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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Advent: The Human Experience of Waiting.


This is the next in my series of blogs in which I am reviewing Joan Chittister's The Liturgical Year
[Order it here and read my review of the first part of her book here.]


We move now into the nitty gritty of the book and look at her approach to Advent, the season which starts this Sunday, 27th of November 2016, and continues for the four Sundays up until Christmas. Chittister points out that the liturgical year does not begin with Easter, plunging us into the “chaos of the Crucifixion” and the “giddy confusion of the Resurrection,” but rather with Advent, “the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious. It trains us to see what is behind the apparent. Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.”

With the above as her thesis, she can describe Advent as a season which is all about learning to wait. “It is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow, only that whatever it is, it is of the essence of sanctification for us.” I particularly enjoy Chittister's approach to the various seasons of the year, always on the lookout for that in the season which can aid us in our growth in sanctification. In the context of Advent being about learning to wait, learning to wait is identified as an essential dimension of spiritual development.

“The function of Advent is to remind us what we're waiting for as we go through life too busy with things that do not matter to remember the things that do.”

“It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realise that its coming depends on us. What we do will either hasten or slow, sharpen or dim our own commitment to do our part to bring it.”

“We all want something more. Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you?”

She reminds us that Advent is not about one coming, but rather about three comings: the first coming is the remembrance of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh; the next coming which Advent calls our attention to, is a coming greater than the simple fact of human birth. This is the coming of the presence of God in our midst, a coming which makes Jesus present in our own lives...NOW. The final coming to which Advent points us, is the Second Coming of Christ. She shows how easy and common it is for believers to be stuck in one of the above three 'remembrances' rather than allowing all three to permeate our celebration during this season. She then runs through each of the four Sundays in Advent and argues that we must do more than simply go through the Advent calendar; we must develop in us an Advent heart.

She identifies the essence of the season of Advent in one word, Joy, and proceeds to write a chapter on the subject which must be one of the better descriptions of Christian joy that I have read.

“Joy is not about what happens to us, the manger indicates. It is the meaning we give to what we do that determines the nature, the quality of the lives we live”.

She ends this chapter with what can be seen as another definition of the purpose of the liturgical year: “It is a year meant to show us in flesh and blood what it really takes to be happy.”

Next in this series: “The Christmas season, stars to steer by”.

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