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The Lectio Letter - Issue #21 - Why are we waiting? | Advent 2020

"The twofold mystery of Christmas is that God became one of us so that we might become one with Him.
The Lectio Letter - Issue #21 - Why are we waiting? | Advent 2020
By Liam Byrnes • Issue #21 • View online

“The twofold mystery of Christmas is that God became one of us so that we might become one with Him.”

“Advent,” says Fleming Rutledge, “is definitely not for sissies.” As the midnight of the Christian year, Advent is rife with dark, gritty realities. 

Welcome to this Advent Edition of the Lectio Letter, full of the anticipatory spirit of generosity that Christmas evokes, this is going out to all 43 subscribers rather than the regular merry band of 17 paying members. The Lectio Letter helps fund my book buying habit and in return you get 2 articles a month, plus some personal updates, music, movie and recipe recommendations.

For those of you that don’t get the members version of this newsletter but are receiving this, you can sign up here to access all 20 editions that I sent out so far this year.

I am currently in the middle of a series of articles on Vocation, calling and identity in preparation for our entry into 2021. If you sign up now, you’ll receive the second article in the series and have access to the first here.

Contents below:
  • Introduction
  • Status Board
  • Music
  • Watching
  • Food and Drink
  • Advent Articles, Resources and Devotionals

Introduction
As many of you are aware, Advent is the start of the Christian Year. We cannot take for granted how significant how we tell the time is for us. It subsconciously aims our lives towards a certain goal and around a certain story, for more on this read my article here.

The best book I’ve read on the nature of Advent is by Fleming Rutledge, this is how she defines the season of Advent as opposed to Christmastide;
“In the church, this is the season of Advent. It’s superficially understood as a time to get ready for Christmas, but in truth it’s the season for contemplating the judgment of God. Advent is the season that, when properly understood, does not flinch from the darkness that stalks us all in this world. Advent begins in the dark and moves toward the light—but the season should not move too quickly or too glibly, lest we fail to acknowledge the depth of the darkness. As our Lord Jesus tells us, unless we see the light of God clearly, what we call light is actually darkness: “how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). Advent bids us take a fearless inventory of the darkness: the darkness without and the darkness within.” 
We cannot underestimate how hard this is for us in the 21st Century. We are a generation who has a panoply of distraction techniques that keep us from the pain and darkness within and without. But the Christian Calendar gives us both feasts and fasts, to train us in the recognition of both then now and not yet of God’s inbreaking kingdom. The fasts of Advent and Lent improve the feasting of Christmas and Easter through their contrast. Yet the wisdom of the Christian Calendar recognises that feasts lose their impact if we haven’t felt the hunger for good news.

Surely after a year like 2020 we need more Christmas-cheer than we do Advent-lament? Well, in that way Advent, indeed the whole Christian Calendar reveals itself as, in the best and most glorious way, irrelevant. In my early years as a Christian, I held a well-intentioned but badly wrong perception that somehow Christianity should be in some sense relevant. Of course, we desire that all may come to know the saving love of Christ, but do we truly think that comes from making it simply one reality within our existing field of consumer choices? Just another product alongside others, just another self-fufilling life choice among others? God forbid. (OK, Ill ease up on the preaching now). God doesn’t simply fit in with out needs, he’d redefines the whole playing field. The classic error of “relevance” is the idea that we want something to fit in with our needs and wants, but as Saint Augustine (the first Christian psychologist maybe) wisely reflects:

“I am, to a great extent, a mystery to myself. How could I know what I need?”

If Advent and Christmastide stand for anything, they stand for the reality that we need help from outside oursleves, a radical inbreaking from someone who knows what we need better than we do. Not simply some neat life adjustment as if the sole goal of Christianity was to offer Human life plus. No, as one person shrewdly remarked;

“When we encounter Jesus Christ, we don’t live to tell about it. We die. And then we tell.”

The inbreaking of Jesus into our world and lives is a judgement, an apocalpyse, we submit our lives to it, give all that we are, submit all our hopes and dreams. In that process there is death before there is life, but it ends up being life that no one can take away from us.

May this Advent reveal to you the many things in our world and even within ourselves that need to die and then be raised up, renewed, restored and healed by the one who has gone before us, Jesus the Christ.

Below is a re-post of the very first Lectio Letter article on Advent that went out to the, then, six paying members! It’s reproduced here for you in thanks to those who have supported me generously throughout 2020 through being members of the Lectio Letter.
Status Board
Work: We are well into the swing of marking essays that have the students of the M.A. reflecting on treasures they’ve discovered as they research and reflect on Christian history. As the Delta Spirit song refrains:
I’m hoping and waiting for something to sing
Like the angels in heaven, the bums on the street
Hoping for love to find a new voice
The song that needs singing has already been sung before
Watching: Like much of the netflix crowd, we’ve been watching the fourth season of ‘the crown’. Hoping to make our way towards some movies as the South Africa’s Christmas “go slow” is soon upon us. Always up for recommendations!
The Crown Season 4 | Official Teaser Trailer | Netflix
The Crown Season 4 | Official Teaser Trailer | Netflix
Reading: In preparation for Marilynne Robinson’s new novel “Jack” which is the fourth in the “Gilead” series. I read “Home” and “Lila”. Gilead, the first book in the series, is the book I refer to as my “favourite novel of all time”. I am not normally as ‘soppy’ as this, but there is an extraordinary art to the pedestrian luminescence of the world captured in Robinson’s writing, it’s enough to make one feel their own soul. An extraordinary gift given by only the very best art.
Music: There are a few more music related resources below but here’s my pick for Advent (rather than Christmas) songs;
Sufjan Stevens “Joy to the World”…below is a fairly crowd-led live version which is brilliant quirky and slightly comes off its tracks at the end, but nevertheless.
Vid #255: Sufjan Stevens - "Joy To the World"
Vid #255: Sufjan Stevens - "Joy To the World"
A more ‘easy listening’ version is here;
Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
Come thou fount of every blessing by Mumford and Sons
Mumford & Sons - Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Mumford & Sons - Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus - Kings Kaleidoscope
Kings Kaleidoscope - Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (AUDIO)
Kings Kaleidoscope - Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (AUDIO)
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now thy gracious kingdom bring
The Brilliance - May you find a light
May You Find a Light
May You Find a Light
Lost and weary traveler
Searching for the way to go
Stranger heavy-hearted
Longing for someone you know
May you find a light
May you find a light
May you find a light
To guide You home
Food and Drink: Next Lectio Letter (members-only I’m afraid), I’ll share our Christmas lamb recipe which we’ve used for the last few years. But for now, even though it makes us simultaneously sweaty and sentimental down here in the hot Christmas’ of South Africa here is a Gluhwein recipe!
  • ½ medium orange
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¼ cup turbinado or granulated sugar
  • 20 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the orange in wide strips, taking care to avoid the white pith; set aside. Juice the orange and set the juice aside.
Combine the water and sugar in a large, nonreactive saucepan and boil until the sugar has completely dissolved. Reduce the heat and add the cloves, cinnamon, star anise, orange zest, and orange juice. Simmer until a fragrant syrup forms, about 1 minute.
Reduce the heat further and add the wine. Let it barely simmer for at least 20 minutes but up to a few hours. Keep an eye out so that it doesn’t reach a full simmer. (Do no boil!)
Strain and serve in small mugs, adding a shot of rum or amaretto and garnishing with the orange peel and star anise if desired.
Source: theKtchn.com
Advent (Re-post from Lectio Letter #1)
We are adrift. I know that seems dramatic, but it becomes increasingly apparent that, in this post-modern malaise our lives can often drift on without a meaningful sense of direction bar the odd spurt of intentionality or a passing moment of stirred emotion. 

Into the fray walks, the much neglected practise of the Christian calendar. A calendar that was designed to imbue every year of our lives with a steady retelling of the Gospel. This life time immersion in the story which is intended to tell us how the world really is, is desperately needed in a world in which we are thrown left and right by every new offer of a ‘big story’. 

As Christians have discovered again and again throughout history, our individual, family, tribal, and national lives end up as small claustrophobic stories. Stories which, ultimately, fail at the task of weaving a narrative that catches up all of creation in the loving gaze of it’s creator.

A fixation on these smaller stories, is, to return to the opening metaphor, like fixing the vessel of our lives to an untethered buoy, somehow believing that is in in fact an anchor. The buoy may help us to position ourselves, but it does not bring us into contact with the firm and stable structures that underpin our very existence. 

Do not misunderstand me, it is not that attending to our personal, familial and cultural stories is unimportant. If we neglect to take stock of these and how they have shaped us, we will not have a keen enough grasp on our own reality to offer it back to God. But we cannot lose grip on the main thing, to take what is ours and offer onto the altar of God which refines, tranfigures, and multiplys our small lives into a participation in the everlasting life of God.

So, here we stand at the beginning of the Church year, a year which has ordered the lives of a faithful remnant for almost 20 centuries. This Christian year tethers us to the story of God but also to the saints around the world, who in the variety and diversity of their lives and contexts are joined as one Church. The hope is, as we immerse our lives in this rehearsal of God’s story, we will go out into the world prepared by this, simulataneously other and this worldly story to be God’s actors in the continuing plot line of his unfolding rule and reign.

Even as I mention this as the beginning of the Church year, the majority of us who organise our lives around the Gregorian calendar of January to December, may experience a sense of disoreintation and exhaustion. In your mind you are heading the end of the year, a break from the normal rigour of activities and an expectation of time with friends, family and repose. Others anticipate this season another way, the clatter of consumerism fills your heart with painful anticipation that whatever you buy for those you love, however hard you work in preparing meals and times together, it will never be enough. It will never be the exuberant and abundant Christmas time sold to us by adverts and movies. We are haunted by a world which sees more as more, and offers us yearly clemancy from our relational wrong doings by buying excessive gifts which offer to cover a multitude of sins. 

Which ever of these anticipations fills your heart and soul this time of year, advent offers a different focus of anticipation. Advent invites you to rehearse the thousands of years where the jewish people longed for the rule and reign of messiah. One who would finally liberate people from the subjugation of slavery, first from Egypt and later Rome. We join in with their historical longing in order to see the familiar afresh. To recognise the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the coming of the Son in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth. Advent invites us to rehearse the longing of the jewish people for two primary reasons. 

Firstly, so that we can be renewed in our delight that the Messiah has come, and in turn welcomed all nations into God’s very own fellowship. 

Secondly, we take time to consider our own longings so that we can align with the Church for 2000 years in desiring the return of Christ our King. Longing for the end times might seem like a strange thing to do at this time of year. For many, the end times is a realm of obscurity made harder by the figurative language of revelation and made kitsch by the pulp-worthy paper backs offering time lines for the apocalypse. But Advent invites us to recognise that the things we long for; relational wholeness, healing, justice and peace are ultimately resolved in the return of the King. In Advent we are given the oppurtunity to reflect and realise that, as the classic Carol says, “the hopes and fears of all our years, are met in thee tonight.” 

The traditional Christian calendar is peppered with more festivals than one can remember; yet, its the seasons of waiting, lamenting, and expectation that are significantly longer if you count their continuous days. This is because, in one sense, the time in between the first and second coming of Christ is one long and extended Advent. God has initiated his coming, and yet the fullness of what will be is nowhere near being seen. So we wait, with baited breath for the return of the King.
Resources for observing Advent
Introducing the Christian Calendar
A couple of years ago I write a four part series introducing the Christian Calendar, Advent and Christmastide for the Centre for Christian Formation:
Who's telling the Time? - Centre for Christian Formation and Discipleship
It takes Time to get into a Story - Centre for Christian Formation and Discipleship
Practising Advent Time - Centre for Christian Formation and Discipleship
Christmastide: A Time to Escape or Inhabit? - Centre for Christian Formation and Discipleship
Listen to a liturgical Advent Service
While many church traditions are ‘adopting’ Advent, liturgical traditions have established frameowrks that can expose us to the themes, scriptures, sounds and prayers of this season. Here is a Choral Evensong from the Chapel of St John’s College in Cambridge, England
Choral Evensong - A Service for Advent with Carols - BBC Sounds
Other Introductions worth reading and forwarding
The Rabbit Room | Happy New Year: An Introduction to Advent & the Liturgical Calendar
Audio Devotionals
Advent: Reflections on Love — Bridgetown Audio Podcast — Overcast
Some Books and Reading Material to consider
Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ - Fleming Rutledge - Google Books
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas - Google Books
Advent And Christmas Wisdom From Henri J.m. Nouwen: Daily Scripture And ... - Henri J. M. Nouwen, Redemptorist Pastoral Publication - Google Books
Some Spotify Playlists for Advent-ish tunes!
Advent 2019, a playlist by Liam Byrnes on Spotify
Advent: An "Art & Theology" Playlist, a playlist by Victoria Emily Jones on Spotify
Songs for Advent, a playlist by The Gospel Coalition on Spotify
That’s all for now… We’ll be back shortly with the second part of the series on vocation and calling as we head towards 2021..sign up here to receive that.

Liam
Liam
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