Our Thanksgiving was quiet but thankful, thankful for another year, another month, another day, another meal together celebrating the life given to us on this good earth, the passage of mortal time as we move toward eternity.
We were thankful to be home again too, safely, after airport scanners and pat-downs, which, while disconcerting, I do not mind. I believe major threats to our freedoms warrant these minor infringements to our freedoms. For the most part, I prefer less government intrusion simply because it is not efficient and often unworkable, but this is an exception, falling into the realm of public safety, national defense, and educating the electorate through excellent schools.
So this morning we left for church on this First Sunday in Advent with full hearts, driving through crisp cold under blue skies here in the San Francisco Bay Area. After checking on the Nursery and the Sunday School, I entered Saint Peter’s nave and stepped quietly up the red-carpeted aisle to our pew, falling on my knees in thanksgiving for the simple freedom to worship God.
The altar and tabernacle were vested in deep purple satin, and the richness caught the light from the windows in the pitched roof above, the light that shone on the large medieval crucifix on the brick apsidal wall. The sanctuary, in the light like that, glowed with royalty, and I smiled as the Gospel was read, the account of Christ entering Jerusalem on a donkey, entering as a King, the people praising him, waving their palms in laud and honor. Purple is both penitential and kingly, I thought, two aspects not always paired.
Our preacher mentioned that this scene, the riding into Jerusalem, was the only one in which Christ allows himself kingly accolades. He went on to answer the question we all ask on this Sunday: What does this Easter passage have to do with Christmas? Why do we read a Palm Sunday scripture for our Gospel on this first Sunday of the Church Year, this First Sunday in Advent as we prepare for Christmas? Indeed, it is his kingship, our preacher explained, that we are to recall as we greet him as a newborn in Bethlehem. During Advent, we consider who he is, how he comes to us, this King of Glory, riding in humility.
Advent is a time of penitential preparation in our Church Year. We prepare for the great festival of Christmas, the Incarnation, the coming in flesh of the Son of God. Such humility to become a helpless baby, a humility we are called to as well. It is a time to reflect on the meaning of this incredibly credible event, this intersection of time with the eternal, this love song sung and sent to us from God.
We call him the Savior, for before Christ, we had many rules and warnings and prophecies but could not see God’s face, could not speak his name. After Christ, we see his face, we speak his name, we know him, and are intimately known by him. The great chasm has been breached, that caused by Adam and Eve’s disobedience so long ago in the Garden. No longer are we in the dark, but now walk in the light. We are saved. Our wrong turns, our sins, are forgiven and we can look upon the face of God.
During the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent I try and take on a memory verse, adding words to my mind and heart that will lighten my darkness and prepare me for the days to come. This Advent I shall work again on the Collect, the special opening prayer that collects together the faithful, for this Sunday:
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal…
And I shall try to read the Morning and Evening Offices, including the Psalms and Lessons. A half-hour each day to prepare for the Incarnation seems only fitting, following the admonitions of Isaiah and the coming of Christ in Mark’s Gospel. I shall examine my conscience against God’s law, asking continually, is his will being done? I shall consider the four great themes of Advent: death, judgment, heaven, hell. Our preacher explained that we have no choice about death and judgment, but we do have a choice about heaven and hell. I am glad I have such a choice, a choice given to me by a loving God who never turns away from us. But have I chosen to turn away from him?
We returned home and I wedged my three purple candles and one rose candle into my Advent wreath holder, snipped some greens from my garden to weave around the plate, and lit the first candle, a purple one, to begin our season of Advent.
I shall prepare for Christmas, for the Incarnation, the coming of God as a babe in Bethlehem, for his coming at the end of time in judgment. In this way my heart shall be ready to receive him too.