Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Sunday of Advent: A Time to Begin Again

"Joyful Mystery #1: Annuncation," oil/canvas, Jim Janknegt

Yet even as time begins in grace, so God in His covenant offers again to humanity the time of grace. In such a grace time does not flee but flows, it is not empty but fulfilled. 

-- Karl Barth


Today is the beginning of the year.

Today, not the Gregorian calendar or the academic calendar, or even the cupidity-marred NBA calendar, is when Christians around the world mark the beginning of annual time and therefore the beginning of a new round of becoming conformed to the life of Christ.

Today we begin again the work of deconstruction and reconstruction that comprise the pilgrimage of the liturgical calendar. And, yes, today, not the feverish, mercenary, mushy and godawfully noisy next few weeks, is the most wonderful time of the year.

For Christians, Thanksgiving/Football/pre-Black-Friday Thursday means little. January 1st, or the day we recover from festal hangovers, means nothing. December 25 means something but only in an alternate universe. Cyber Monday, as a "made up holiday," is just plain pernicious. But for Christians, the imitation of Christ means everything and therefore we begin where Christ begins: at the Annunciation. More properly we begin with the prophets from long ago, but they too enter into the cosmic time that characterizes the overshadowing work of the Holy Spirit in Mary and at the beginning of creation.

What is announced in Gabriel's speech is that all beginnings and all endings will be entirely reoriented around one person, not the Caesar or the American Consumer, but the God-Man Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we will begin again and again and again at Advent, but not in a vicious cycle of reincarnation. We'll begin again and again in a series of beginnings that entail a telos, or ultimate purpose. We'll begin again not so that we can end in the exhausted arms of TGIF. We'll begin again so that we can end in the final purposes of God for his people: a perfect sabbath rest and the thoroughgoing renewal of the heavens and the earth.

That's why I love Advent. That's why I sorely need Advent. I need it to reorient my sense of what is up and what is down. I need it to re-attune my notion of what it means to go "forwards" and what it means to go "backwards." I need it as a yoke of timely discipleship.

I've had no discernible rhythm the past 11 weeks. My days have begun at 4 AM, at 7 AM, at 11 AM and, yes, at 11 PM. I'm worried whether I'll end my program on time.  I'm behind on so many projects, both at home and at school. We're perpetually late to doctor's appointments and Lord knows when we'll get to church on time again. We feel like sad Texas tumbleweeds, tossed about by one urgent need after another, day after wearying day.

Advent reminds us what time it really is. Now is the time to wait. Now is the time to be simple and quiet. Now is the time to fast, perhaps to give an extra alms to a friend in need. Now is the time to repent and to relinquish.

Now is the time to begin again, not alone, but with others, and most importantly with the company of saints across space and throughout history and with Christ himself as our sweet, faithful Shepherd, who protects his sheep from harm and provides them everything they need.

Now is the time to entrust to God our feelings that we've been crushed under by time the past three months, lost time, unrecoverable time, miserable and painful time, even hopeless time, and join the goodly, perhaps also bedraggled, pilgrimage of saints who begin with Christ again.

And again, thank God.

The All Saints Church Advent Devotional

Unfortunately we encountered a number of glitches along the way and have had to settle for a two-part release of the Devotional. If you go here, you'll find the first week of the Devotional. We'll post the whole Devotional next week.

I'll include here one part of the Introduction. It's a new element to the ASC Devotional and a part I think I'm most excited about. But do see the rest (we're very pleased with the outcome) and consider printing it out and allowing it to become another aid to your devotional journey through Advent.

As editors, we have added a new element to this year’s Devotional. In the spirit of Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics, we have written daily exercises to accompany each reflection, excluding those that come from non-All Saints members (St. Augustine, for example!). These “exercises” have a practical aim. They are intended to offer the reader an opportunity to respond in some active, relational or spiritual way to what they have read. 

In this way, the hope is that we’ll become not only hearers of the Word but also doers. Hopefully, too, it’ll be a fun way to engage the reflections throughout the course of our day. Principally, the desire is to see Christ’s life seep itself more deeply into the “changes and chances” of our life.

5 comments:

Tamara Murphy said...

just wanted you to know I'm reading and thinking about your family. also, praying. I feel like I celebrated my first corporate Advent worship today and it was beautiful. I couldn't stop alternating between grinning and crying all through the service. It was wonderful. I am grateful.

w. david o. taylor said...

I'm so happy to hear that, Tamara. :)

craigandrewharris said...

I enjoyed how you put this. I can certainly relate to no discernible rhythm in life. But I head your encouragement to use this season to reorient my life and time on Christ. I needed this especially today. Thanks.

w. david o. taylor said...

Thanks for your note, Craig. Very kind of you.

kerri said...

I have been on erratic sleeping patterns lately and sometimes I just feel desperate for rest. Thank God that Advent reminds us that He is our rest..