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The Season of Hope - and Promise
T. S. Eliot called April the cruelest month in his great poem, The Waste land. I call November the bleakest of months. It is the month in which winter begins to announce its coming to Maine; and weknow it will be for a long haul. And it is the month of growing darkness. Just think, Saturday, November 3rd, the sun will set at 5:29 pm. The next day, Sunday, November 4th, the sun will set at 4:27 pm. That one hour jump, thanks to the end of Daylight Savings Time, is always a shock, and always the promise of even longer nights to come, together with cold and snow and all the other unpleasantries of a Maine winter.
Yes, I know, winter is not wholly unpleasant. There are many wonderful things about winter, and even the increasing darkness of our skies has its spiritual value. But what makes November most precious is that it's also the month of promise and hope. It is the month of Thanksgiving. But more, importantly it is the month which reminds us that Christmas is coming. Right there, in the darkest days of the year, the lights of Christmas will shine a light into our souls and remind us of how God fulfilled his promises to mankind 2,000 years ago.
But is that it? Promise fulfilled, 2,000 years ago? Is there nothing left except to shop, shop, and shop some more? Is that what's left for us? For this season of Advent?
It has always been one of my deepest regrets about the Orthodox tradition that we don't have a proper Advent season. We have a Christmas fast that begins on November 15th, but we don't have a season of rich hymnology and liturgical tradition for this season - unlike our wealth of Lenten liturgies and traditions; and unlike western churches (Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other liturgical Protestant churches) which did develop a rich Advent season.
What I find most interesting about Advent in the western churches is this: It is not only a preparation for Christmas, but also for the second advent of Jesus, what we call the second coming. The Orthodox Church integrated the message of the second coming/advent of Christ into the Bridegroom Matins services in the first three nights of Holy Week itself. But the theme is missing in our preparation for Christmas, which was, of course, the first advent/coming of Christ.
Is the second coming just an item in our Creed? Does it mean anything to us today? Yes, Yes! It is the promise, the hope - not just of a future life in glory, but a life lived today in the light of that future glory! It makes November and December the season of hope - and promise.
Too bad if we don't observe Advent with special hymns and special traditions. (Okay, there is one hymn we sing every Sunday on the weeks before Christmas - one hymn!) But just as Thanksgiving is not about shopping; and just as Christmas is not about gifts and trees; so also Advent is not just about hymns and liturgies, or fasting in our case. Advent is about cultivating a spirit of hope and promise in our personal and family lives and in the life of our church community and the society around us.
Don't let the pressures of conformity to instant gratification keep you from enjoying a spirit of hope and promise in this season of waiting, the season of Advent. May you receive Christ with open hearts instead of empty wallets and exhausted minds. May his peace be your peace. Let's gather for a 3-day celebration of Christ's first coming on December 23-25!
Fr. Constantine Sarantidis