This Sunday, we enter a new church year with the First Sunday of Advent. It’s often hard to keep our focus on Advent, after all the Christmas rush that starts on Thanksgiving. Sometimes it seems more like “Happy Thanks-mas-year” as we dash from turkey to shopping to holly and presents to a ball drop on New Year’s Eve.
Yet the church calls us to this season of Advent, a time of quiet anticipation and preparation for the coming — not of Santa or the year 2020 — but of the Prince of Peace who will reign forever.
But the question remains: How to keep that peace of the season today?
With apologies to Julianne Stanz, whose FAQs article this week (page 17) discusses why Christmas carols aren’t part of Advent church celebrations, I would like to propose a Christmas carol as an Advent guide this year.
When I was a child, there was a Christmas carol my mother loved: “Do you hear what I hear?” It’s about a star seen by the wind, which then tells a lamb, which tells a shepherd, who tells a king — and the world is changed by the king’s decree.
Advent is a bit like that. It takes a moment or two to stand outside and see a star or hear the wind. City lights get in the way. So does rushing to the car because we are late for something. But looking at the dark velvet sky sprinkled with lights that come from millions of miles away can put things into perspective. We’re pretty small compared to the infinite space. And yet God chose to send his son into this smallness, as a tiny fetus floating in the night sky of the Virgin’s womb.
Winter’s wind is cold and often harsh. But do you stop to listen to it? It howls along the rooftops, or whispers in the pines. Do you see its fingers swirling the snow? Elijah the prophet heard God’s voice in a small wind passing a cave and he covered his head. The darkness that is slowly dispelled by the candles of the Advent wreath flickering in a slight breeze reminds us of how subtly God moves among us. Not everyone recognized Jesus when he came, but shepherds did. The little and the least among us can still ask us: “Do you see what I see?”
Shepherds don’t often speak to kings. (Though shepherds can become kings — look at David, Jesus’ royal ancestor.) But who are our shepherds and sheep now? Remember, shepherds lived on the fringe of society, all but outcasts. We have many who live on the fringe of society now. What can those who don’t live on the fringe of society hear from these modern outcasts?
The king in the carol heard the shepherd boy. In this coming year, many will strive for the highest offices in our land, how many will listen to shepherd boys and girls? How many will look for the light of hope and point it out to people? How many will hear the divine message in the wind? Will they shine like stars? And as we travel through Advent, how many of us will be stars for others? Lonely people long to see a card or a visitor and the voiceless need to hear our voice speak for them.
Modern shepherd boys and girls need warm coats. Many parishes have Angel Trees silently calling us to donate gifts for children of prisoners. Other host food collections and clothing drives. And the wind of winter mail brings many pleas for donations. Even a dollar can mean a lot.
The king in the carol said, “He will bring us goodness and light.” As you prepare for Advent, ask how you can bring goodness and light.
Listen for that goodness. Look for that light. Hear the voice of the Spirit. See God’s divine light in darkness. Then share those words, that light, the peace and goodness with others. They wait in anticipation. We need to see that they are part of our Advent preparation time.
Do you hear?