Visual Devotions for the first week of Advent, 2019
Advent is a beginning. It is the start of a new Christian liturgical year, and a time focused on expectation, waiting, preparation, and hope. “Advent,” which means “coming,” focuses not only on the coming of God into the world in Jesus (the first coming) but also on the return of Christ at the end of time (the Second Coming). As we look back at the mystery of the incarnation and forward towards the fulfillment of hope, we are invited to be alert to the coming of Christ into our lives daily, now. Advent prepares us to look for and expect Christ to come to us. Advent prepares us to respond.
For worship throughout the Christian year, many Protestant churches, including our own, use the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary is a collection of readings from the Bible following a three-year cycle. The gospel readings in the first year (Year A) come from the Gospel of Matthew, in the second year (Year B) from the Gospel of Mark, and the third year (Year C) from the Gospel of Luke. Readings from the Gospel of John are woven through all three years during Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter.
This year is Year A, which would ordinarily mean we would be hearing four gospel readings from Matthew this Advent. However, for this Advent and for the next two Advents, our congregation will be departing from the Revised Common Lectionary and following a different path through this sacred season. Our path will be charted by the insights the two of us gained on our sabbatical, which focused on religious art and architecture. For each Advent, we will be focusing on a single story from Scripture for the entire season, considering that story through various artistic renderings of it. We hope that by engaging a single theme for the entirety of Advent, we might enter more deeply into the mysteries and invitations of this season. Our themes and texts will be as follows:
Year A (2019) – Annunciation – Luke 1:26-38
Year B (2020) – Visitation – Luke 1:39-56
Year C (2021) – Dream – Matthew 1:18-25
Each Sunday, we are using one particular image during worship as our entry point into the theme. To extend our engagement beyond Sunday morning worship, we are putting together daily visual meditations with a different image for each day of the season, to help us pray our way through Advent and live our way into the daily hope of the season. We’re offering these meditations here online and as a hard copy weekly booklet available after worship at our church each Sunday. If you would like to listen to the sermon from each Sunday, you can find those on our church website as well.
We hope you will find in these meditations and in our weekly gatherings for worship fresh sustenance for your spiritual journey. May Christ be born in each one of us this season. Come, Lord Jesus.
Annunciation by Denise Levertov ‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’ from the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, almost always a lectern, a book; always the tall lily. Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings, the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering, whom she acknowledges, a guest. But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage. The engendering Spirit did not enter her without consent. God waited. She was free to accept or to refuse, choice integral to humanness. ___________________________ Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives? Some unwillingly undertake great destinies, enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending. More often those moments when roads of light and storm open from darkness in a man or woman, are turned away from in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief. Ordinary lives continue. God does not smite them. But the gates close, the pathway vanishes. __________________________ She had been a child who played, ate, slept like any other child—but unlike others, wept only for pity, laughed in joy not triumph. Compassion and intelligence fused in her, indivisible. Called to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time, she did not quail, only asked a simple, ‘How can this be?’ and gravely, courteously, took to heart the angel’s reply, the astounding ministry she was offered: to bear in her womb Infinite weight and lightness; to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity; to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power— in narrow flesh, the sum of light. Then bring to birth, push out into air, a Man-child needing, like any other, milk and love— but who was God. This was the moment no one speaks of, when she could still refuse. A breath unbreathed, Spirit, suspended, waiting. _______________________ She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’ Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’ She did not submit with gritted teeth, raging, coerced. Bravest of all humans, consent illumined her. The room filled with its light, the lily glowed in it, and the iridescent wings. Consent, courage unparalleled, opened her utterly.