Behold, you come. And your coming is neither past nor future, but the present, which has only to reach its fulfillment. Now it is still the one single hour of your Advent, at the end of which we too shall have found out that you have really come.*
This Advent, this season of preparation, I’m not in the Good Shepherd atrium. Thanks to Elizabeth’s grace-filled offer, I’m taking a few Sundays off to prepare for a special celebration that has at the same time nothing to do with church seasons and everything to do with God’s love and its reflection in us: my wedding is December 14th. Praise be to God! But that’s not the subject of this post…
Instead, I’m thinking about the way time slows down when, in the atrium, we hold the attention of 4, 5 and 6-year olds for just a moment to listen to the words of an Advent prophecy and, catching our breath, think about what it really means to anticipate the arrival of something wonderful and unknown. This past Sunday, Elizabeth introduced the following prophecy: “A star will rise out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” I wasn’t there, but I can picture our beautiful, silly, inquisitive children in front of the prayer table, watching as she lit the first candle on the Advent wreath. Assuming that the match didn’t shoot sparks across the carpet (it happens!), I can imagine the semi-reverent silence that might follow the reading of words of the prophet, which we sometimes say, by way of explanation, are the words of one who listens really closely to the silence so that she might hear God.
Sometimes, reading breathtaking words of prophecy works as if in a dream. Children will catch us off guard with their precise observations. All it takes is asking a question, “What do you think that means, a star will rise?” The star is Jesus, they’ll say. We’re waiting for his light to come into the world. At which point we all nod, taking that in.
Other times, it’s seemingly less than magical. Immediately after or during the prophecy, someone elicits a funny noise from his shoes that makes everyone giggle, someone raises her hand to tell us excitedly about the birthday party she’s going to that afternoon, or someone just can’t stand sitting still any longer and splays himself across the floor. Amidst such distractions, I admit, I am frustrated! Why can’t they recognize the beauty, the mystery, the majesty?! I crave that awe-inducing moment of connection and confirmation that things are right, that moment when the heavens open up and the light pours down and God says, “Yes! This is my Son.” And the trumpets play.
We don’t often hear trumpets in the atrium. Instead, in a plain old ordinary week, someone will create a flower-adorned prayer card that says, “Thank you, God, for Nature.” Or someone will bring his mother in to see the prayer table that is filled with beautiful objects he selected and arranged that represent the light of Christ. Or someone will tell us about the birthday party she’s going to that afternoon and we will share, simply, in her anticipation, forgetting to wish for something more.
When Elizabeth reads a prophecy, she may not get an immediate, soul-shaking response, but she will have done so with our beautiful, silly, inquisitive children, together, in a space that they remember and that they understand is just for them. For me, knowing this is happening, even though I’m not there, is comforting. And next week, I suspect that the children may ask to sing one of their favorite songs, the words of another Advent prophecy, “The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light…”
*These words are by Karl Rahner, in an excerpt from the collection Watch for the Light, Readings for Advent and Christmas published by Orbis Books.
If you’re interested in bringing the prophecies into your home during Advent, here’s a great resource to consider: http://www.cctheo.org/prophecies.html