Bishop Elizabeth Eaton recently wrote advent reflections with fellow leaders of the Anglican and Lutheran churches in the United States and Canada.
Advent 1Isaiah 64:1-9 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Mark 13:24-37
God beyond time, help us to live in the tensionbetween what you have done andwhat you will do, and into the truththat Christ will come again.Amen.
I remember my first encounter, my first brush with the excitement and danger of the Burpee’s catalog, a phone and a credit card. It was the page with the fields of lavender. I could turn our Columbus, Ohio house into Provence! But the fact that our lot was small enough to mow the lawn with a weed whacker brought me back from the abyss. I decided to order tulip bulbs instead.
Tulip bulbs must be planted in the fall. (They also must be planted right side up I discovered, but that is another story.) We all know how autumn is in the parish: the start-up of Sunday School, choir rehearsals and committee meetings. I didn’t plant in September or October. Finally, toward the end of November, I took my tulip bulbs, bone meal and trowel and set out to transform the backyard. Soil in Ohio is often clay. It was cold. It was raining. It was muddy. My husband would look out the back window and shake his head. After a while even the dog left me. By the time I had finished it was dark and the backyard was a soupy, lumpy, clay-ey mess. But all I could see were rows of brilliant red tulips warmed in the spring sun.
Advent is an odd season. It isn’t culturally accessible. It doesn’t lend itself to retail. There are no made-for-TV movies telling heartwarming stories about the great and terrible day of the Lord. It is an unsettled season that holds in tension the now and the not yet, longing and hope, judgment and redemption. This is clear in the readings for the First Sunday in Advent.
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down so that the mountains would quake at your presence” (Isaiah 64:1).
“Then he willsend out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:27).
“God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Now we can see the beautiful logic of Advent. Where the culture (and my heart, too, if I am honest) celebrates and holds on to the manger and the star, the shepherds and wise men, to Mary and Joseph and the Christ child, the church calls us to look for the return of the King. Advent deepens the tension between what the world was created to be and what it now is, between what God has done and what God will do.
In the meantime, we plant tulips and wait for spring.