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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Of Shadow lands and the Season of Advent

I love the Narnian Chronicles for many reasons, but one is because, as a child, they introduced me to the idea of ‘shadow lands’ … the insight that whatever good we experience on Earth throughout our lives is simply a shadow of the real good that we will experience in Heaven. Remember the conversation in The Last Battle, following that joyous race with the echoing cry, “Further in and further up!” about how the eternal worlds are like layers in an onion, only these layers get larger, richer, stronger, as each one is peeled away?

I am thinking that this concept of shadow lands parallels the season of advent. As you most likely know, today is the first day of Advent, the beginning of a new church year that focuses us on preparing for the coming of Christ Incarnate. In this time of penance and joyful preparation of our hearts for the soon-arriving Christ child, there is an echo of our penance preparing for Holy Week and the celebration as Christ returns, victorious from death and Hell. Of course, there is another echo in preparing our hearts and lives for the return of Christ to Earth for his Bride, the Church. Each layer in the redemptive plan, deeper than the one before, richer, more profound than profound itself.

The ‘shadows’ in shadow lands have echoes of meaning in themselves. For example, preparation for Christmas takes place in multiple layers; however most of these layers have little to nothing to do with preparing our hearts for the Christ Child. Instead, they are mere shadows of the real thing; instead, they merely prepare us for Christmas as a holiday celebration through acquisition of goods—not as meeting places for Christ through the refinement of sacramental reflection, the veritable shucking of ‘stuff’ that occludes the spirit.

In my ongoing quest to follow the discipline of living in the rhythm and respiration of the present moment,I am entering into the process of Advent,diving into the contradictory harmonies of penitence and royalty, of self denial and celebration. One of the small traditions of Advent is the lighting of the Advent wreath, accompanied by prayer and readings.

The Advent wreath first arrived on the scene as a Christian devotion in the Middle Ages, likely borrowed from the customs of pre-Christians, who used candles (fire) and greenery as symbols of light and life. The Advent Wreath is traditionally a circular evergreen wreath with four or five candles, three purple, one rose, and (if you use the five-candle model), one white candle for Christmas Day. However, metal artwork advent wreaths are now available that can be used Christmas after Christmas. Although some traditions use blue candles, Catholics still use purple and rose because they symbolize royalty and penitence. The candles symbolize the light of Christ coming into the world. The evergreen symbolizes life in Christ, a life ‘made new’ by Christ's first coming, in anticipation of the ultimate renewal of life we long for in Christ's second coming. The circular shape symbolizes eternity; the completeness of God. Although much of the symbolism came after the wreath was adopted by Christians, that does not detract from the power of these symbols. Meaning-making is a rich heritage of the imago dei!

Each candle is first lit on the appropriate Sunday of Advent, and then the candles may be re-lit each day as a part of daily prayers.I will be following this daily devotion throughout Advent:

1st CANDLE – (purple) THE PROPHECY CANDLE or CANDLE OF HOPE – We can have hope because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us. Our hope comes from God.

O Emmanuel, Jesus Christ,
desire of every nation,
Savior of all peoples,
come and dwell among us.

And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)

2nd CANDLE – (purple) - THE BETHLEHEM CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF PREPARATION – God kept his promise of a Savior who would be born in Bethlehem. Preparation means to “get ready”. Help us to be ready to welcome YOU, O GOD!

O King of all nations, Jesus Christ,
only joy of every heart,
come and save your people.

As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation. (Luke 3:4-6)

3rd CANDLE - (rose) - THE SHEPHERD CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF JOY – The angels sang a message of JOY!

O Key of David, Jesus Christ, 
the gates of heaven open at your command, 
come and show us the way to salvation.

…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:7-15)

4th CANDLE - (purple) - THE ANGEL CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF LOVE – The angels announced the good news of a Savior. God sent his only Son to earth to save us, because he loves us.

O Wisdom, holy Word of God, Jesus Christ,
all things are in your hands,
come and show us the way to salvation.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

 5th CANDLE – (white) - THE CHRIST CANDLE  – The white candle reminds us that Jesus is the spotless lamb of God, sent to wash away our sins! His birth was for his death, his death was for our birth!

Let the just rejoice,
for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice,
For their savior is born.
Let the captives rejoice,
For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice,
for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice,
For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice,
For Jesus Christ is born.

St. Augustine of Hippo

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace ... (Isaiah 9:2,6)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:1-14, 29)

Blessings on your Advent Journey ...
Make ready--the Christ Child is on his way!

PS. Want your own advent wreath? If you are living in the Langley, BC area, you can find one at the Holy Family Catholic Gift and Bookstore, at 20787 Fraser Hwy, across from St Joseph's Church

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