‘Tis the Season…Almost
This upcoming Sunday, December 2, will be the first Sunday in the Christian liturgical year. It will also the first Sunday in Advent, and my thoughts have turned again to the multiple meanings of this Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season. I shared some of those thoughts last year at this same time and you will hear echoes of those thoughts here.
Many people think of Advent as the season of waiting or preparation for Christmas, and it is that, but Advent’s meaning is actually multilayered. The four-Sunday season of Advent historically emphasized the multiple “advents” or “comings” of Christ (Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the promised return of Christ, the continual coming of Christ into our weekly worship and our daily lives). In other words, Advent is more than simply a four week period of time to prepare for Christmas.
Ancient Advent words from Scripture, along with hymns that have been penned and handed down through the years to accompany them, liturgically embody contemporary realities. People today live with terrifying questions, with unexplained suffering, and with unfulfilled expectations. Advent is a vessel that holds these realities in tension with God’s hope-filled promises. During Advent, we peer expectantly into the manger, but we are also drawn beyond that manger, toward that longed-for time when all creation learns to dance to the new song of Christ’s promised coming in justice and truth.
A hymn that expresses Advent’s contrasting tones is an African American Spiritual, My Lord, What a Morning. This spiritual was arranged and harmonized by Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949), an influential black composer who was passionate about preserving the tradition of African American spirituals. Spirituals, said Burleigh, are hymns of soulful depth and rhythm that express the profound faith of slaves in the face of unspeakable injustice. The striking imagery of My Lord, What a Morning offers a glimpse of this faith. The hymn even carries a double name that is revealing—My Lord, What a Mourning/Morning. What is the meaning of this double name? The bitter tears of mourning that flow out of oppression and marginalization give way to a new morning in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
For ministry students who are facing the last few weeks of fall term classes before final exams, heralding a new liturgical year may seem an odd practice. There are still many papers to write before we can celebrate the end of this semester, much less turn our attention to the start of a new year or a new spring semester in January 2012. What we learn through theological study, however, especially through liturgical study, is that the rhythms of Christian life are to be out of step, at least to a degree, with what is happening in the world. Many people, for example, will spend extravagantly at stores and malls this Advent season. Our calling as religious leaders and people of faith is to consider not so much this season’s consumer extravagance but rather God’s extravagance and the kind of gift-giving that extravagance stirs within us.
A voice calls out from Isaiah during the second week in Advent: “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord” (Is. 40:3). In this week’s lectionary voices, crooked streets are straightened out and valleys become mountains. Life as we know it is turned on its head. So, yes, exams await, but we can nevertheless celebrate and prepare to lead people into the Gospel’s peculiar promises of life in the wilderness, extravagance in the midst of seeming scarcity, and a new year at the end of November.
|Last Day of Fall Semester||December 7|
|Review the fall exam schedule here.|
Online registration for the spring term ends on November 30. After November 30, students who want to make changes to their spring schedules will have to wait until the first day of classes in the spring term.
Thanks to all who joined us for the first choir rehearsal for the “Advent to Epiphany” celebration scheduled for Tuesday, December 4, at 11am in the Lower Auditorium.
We have a final rehearsal this Wednesday, November 28, at 11am in the Lower Auditorium. I hope you will consider adding your voice to the choir to sing some songs of the season.
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Blessings on the week ahead,
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs