A Major Double . . .

29 September 2006

The Primary Feast of the Day

atoma.jpgToday is a Feast in our household. Today is my wife’s birthday. Happy birthday, Beth. In her honor, an icon of her favorite Apostle, Thomas shall be here posted.

Feast of Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and all the Angels

michael.jpgIn addition to it being my wife’s birthday, it is the Feast of Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and all the Angels. In today’s First Reading at Vigils, Gregory the Great reminds us that the name angel only denotes mission and not essence or nature. Αγγελος, the Greek word origin of angel, simply means “messenger.” gabriel.jpgIn The Orthodox Church by Kallistos of Diokleia (né Timothy Ware), I read that Orthodoxy considers humans superior to the angels, as opposed to the Western tradition that humans were “made a little less than the angels” since humans have a quality —bodily-ness— that angels lack. Check out Monastic Mumblings: A Friar’s Journey for some interesting information on today’s feast. I recommend perusing the rest of that blog also; it’s quite good.

Musings and Linkage

Bending the Rule is thinking about “Prayerbook Agnosticism.” A few years ago, while teaching at a high school, I made friends with Charlotte Rosenbaum, an 80-something atheist teaching at an Orthodox Jewish high school. She taught a class called “Senior Seminar,” which was, essentially, a philosophy class. Charlotte asked me, during our first of two meetings, what I believed. I answered that sometimes I prayed my Roman Catholic breviary with great fervency, and that others I barely knew what to believe at all. She died shortly after I met her, but she made a great impression. I only met her twice; the impression she made on me was made through the impression she made on her students; they thought she was the wisest, most interesting person they ever met. I think they were right. How long ago those days seem.

Preparing for Advent

Tomorrow morning I’m serving as a moderator at a worship planning meeting at my church. The meeting’s discussions will inform and help shape the decisions made by the worship committee about the liturgies of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

The table I’m moderating will be dealing with Advent’s texts and hymns. Our organist and music director will be presenting us with the hymnody, so I’m focusing mainly on the lectionary, year B of the ubiquitous Revised Common Lectionary.

The major themes I see in the texts are joy and transfiguration. The First Sunday of Advent foregrounds promise and joy, with Jeremiah’s emphasis on promise and fulfillment, complemented by Psalm 25’s trust in God’s guidance of the humble. The reading from 1 Thessalonians gives thanks not just for joy but also for God’s people themselves, while Luke inaugurates his year with Jesus exhorting his followers to watch for signs, because the time of fulfillment is now.

Advent 2 advances the theme of promise by speaking of fulfillment and thanksgiving, Malachi introducing the Forerunner and the Benedictus (in place of a Psalm) introducing the idea of fulfillment. Philippians echoes Thessalonians’ thanksgiving for joy, completion, and God’s people, and the Gospel introduces the Baptizer and brings us back to Malachi’s theme of preparation.

Advent 3 brings a new thread to the Advent texts: forgiveness, along with more rejoicing. Zephanaiah’s long reading is an ebullient song of exultation and joy. Isaiah’s canticle introduces salvation and thanksgiving, we get more joy in Phillipians. The Gospel opens with a surprising rebuke (John’s “brood of vipers” line) followed by a command to charity and the initial mention of Baptism, the Church’s central act of forgiveness and joy.

Advent 4 gives us Micah proclaiming that the little are made great, and that the Ruler and Shepherd witll bring peace. Psalm 80 continues with Micah’s shepherd imagery, concluding with a plea that God show his face, because then we will be saved. Continuing on the transformative tack, Hebrews tells us that God no longer desires sacrifice, and instead God’s will is the sanctification of humankind. Luke brings Advent to a culmination with the Visitation and the Magnificat, both important expressions of Incarnation and Transfiguration.

This year I paid real attention to the Visitation for the first time; according to tradition, the Visitation occurred about two months after the Annunciation. The extraordinary nature of this event is not readily apparent. At this point, Mary is nearing the end of her second month of pregnancy, a time of sluggishness and low energy for many women, and she travels to a relatively far away city to help her elderly cousin Elizabeth. These two women’s states could not be much more different: Elizabeth’s late pregnancy after a life of “barreness” echoes a theme often seen in the TaNaCh; her empending birth would have been considered a blessed event. Mary, young and probably scared, faced a time of uncertainty for her, likely marked by suspicion, rumor, and shame, considering she was only betrothed and not yet married to Joseph. Yet the Incarnation had so transformed this young woman that she travels to do God’s will, to help this woman through a difficult time in life —the end of pregnancy and the early days of parenthood. Here Mary is an exemplar of humility and conformity to the will of God, the Lady of the Sign, who shows us what Advent, the coming of the Savior into the world, is really all about: the Tranfiguration of all creation through the Incarnation, the participation of the human in the life of the Triune God, a call to theosis and deification.


3 Responses to “A Major Double . . .”

  1. AngloBaptist Says:

    Happy Birthday, Beth!!

  2. AngloBaptist Says:

    Here is a connection I am making between physical purity and Mary’s offering up her body to the will of God…

    Essentially the Mark passage and the Annunciation are asking the same thing of us. Step outside the boundaries here. Yes, we know you are not married. Yes, we know you are lame. Come. Follow. In fact we will ask the absurd of you. We will ask you to bring God into the world.

    Is this not our calling? Enfleshing God is not necessarily physical purity in terms of a wound-free, scar-free physique. No. It is the purposing of the flesh toward God’s will.

    Advent does this for us…or can. It is that purposing of our corporate flesh to receive again the birth of God into the world.

  3. Enfleshing God. That’s what it’s all about: Incarnation, Transfiguration.

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