Epiphanies and Dreadful Dreams


Reflections on the core themes of Advent

The Latin word, adventus, which literally means "arrival", is the root word of the English, "advent", which now is the term that defines the Christian liturgical period beginning the four Sundays before Christmas. This morning, I was blessed to attend my home church, Chesterfield Baptist Church, for the 4th Sunday in Advent worship service. The choir presented a beautiful Christmas cantata. As I was allowing myself to be immersed in the music and the lyrics of the cantata, many thoughts ebbed and flowed through my mind and heart.

The birth narratives in the gospels of Luke and Matthew were the central scripture readings in the liturgy this morning. This ancient narrative spoke to me today in new ways. The visitation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, announcing that her womb will bear God's son (known also as the "Magnificat"); and another visit to Joseph in his dream, staying his plans to divorce Mary; their self-imposed exile to escape Herod's edict to slaughter the innocents - all these themes in the birth narratives struck me with fresh appreciation of the profundity of their experience. Their apprehension of their lives in those moments must have been imploding with the conflicting emotions of epiphanies and dreadful dreams.

Now that the 4th and last Sunday in Advent is over, I can't help but wonder what "waiting" was really like for Mary and Joseph in that dark, quiet, livestock stable, in those next couple of days before the birth of Jesus. She must have started feeling some intermittent labor pains by then. That, and at the same time bearing the fresh memories in their hearts of the awesome visitation from the angel for Mary, and for Joseph in his dream, the flight to Egypt to escape a genocidal king - those next few nights must have been  - for these two refugees - nights full of awe, dread, fear, and wonder all thrown in the same mix.

How stark the contrast and the paradox - that the announcement of the good news of Jesus' birth comes alongside the pains and fears of a broken world. And a paradox it must be - after all, birthing is attended by both joy and pain.

And so it is, that the good news can only be authentically proclaimed audaciously if it, at the same time, unflinchingly confronts the many faces of our yet broken world.

This line from a great Christmas hymn says it all, about the birth of Jesus: "The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight!