Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent: Ritual or Revelation?

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

Today Western Christianity celebrates the first day of Advent. Like all traditions, it is full of symbols that are pregnant with meaning and contemplative focal points. For many Christians, these symbols are observed passively without meditation. This reminds me of the saying of an old pentecostal minister as he was preparing his congregation for Holy Communion. He said, “This can be a ritual, or it can be a revelation.” Ritual OR revelation. I have to admit that I do not subscribe to such a dichotomy between symbolic action (liturgy) and spiritual awakening. However, my pentecostal friend was pointing out that too often our participation in the symbols of faith is superficial. On this point, I couldn't agree more. It can be a ritual or a revelation.

As we enter into the Advent (Christmas) season, let us consider this thought with deep reflection. We often hear the phrase “Jesus is the reason for the season.” This too is a reminder for us to fully engage in the meaning of Christ and his participation in our humanity. I grew up as a Protestant Christian and later became an eastern orthodox catholic. This transition caused me to encounter the symbols of Christianity in a much different way than I had experienced in my childhood. Yet, the revelations I received were not completely foreign. In fact, the deepest sentiments I can remember from my childhood come forth each time I participate in the deeper contemplation of Advent, the Eucharist, Great Lent, etc.

I firmly believe that the true spirit of the Incarnation of Christ is present in all Christian traditions (and even in other religious traditions!). At the same time, I certainly think that the eastern Christian traditions contain the most profound understanding of the meaning of Advent. It is these mysteries of the east that I am so eager to share with my western brothers and sisters. In the coming weeks, I hope to share with you these mystical and contemplative aspects of Advent and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The first theme of Advent is anticipation.

All spiritual quests begin with a deep desire of the soul for an encounter with the divine ultimate reality. The soul seeking enlightenment or liberation must first be open to encounter the mystery of being. The opening of the soul is accompanied by an anticipation of fulfillment. The reward of this openness is the flow of unseen but substantial evidence that God IS. It would be beneficial for many of us to return to this point. By this I mean, those of us who simply reside in the belief in God, but do not deeply return to this beginning point in our soul's journey. On this first day of Advent, let us return to the source of our soul's awakening. Let the anticipation of a deeper encounter ignite our spirits to throw open the gates of our hearts, which is the shrine of God's presence. In this way, we invite Christ to be born in us anew.

+ Blessings to all who embark on this journey. I pray for each of us, that the light of God descend upon our hearts and minds throughout this season of rediscovering Christ IN you, the hope of glory.

+ Bishop Avi Mar Abraham