The surf has been high here on the northern coast of Maui, the skies blue, the temperatures high seventies. We have settled in to a condo walled with windows overlooking black-lava cliffs that rise above a rolling Pacific Ocean.
There is a gathering of the waters, a cresting, a pounding down and foaming onto the shore. The cliffs below my window are high and rugged, rock that once erupted and bubbled down a volcanic mountainside many years ago and cooled as it hissed into the sea, caught in an eerie sculpture. Now the rock has become a landscape from Hades, its craggy pinnacles and disorderly layers standing guard fifty feet above the sea. But the sea is not afraid and mounts its attack against the cliffs like a massive army, spraying, pounding, slowly eroding. As the waves rise eight to twelve feet I can see their glassy undersides running straight along the coast. Then the waters fall in a downward arc to slip into swirling white froth on the shore. I sit on the border between sea and earth, caught in this glorious skirmish.
The quiet breathless calm as the sea gathers up and swells and gently undulates, is pregnant with impatience in the still-quiet cresting. I wait for the crash, when the sea pounds the packed bed of sand, thundering down, and spews and whooshes its white foam into the salty air. These are the only sounds, here in my retreat from the hustle of the city to the silence of the shore. The breathless calm. The silent gathering. The crashing and pounding. The beat of my heart. The tapping of these keys.
Far beyond this drama of gathering and cresting and falling down, far and away out to the barely curving horizon where the sky embraces the sea, the turquoise waters deepen to a dark blue, the waves dipping sweetly like a child’s finger painting, innocent, pure.
The scene of the sea is part of the greater act, of course, the greater drama of life itself, of my own body and it’s small and large parts, the galaxies of cells of flesh and bone I cannot see, the genetic history I carry into the future from my ancestors, from Adam and Eve. The miracle of it all – this creation of our world in all its facets and notes and history – never escapes me: The intelligence and brilliance and design, the relation of the part to the whole, the whole a part of another whole, and on and on. It is a poem, a song, a perfect painting. It is our deepest longing led to its source. It is something that cannot be expressed in words, only the Word.
And so we who are souls incarnate in human flesh await the Incarnate One. We listen to the prophets call him to our earth. We light candles and create special spaces in our homes to remind us that he is coming, he is near, he is here. We sing him into our hearts, Emmanuel, God with us. He who made the seas and the earth, the Word, takes on our flesh, completes the poem, the song, the painting. He is coming like the great rolling waves that rise outside my wall of glass. He will pound on our souls, knock on our doors, asking to come in. Will we hear his knock, know his voice? Will we welcome him when he comes?
I shall prepare for his coming this Advent of the Year of Our Lord 2012. I shall re-learn the Advent prayer in my worn Book of Common Prayer:
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, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
I shall read a book that will be a star I can follow to Bethlehem. This year I’m rereading St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation¸ a profound essay written in the fourth century by one of the great church fathers, with a sensible (I love sensible things) introduction by C. S. Lewis. I received this slim volume a few years ago at a silent retreat held in the forested Russian River area of northern California. It will be, hopefully, a window to the crashing roar of creation and its Creator, the Word, the Incarnate One. It will be, with an extra measure of grace, a star to light my way through Advent to Christmas.
I shall try to say the morning and evening prayer offices, and I shall re-memorize the first few verses of John, the gospel assigned for Christmas Day:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Advent. The coming of God to earth. The same Word that created the world now recreates the world. The Word made flesh. Incarnation. Come, Lord Jesus, come.