Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent 1.7

"There is also great comfort for me, as I age, 
in reminding myself that I am leaves blown on the wind, or grass. 
In this life I am temporary & fragile, & that is a blessing. 
I need not try to shoulder the work of a mountain, or a boulder. 
Only God is a Rock."
-Ruth G

Only God is a Rock, writes a dear friend, and I read it as I sit imagining myself as a leaf blown away, or drinking tears by the bowlful, eating bread salty with weeping. The Psalmnist blames God for these sorrows, but I do not. I blame the powers of darkness and death. I blame those forces as I eat my morning toast, and drink my morning tea, and tidy my untidy apartment, and rub my aching muscles. 

What I ask of God, whom I trust to be a rock--like the mountains on every horizon that hem me in as I live in this valley, dark blue, frosted white, angular and strong--I ask with the writer of Isaiah: "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, / That the mountains would tremble before you!" Which is to say: I trust you, mysterious Most High, as good and strong, as healer and redeemer. I trust that in the face of your might and comfort, even the embrace of these surrounding mountains seems a paltry thing. I trust you to come, and make things right: I ask for this. 

"Advent," I read in the Oxford English Dictionary, is from the Latin for arrival, or the verb "to come." For nearly a thousand years, "Advent" in English has meant the festival that precedes celebration of Christ's birth. But the meaning is more layered, for as early as the fifteenth century, according to the dear OED, "Advent" has also referred more broadly to the Incarnation, so that it has also taken on the meaning of the coming or arrival of an Incarnate Christ a second time--the "Second Advent," or "Second Coming" about which Christians so like to debate. This Second coming is the one about which we read in the week's New Testament selections. In the church festival of Advent, we re-enact our waiting for that First Arrival, in part to express our joy and longing for the Second Arrival: Christ has come; Christ will come. We are waiting, drinking our bowls of tears and eating our salty bread, clinging to the hope of something else.

And yet--the dictionary also tells me that Advent has a third meaning rooted in its broader sense of the Incarnation, and that for five hundred years it has also referred in a way to the arrival or coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. After ever so long, a Messiah arrived: and he lived a life and died a death and then rose again in a narrative that confused most people's expectations and continues to confuse. (I believe these mysteries, which in today's world seems a little crazy: that God became a person, born of a woman; that Jesus was absolutely dead and then absolutely alive. I stand in a community that believes these things, realizing that we all seem a little off our rockers. I stand in a great cloud of witnesses who believe in mystery and life out of death.) But at the end of the story of Jesus's earthly life, he does go away. He goes away, leaving confused and frightened followers, but he has made a promise: He has promised another Comforter. 

As the story tells us, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit arrived--another Advent--and filled the body of Christ (Jesus's remaining, breathing and acting presence on the earth, the church) with gifts: gifts for speaking and ministering, for loving and teaching, for caring and wisdom. Here is another mystery: God in us? This is the mystery and hope referred to by Paul in this week's passage from 1 Corinthians. As we wait for the fullness of Christ's next Advent, we are surrounded and infused with the Comfort of God's Spirit within us. We live into the story of the coming of God Incarnate; we live steeped in the mysterious presence of God as Spirit; we wait for the ultimate comfort of a Justly Merciful and Mercifully Just Ruler and Healer. 

I believe Jesus drank the bowl of tears and ate the salty bread in his death, down to the last drop and morsel, and in his death and resurrection triumphed over the powers of death and suffering. But sometimes, in this life, the wine and bread of Communion taste like salt and sawdust on my tongue. The Comforter has come, to strengthen us through these meals of sorrow. Twice, the world has waited, and twice the promised Advent has been fulfilled. 

We wait for the third: for the Coming, for the feast, when the bowls of tears will be smashed, and the bread of weeping fall to pieces, and the table will be set with cups filled to the brim and running over, and bread sweet and warm and dripping with honey.

Even so come, Lord Jesus.

1 comment:

  1. Even so.

    Thanks, Cindy, for these rich reminders. And in these days, may your bowl of tears be a little less salty as you're aware that you're not drinking it alone.