Monday, November 29, 2010
Expectations: Disappointments and Discernments
When I was a wee lad growing up in a New England Congregational Church where I was formed spiritually in baptism, Sunday School, confirmation, Pilgrim Youth Fellowship, and the choir, I found much inspiration in a wide variety of music and hymns used in worship, and the exceptional competence of the choir director who was a member of the faculty at the Yale Music School.
I was encouraged to be serious about the study of vocal technique and eventually received a scholarship to study at a conservatory. That training led to a career as an opera singer which was cut short by an accident which paralyzed my vocal chords. I attempted, with some small success, to work in plays which did not require singing, but I found that the vocal demands were often beyond my ability. My expectations of being a performer were thwarted by circumstances, and I looked for other avenues of endeavor.
Through the good offices of an understanding pastor and his turning my life on a new path through prayer and study of the faith, I began to discern a call to pastoral ministry, which had been present for a number of years but which I ignored because of my ambitions. This led to seminary, ordination, and nearly 45 years of service in various forms of pastoral ministry in United Church of Christ congregations in New England, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. During those years I continued the way of discernment through the discipline of the Daily Office and becoming a brother of the Order of Corpus Christi, which resulted in my coming to understand the catholicity of Reformed Christianity.
I am especially struck by the liturgies and rituals of the Church which are ways of discerning the ways of God and the offering of our adoration for his mercy and love in the passion of his Son, and the presence of his Spirit in the midst our lives.
There are those for whom Christmas is a disaappointment. There are many reasons for this: circumstances of life, spiritual malaise, and frankly, the all too often superficial approach to Christmas in churches who ignore the season of Advent. This is a time of expectation and preparation; expectation of the coming of the Christ Child, the fulfillment of God’s promise that the Messiah would come with the gift of salvation to eternal life, and preparation for that coming which points us to Christ’s coming to us at the end of the age. Advent is a brief season of four Sundays, but should not be characterized as the beginning of Christmas, but as a time that leads us to the festival of the Incarnation of our Lord. That should be reflected in the worship of the church, and there are many rites and rituals for Advent which are ways of discernment of the meaning of Christmas.
Preaching should focus on the One who is to come as proclaimed by the prophets and John the Baptist, and the announcement made to Mary that she would be theotokos, “The God Bearer,” the one who gives birth to the Christ.
Hymnody and music, therefore, must enhance this spirit of preparation and promise by resisting the overweening sentimental demand of many to sing favorite Christmas carols regardless of their inappropriateness for the season. There is a great library of hymns which could be used by those serious about being faithful to the meaning of Advent.
The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudate, “Rejoice.” It is a “rose” Sunday, with the paraments and vestments are changed from blue (or purple) to rose. It is appropriate to recite The Angelus beginning of the liturgy in recognition of the angel’s announcing to Mary that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Messiah. It is also appropriate to replace the Psalter with the Magnificat.
For those who do not commonly celebrate weekly Holy Eucharist, Advent is an appropriate and strategic time to introduce such regular celebration, thus providing a connection between word and sacrament, and bring the worshiping community to a greater sense of expectation for celebation for the coming of the Messiah.
We live in world where disappointment and hopelessness abound, but the church through its mission and witness of word and sacrament leads to the discernment of God’s love and mercy which permits us to live our lifes in breathless expection and joy.
+ Richard Hammond Price, OCC © 2010
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