Today is pageant day! A big thanks to all our children, parents, Sunday School teachers, and helpers for putting on this wonderful Holy Apostles tradition.
With today’s pageant and last Sunday’s guest preacher, I’ve been on a little preaching hiatus. I’ve tried to use the time wisely, as St. Paul writes, “redeeming the time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). So, I’ve been working on my sermons for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Casting about for inspiration, I landed on For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio by the Episcopal poet, W.H. Auden. Of course, this long complex poem begins, not with Christmas, but with Advent.
Darkness and snow descend
The clock on the mantlepiece
Has nothing to recommend,
Nor does the face in the glass
Appear nobler than our own
As darkness and snow descend
On all personality…
Everyone will be relieved to know that this hardly uplifting bit of poetry will NOT make it into my Christmas Eve sermon. But, the Advent section of Auden’s long poem does capture the mood of mid-December pretty well. Darkness and snow. Both sound so dreary in Auden, but remember that both darkness and snow figure mightily into the magical formula of those treasured, glowing coals of Christmas nostalgia. Who doesn’t dream of a White Christmas, covered in snow? And all those Christmas lights don’t look very interesting or impressive unless its dark. Snow and darkness are sort of essential elements, at least in the imagination of cultural Christmas.
The Church insists that you can’t have real Christmas without Advent. That a season of waiting and expectation is essential. Advent tells us that part of preparing for Christmas might mean facing the realities under which we live; facing the darkness. This is what Fleming Rutledge, perhaps the best Episcopal preacher now living, has to say about Advent: “Advent begins in the dark… [It] teaches us to delay Christmas in order to experience it fully when it finally comes. Advent is designed to show that the meaning of Christmas is diminished to the vanishing point if we are not willing to take a fearless inventory of the darkness…The authentically hopeful Christmas spirit has not looked away from the darkness, but straight at it. The true and victorious Christmas spirit does not look away from death, but directly at it. Otherwise, the message is cheap and false.” (from a sermon given on the first Sunday of Advent, 1996, printed in Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, page 251).
Of course, we are all in different places in our lives, and we have a variety of experiences during this time of year. If this is a time of unremitting happiness for you, then you should go with that. I pray with one of the Prayer Book’s best prayers, that God would “shield the joyous” so that they may continue in their joy under God’s protection. But, if you experience some of the darkness of loss, loneliness, or sadness this time of year, do not let yourself despair. You are not alone. In Advent, we are reminded the whole world is waiting in darkness for the dawning of the light. And I pray that you, that all of us, that the whole world, will ultimately find the Light of Christ’s coming. I pray that God will transform us, including our suffering, and give us healing and health and peace that only the Light of God’s love can bring. Oops. I guess I can’t help but preach, even when I’m not supposed to be preaching.