and end it the same way.
Just now, a closing reflection from Augustine, on eager longing:
"My soul pines for your salvation," that is, it languishes in its expectation. This is a happy weakness, for though it points up the desire for a good that is not yet obtained it also shows the eagerness for which it is sought. From whom do these words proceed - from the origins of humanity until the end of the world - if not from the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the purchased people, every one who, on this earth and in their time, has lived, lives, or will love in the desire of Christ?
The witness of this longing is the saintly and aged Simeon, who in receiving Christ in his arms exclaims: "Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace; you have fulfilled your word. For my eyes have witnessed your saving deed." For "it was revealed to him by theHoly Spirit that he would not experience death until he had seen the Anointed of the Lord."
The desire of this old man is, according to our faith, the desire of all the saints of the previous ages. Thus, the Lard himself said to his disciples: "I assure you, many a prophet and many a saint longed to see what you see but did not see it, to hear what you hear but did not hear it." Hence, they also must be numbered among those who chant: "My soul pines for your salvation."
This desire of the saints was not fulfilled in the past and it will not be fulfilled in the future until the consummation of the ages, when "the Desired of all the nations" will come, as promised by the Prophet. Thus Paul can write: "From now on a merited crown awaits me; on that Day the Lord, just judge that he is, will award it to me - and only to me, but to all who have looked for his appearing with eager longing."
The desire of which we are speaking arises from the love of Christ's appearance, and it is about this that Paul further states: "When Christ our life appears, then you shall appear with him in glory."
In the first ages, before the child-bearing of the Virgin, the Church counted saints who desired the coming of Christ in the flesh. In the post-Ascension ages in which we live, the same Church numbers other saints who desire the appearance of Christ to judge the living and the dead. Never, from the beginning to the end of times, has this desire of the Church known the slightest diminishment, except during the period when the Lord lived on earth in the company of his disciples.
Amen.Thus, it is the entire Body of Christ, groaning in this life, whom we must fittingly understand as chanting in this psalm: "My soul pines for your salvation; I hope in your word." His word is the promise; and hope enables us to wait with patience for that which is not seen by those who believe.
Preached December 1, 2013.