A LIGHT NO DARKNESS CAN OVERCOME

A Message from Acting President Therese DeLisio
November 27, 2017

The Chicago iHeartRadio FM station switched to playing Christmas songs 24 hours a day on Tuesday, November 6, at 4:35 pm. The president of iHeartMedia Chicago offered this reason: “With all the turmoil in the world today, we felt Chicago needed a little more Christmas right now. The extension of the Christmas music season will allow Chicagoans to get into the Holiday spirit even more this year.”

In my parish, All Saints Episcopal Church in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago, we are experiencing a different kind of seasonal extension. Along with a growing number of Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist churches in the U.S. and elsewhere, we are celebrating an expanded seven-week Advent that this year began on November 12.

The Very Rev. Dr. William H. Petersen, president emeritus of one of our predecessor seminaries, Bexley Hall Seminary, developed this practice of observing an expanded Advent with fellow liturgical scholars at the North American Academy of Liturgy in a seminar called The Advent Project. In his new book, What Are We Waiting For? Re-Imagining Advent for Time to Come (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), Dr. Petersen explains the rationale for this project in chapters that elaborate on the Q&A that he offers in the introduction:

Q: What are we waiting for?
A: The full manifestation of the Reign of God/kingdom of Christ.

Q: Why do we need to re-imagine Advent?
A: The truncated season is eclipsed by the global Christmas culture and the church’s observance is liable to subversion by it.

Q: What would be the shape and feel of [an expanded] Advent?
A: Advent would start earlier and its observance would be a continuing exercise in the Gospel’s counter-cultural redemptive message. *

Advent, from the Latin root adventus, means “coming.” On these liminal Sundays that mark the transition from the end of the liturgical year and start of the new, as darkness in the northern hemisphere literally descends earlier and earlier until the arrival of Winter Solstice and Christmas day, the appointed lessons in the Revised Common Lectionary carry a message of God’s promise that the reign of God is coming. They carry the good news that while we wait, Emmanuel, “God with us,” is near. The Reign of God/Kingdom of Christ is near in the midst of human acts of love and kindness, justice, and in non-violent resistance to all that opposes the dignity of every human being and the integrity of creation.

In sum, observance of an expanded Advent is an act of resistance to  “the pervasive commercialized and secularized anticipatory celebration” that has reduced Advent to “a late-coming but welcome occasion to give that Christmas culture a further but now chocolate-coated countdown opportunity.” An expanded Advent can help the church to be a light in the darkness, a subversive symbol of hope, rather than a sentimentalized four-week trek to Bethlehem.

As these days are getting shorter and the nights longer, I can’t help but feel that a deep darkness of human origin surrounds us. The neo-Nazi’s and other “haters” of this world are unapologetically and visibly on the march. The threat of nuclear conflict hangs over our heads like a dense cloud ready to rain down “fire and fury.”  Alternative facts are blithely granted false equivalence with the truth. Somehow the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution has been elevated to the word of God and unfettered gun ownership has become a “Christian value.” LGBTQI people, instead of carbon emissions, are blamed for bad weather.

The president of iHeart radio is correct. The world is in turmoil. So many of us long for a glimmer of light, a ray of hope, a glimpse of God’s shalom. To the news on the radio I find myself saying aloud, “Thy kingdom come…and hurry!”

It was a dark, rainy morning in Chicago on the first Sunday of expanded Advent at All Saints. The liturgy began with this opening prayer and a procession of light to our new Advent wreath at the foot of the pulpit from which the good news of God’s coming reign is preached.

We wait in the darkness, O God, for the coming of your Christ.
A light no darkness can overcome.
We long, O God, for the coming of your reign.
Let us walk in the light of your promise.

We at Bexley Seabury pray that you may have a blessed and hope-filled Advent.

* Dr. Petersen’s book also contains resources for observing an expanded Advent, as does the Advent Project web site: theadventproject.org

About the author: Jaime