Yes it is the new year, and it seems that it would be customary to wish each other a happy new year at the turning of the year, yet Advent is a penitential season. As the Earth seems to die, as the weather becomes increasingly dangerous, rather than wishes of a happy new year we concentrate on the four last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. The Church year ended with visions of Christ the King, and we continue with fear and trembling as we look to the end times. This year there seem to be plenty of rumblings about the end of time as New York is still trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy; the conservative blogs that I attend grumble over the Homosexual agenda and the death of the family; the Mayan calendar moves onward to its end; and, as usual, the controversy over the historical Jesus and the time of His birth are seemingly brought into question as the Pope writes about the birth of Jesus not actually happening in December.
I already addressed any doubts about the birthday of Jesus in my post The Truth About Facts. The issue of the Mayan calendar has been addressed well in many cartoons I’ve seen on blogs, in papers, and even on the back of the new beer listing at my local cafe: a cartoon in which two “Mayans” are looking at the carved stone calendar in question. The text under the picture reads something like “I only had enough room to go up to 2012.” The questions of perceived cultural decline, strange weather happenings, and wars and rumors of wars was addressed in the Rector’s Sermon at Church today. The short version being that there has always been fear of the end times, there have always been auguries of the Advent. After The Great War the fear was from mustard gas and the Spanish flu; after World War Two there was a fear of nuclear obliteration; today there is the fear of all of the above in one form or another with anxieties over global terrorism. This may not be a comfort for many people as they try to interpret the Book of the Apocalypse as if it were to be used for divination, giving us a glimpse at future newspaper headlines, rather than a commentary on the godless state of the Roman State.
What I can say is that the Church calendar–in mirroring the seasonal calendar, in focusing on the end at its beginning–helps us to prepare for the struggle to get through the winter. It prepares us for death and allows us to get our house in order to host a God of Judgement, a God of Justice. However, after all of the preparations for this Mighty King, the King that we receive is a poor Baby born to a poor mother: a Baby who will die for our sins. Until that Baby comes, for four weeks I’ll be lighting candles on my Advent wreath and praying the collects of the week from The Lutheran Hymnal. The tradition of the Advent wreath is illustrated in the song Advent, Advent by the Palast Orchester mit seinem Sänger Max Raabe, although in Church we sang the Charles Wesley Hymn Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending (this is a version by Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band).
At home tonight we lit the first candle on our Advent wreath and prayed:
Stir up, we beseech Thee, Thy power, O Lord, and come, that by Thy protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Thy mighty deliverance; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God world without end.
As Advent is a penitential season our home is kept rather bare, rather devoid of “holiday” decorations until just before Christmas when the wreath that we’ve been using in the dining room as our Advent wreath is decorated and hung on our door for the twelve days of Christmas.