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Hallo again to all.

Cathedral Choir E. Past Altar to the Corona, Canterbury, EnglandAnglicans around the world have been caught up in excitement during the last week because of two letters released online midway through December: one an Advent letter, and the other an early Christmas message. None of our diplomas, certificates and degrees included training in Cantuarese, so we are not ourselves completely certain what they mean. What is sure, however, is that they have resulted in a strangely focused picture of not one Canterbury, nor even two Canterburies, but probably three or four Canterburies. Every reader from every faction of the church has come away with a different impression, often that his or her viewpoint has triumphed or been castigated, and that some other faction has been finally rebuked or unduly reprieved; victims and victors have never been more numerous or more identical. For those of us with standard-issue eyes, it's all a bit like looking at stereoviews without the benefit of a stereoviewer. There are pictures, to be sure, and there is something crisp and fine about them, but they stay out of focus if you don't have the right tools to see them. At best, one gets tired eyes or only a portion of the full image.

The ancient church in its wisdom understood something about focus. We're persuaded more and more that one of the purposes of liturgical seasons is to rearrange and tighten our focus at specific times of the year on various aspects of our spiritual life. One of the oldest traditions of the liturgical year concerns the topics appointed for preaching on the four Sundays of Advent: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. The contrast between the solemnity of these subjects and the prevailing attitudes of reindeer-themed mirth is significant, and makes them perhaps more valuable than ever as counterweights to what we see and hear each day. Our hunch is that the eschatological foci provided by the old lectionaries are meant to prepare us internally for meeting God very soon—not metaphorically, not in a sweet turn of phrase, but really meeting the real and living God.

The Central Tower of Canterbury Cathedral seen through Arch of the Ruins, Canterbury, EnglandIn combination with prayer, fasting and reflection, Advent's eschatology sets our perspective aright so that we can warm an infant's cradle, offer comfort to a young woman pregnant in unusual circumstances, give a welcome to an outcast shepherd, and befriend an expectant father who has made a courageous good decision. It is in these intentional gentlenesses that the mighty acts of God are made known in our midst. We cannot do these things with our own strength alone, and so Advent gives us a chance to refocus each year. The right foci of Advent are not points on ecclesiopolitical maps or speculations about invitations to church conferences; the season is here for the good of our own souls and in order to better fit them to receive God's love anew. It comes to give us a chance to retool as we try to be pinpricks of light poking holes in the dark.

Whatever primates and blogs may do and say in the coming weeks, the virgin is still pregnant and there is still a long, hard walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The sound and fury of church politics online do their best to hide this old, old story into which we must live if we will call ourselves Christians. We're sure that if our forerunners in the faith knew about the internet they would have included the wrong or inordinate use of it along with food and drink in the catalogues of things to be moderated at times of fasting and abstinence. If you must continue to click and scroll in the weeks that remain before Christmas, turn some of your attention to a few of the fine Advent calendars we have been delighted to visit of late. Our favourites are from Full Homely Divinity, Paperless Christmas, and Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore, Maryland. With the O Antiphons and a little more patience, we're confident that they'll help to reset your focus and ours away from imagined Canterburies and toward one real star-illumined Bethlehem.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 16 December 2007 (Third Sunday in Advent)

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