Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Dear Jesus,

On the First Sunday of Advent we heard these words read in church;
"With each new candle that is lighted, may the flame of Christ's coming grow brighter and brighter so that this Christmas may see a fresh coming of the Lord of Light into each of our hearts and into the whole world."

The Fourth Sunday of Advent we emerge from our awed and horrible silence and begin the celebration. Twelve days of celebration. On Sunday, or maybe we'll wait until Christmas Eve, we light the Christ Candle. The light of the candle at the front of a church in the morning is barely visible.

T.S. Eliot expresses an idea, though. . . and my dark self hears it before I'm swept into the light of Christmas Day. . . we need darkness to reveal the light. If we are to study, not the things that light exposes but the light itself, it must be dark.

Dark reveals the light.

In Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral he puts these words in the voices of a chorus in the last scene while a Te Deum is being sung in the background.

"We praise Thee, O God, for Thy glory displayed in all the creatures of the earth, . . . For all things exist only as seen by Thee, only as known by Thee, all things exist Only in Thy light, and Thy glory is declared even in that which denies Thee; the darkness declares the glory of light."

(For you lovers of Eliot, I know there are many other passages of this flavor that I could quote, but this is the one I found most quickly. Survey: What is your favorite light/dark quote from Eliot?)

Eliot poses a hard idea. It is hard for us scrubbers and sweepers of Canterbury, and Morgantown, and Knoxville, and Chicago, and Cut Off, and Oneonta, whose backs are bent by toil and whose knees are bent under sin, whose hands are to the face under fear. We live in a glow-starved world and we long for the dawn. It is hard to embrace the darkness that you have given us as our gift at Christmas, topped with only a tiny flame of light.

Star of the East, oh Bethlehem star,
Guiding us on to heaven afar
Sorrow and grief and lull'd by the light
Thou hope of each mortal, in death's lonely night

Fearless and tranquil, we look up to Thee
Knowing thou beam'st through eternity
Help us to follow where Thou still dost guide
Pilgrims of earth so wise

Star of the East, thou hope of the soul
While round us here the dark billows roll
Lead us from sin to glory afar
Thou star of the East, thou sweet Bethlehem's star

Star of the East, oh Bethlehem's star,
What tho' the storms of grief gather loud
Faithful and pure thy rays beam to save
And bright o'er the grave

Smile of a Saviour are mirror'd in Thee
Glimpses of Heav'n in thy light we see
Guide us still onward to that blessed shore
After earth toil is o'er

Star of the East, thou hope of the soul
Oh star that leads to God above
Whose rays are peace and joy and love
Watch o'er us still till life hath ceased
Beam on, bright star, sweet Bethlehem star

This is a song that is another of my strong Christmas memories. My mother practiced it once a year, at Christmas, picking out chords and melodies that slightly exceeded her normal-level piano-playing capabilities. And she sang it with whoever would join her in front of the cherry spinet. It is a song that echoes the understandings of Eliot.

"Forgive us, O Lord, we acknowledge ourselves as type of the common person, Of the men and women who shut the door and sit by the fire; Who fear the blessing of God, the loneliness of the night of God, the surrender required, the deprivation inflicted; Who fear the injustice of men less than the justice of God; Who fear the hand at the window, the fire in the thatch, the fist in the tavern, the push into the canal, Less than we fear the love of God. Christ, have mercy upon us."
So, this last Sunday, before the celebration begins, I'm reminded by you and Eliot, and Stanislaus de Lubienietski-1666 artist of the comet, and the unknown composer of an old carol of the darkness that reveals the light. Jesus, have mercy.


No comments: