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Hallo again to all.

The season of Advent anticipates the Second Coming of our Lord even as it calendrically counts down to His birth -- the First Coming, if you will. It's a season in which mystery, unknowing, expectation, waiting, and patience take centre stage. These concepts are remarkably intangible.

The birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ are all marked in the church's year with incarnated images. We have wine, fish, nets, bread, figs, mites: we can add to the list for a tangible roll call. But Advent? It's elusive in its imagery, hard to pin down. The mediaeval assigning of the 'Four Last Things' (traditionally death, judgement, heaven, and hell) as proper sermon subjects evidences the slippery nature of this season.

And slippery it has been, for a long time. For the most part, Christians got Advent all wrong from the start. That Christ was soon to return in glory is an assumption made throughout St Paul's letters and woven throughout early Christian writings. Well, He didn't. That non-appearance required constant readjustment and rethinking on the part of the Church: a new and different understanding of what the Second Coming meant. If Our Lord's return wasn't just round the corner, how did that affect the lives Christians would lead?

J.G. Grosz (1758-1780)  at Christ Church (Lutheran) in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, USAEach time someone thought he had conclusively determined the day and time Christ would appear, theological silliness resulted. Some of the more unusual Christian denominations originated in Second Coming cults and a simplistic understanding of what that Coming would be like. Much vapid, video-game theology is marketed on the Second Coming concept of the rapture. The 'Left Behind' series, in the States, is an astounding publishing success. The dumbing-down of Advent with its mysterious pointing to the Parousia -- that cannot-be-conceived event when Our Lord returns in the fulness of His glory -- is surely one of the sad distortions of Christianity. Not only is the Second Coming reduced to a black-and-white cartoonish Return of The Lord, but the mysterious, beautiful, and short season of Advent is squeezed out of existence by a shop-mad culture, where Christmas decorations appear in shops in late October and a 'gotta have it' mentality finds the idea of Advent inexplicable.

We Anglicans should be grateful that we have the chance, in Advent, to be utterly and obviously counter-cultural. We can relish the quiet, still, and silence. We can use the relative bareness of our altars and the more sombre vestments as visual breathing spaces. We can try to keep our homes decoration-free as long as possible. We can use Advent as the waiting time it is meant to be. If the Advent season is not penitential -- and we are of the persuasion that it is not -- it is surely reflective. It is a seasonal skull on the desk, to note that Elizabethan conceit of a tangible reminder of mortality. That is surely at the heart of Advent: to wait, listen, pray, and meditate on the larger things of life and death.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 28 November 2004

A thin blue line
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