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Hallo again to all.

An ancient hymn sung at the close of day is Te Lucis Ante Terminum*. That Latin phrase has been rattling round our heads these past few weeks. The Latin literally means 'To thee, before the end of the light', but a common English translation of the first verse goes this way:

To thee, before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That with thy wonted favour thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

Those of us in the northern hemisphere are already thinking of ourselves as rather at the fag end of light, shrouded in darkness. Advent, to us northerners: dark and dreary days, with a glimmer of sun sandwiched between a crepuscular dawn and a stygian night. Although we know in an intellectual sort of way that the darkness will give way to the light soon, that growing light will be imperceptible for months. We'll muddle along in darkness, whilst our southern cousins bathe in the light.

High summer it is for those below the equator, whose Advent accompaniments are sun, drought, and long days of light, even with the abstract understanding that in a few short weeks, that will begin to decrease. A southern Advent is lived in the full-blown light of summer, but just round the cosmological corner is that same shadow of darkness. The two hemispheres aren't so different, since we all go about our daily lives in Advent knowing that the weather — and the world — will change.

From all ill dreams defend our eyes,
From nightly fears and fantasies,
Tread under foot our ghostly foe,
That no pollution we may know.

Someone† once wrote that Christians should get up every morning and ask themselves, 'Can I believe it all again today?' In Advent, we're given a space to prepare to believe. Whether we wait in an Advent of darkness, deep gloom, and 'change and decay' or in an Advent of stark summer sun, with no shadows to soften our highlighted faults, the season is the same. We wait, we brood (on the four last things, if we're scrupulous), and we wait some more. Whether the New Year's waiting room is a clean well-lighted place or a shadowy night-time sort of place is just, well, two sides of the same world.

All of us who profess and call ourselves Christians pursue the same liturgical round, year after year, even though we blessedly 'know the end of the story'. But every Advent, we're given the chance to learn it again; to live it as if it's the first time. The liturgical year is a way of time travel, a circularity that brings with it the story of salvation. Our parts are waiting for us, if we will play. As we wrote in a letter of a few years ago:

'The point about the children's games is that all fall down and all get up again. This, as Blessed Henry Suso said, quoting St Bernard of Clairvaux, is the difference between the damned and the saved: everyone except the damned gets up and stumbles on'.

It's Advent, dear friends. Let's wake up, get up, and stumble on.

O Father, that we ask be done,
Through Jesus Christ, thine only Son,
Who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,
Doth live and reign eternally. Amen.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 3 December 2006

*We confess that our favourite setting of the Latin text is the lush and impossibly lovely anthem (1908) by H. Balfour Gardiner.

†Frederick Buechner is generally credited with this quote.

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