The final days of Advent

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we attended, the minister recalled Herod’s murder of the innocents, so often left out of Christmas readings. Most churches also lit the third Advent candle—a rose-colored one, chosen for Gaudete Sunday, intended to brighten a somber spirit of penitence during Advent. “Gaudete in Domino semper,” begins the traditional Latin liturgy for the day: “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Rejoicing will be next to impossible for many Connecticut families this season. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to find words of consolation for the victim’s parents. One of the fathers, I’ve now learned, graduated from Gordon College.

So this December, more than most, I am mindful of the dual themes of Advent—the first arrival of the “suffering servant” and the still-expected return of the righteous Savior. Sometime around the sixth century, the observation of Advent—which was originally patterned on the penitential nature of Lent—became a way of preparing hearts and minds both for the Feast of the Nativity and the Second Coming. In many ways, Advent is about waiting and watching in the interim.

We work in that interim. We create curriculum that explores the most difficult questions, striving in the name of Jesus to envision new ways of pursuing justice and equity. We mourn. Often we work hard to discern proximate solutions, knowing that nuance and incremental change can matter, especially when they impede violence. When the “why” is beyond our reach, our comfort is in the final healing and justice of God.

At our service last Sunday, the choir and orchestra performed excerpts from Handel’s Messiah, including the recitative “Comfort ye, my people.” Those words are drawn from Isaiah 40, often considered an oracle of hope following the prophet’s cries of lament. According to several musicologists, the American composer Lowell Mason would eventually borrow motifs of Handel’s recitative and melodies when he wrote a new setting of “Joy to the World.” That is the version we now sing. You can then, if you wish, hear musical phrases in the triumphant carol that are linked to Isaiah’s grief and hopefulness. Listening for the echoes of past sorrows and comfort, I suppose, is one way of waiting and preparing room in our hearts and thoughts for the joy that will be.