Believe: Advent Word 22

December 24, 2017
This morning, we awoke on the last Sunday of Advent. We opened the final window of the Advent calendar, lighted the fourth candle of the Advent wreath, and sang for the last time during this liturgical cycle, “Come, thou long-expected Jesus.” In place of a Psalm, we read Canticle 15, The Magnificat. The Gospel reading, Luke 1:26-38, told of the Annunciation–Gabriel’s visit to Mary to tell her that she would give birth to the Son of God. And the powerful sermon by the Rev. Jim Melnyk began with a meditation on that miraculous encounter, when like Mary, the angel Gabriel trembled as he awaited the “thoughtful yes of a young girl.” The priest invited us to be similarly open to the coming of the Lord into our own lives and encouraged us to breathe our own thoughtful and longing yes on this last day of Advent anticipation. And then we sang, “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” that haunting Advent hymn that ends with the glorious promise, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

In just a few hours, by coincidence of the calendar, today will transform into Christmas Eve, and that promise will be fulfilled when trumpets and timpani and voices ring out, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!” We read this morning of the miraculous conception in the virgin’s womb, and tonight we will read of the miraculous birth in Bethlehem. To believe is easy on such a day of conception and birth, preparation and celebration, hope and fulfillment, all in one.

Often, though, believing is more difficult. In times of loss, we may cry out “why?” and never hear the whispered response, never feel the soft embrace of angel’s wings. In times of great struggle, we may plead for help and learn the difficult lesson that we are already equipped for the challenge. In times of success, we may congratulate ourselves and forget the one on whom we rely for insight and courage and strength. Most often, for me, believing is difficult during times of torpor when the noonday demon, acedia, takes control. From the Ancient Greek for “without care,” this state of apathy and lethargy may be the deadliest of the seven deadly sins because it makes way for indifference and unbelief.

But today is the Advent IV and Christmas I, all packed into the holiest of gifts for those who pray with St. Augustine, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” May we be strengthened in our belief as we pass from Advent into Christmas on this day, and may we be filled with awe as we ponder the mystery at the core of our faith:

’Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.
John Donne, “Holy Sonnet XV”

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