One of my favorite canticles found in the office of Morning Prayer is the 11th, entitled “The Third Song of Isaiah” (BCP page 87). The verses of this canticle are taken from the 60th chapter of the prophet Isaiah. These are words worth committing to memory:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. For behold, darkness covers the land; deep gloom enshrouds the peoples. But over you the Lord will rise, and his glory will appear upon you. Nations will stream to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning.”
Advent and Christmas are about the fulfillment of that prophecy. The world is a confused, angry, and anxious place at the moment. We seem to be looking for answers in all the familiar places but no answers are to be readily found. We’re stuck and we don’t know where our help to get unstuck might come from. Could it be that we are looking for the truth about who we are, and what life is really about, in the wrong places? Perhaps the coming five weeks are not first and foremost about brightly wrapped presents and maxed out credit cards, fragrant evergreens standing prominently in our living rooms, or about tinsel strewn and the popping of champagne corks:
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
Really? In the midst of all the present storms, the calm is to be found in a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger? Is he the savior that we are looking for? According to these heavenly messengers, the answer is an unqualified “YES”! I came across a quote comparing and contrasting the seasons of Advent and Lent: “Lent is a penitential season cast in the key of expectation, while Advent is a season of expectation cast in the key of penitence.” I think that’s right. As you and I prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and as we remember his promise that he will indeed come again to acknowledge the fact that, too often, we are looking in the wrong places with our heads cast downwards. Instead, we need to be looking up and forward as this holy child leads us into the presence of the living God. Forget about the next “rising star” that the world around us is momentarily excited about. Look instead to the star rising over Bethlehem and the one whose arrival its light announces.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come.” I look forward to waiting expectantly with you as we prepare once again for the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Rev. Robert L. Banse, Jr.