Practicing Advent – Waking Up to Beauty

Jesus, Church of Our Lady of all Grace, Georges Rouault

“There is in the time of the Church no historically influential theology which is not itself a reflection of the glory of God; only beautiful theology, that is, only theology which, grasped by the glory of God, is able itself to transmit its rays, has the chance of making any impact in human history by conviction and transformation.” – Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Living into the rhythms of the liturgical year is less about learning to follow some set of liturgical laws and more about becoming enthralled by the Beautiful One. Beholding Jesus through the prayers and meditations and spiritual practices of His saints across the ages can challenge us and open our hearts to trust in the goodness of God revealed in Christ.

Following in the pattern of the festivals in ancient Israel, the church marks our year through a series of remembrances that are rooted in the historical work of God through Christ Jesus. Each year we remember and rehearse through prayer and meditation as well as through Scripture and song the various events in the life of our Lord.

Advent marks the beginning of our church year and always starts on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew on November 30. This means that sometimes Advent starts in November and sometimes it starts in December. We begin the year by look toward the coming of the Lord at the end of the age.

His coming is the great hope of God’s people. We are not abandoned. He will complete the work he has begun in us. In one sense this is a completion of the work begun at Eden. In another sense, it is the fulfillment of our lives, our purpose in Christ and in the community of the Beloved.

His promise to come again is sure, so we watch and wait expectantly. Advent is like a seasonal alarm clock, waking us from the tendency to grow weary, to lose hope, and to grow distracted by the passing fancies of culture. It calls us awake to the one true glory, the one true beauty from whom proceeds all glory and all beauty.  

Beholding His beauty brings joy and sorrow together. Like St. Augustine, we see the desire of the ages in the face of Christ even as we come face to face with our own brokenness. In Christ and in the community of faith, we encounter all the ways our lives have been damaged by sinful allegiances, corrupt thoughts, and false actions. When Isaiah beholds the Lord in all His beauty, Isaiah proclaims, “I am coming undone.”

There is a holy terror in the beauty of the Lord even as there is healing grace. The angel touches the lips of Isaiah with a fiery coal. During Advent we remember how God’s people have passed through times of devastation and judgment as well as times of healing and restoration. Judgment and mercy are bound together. Jesus reveals the betrayal in the hearts of his disciples even as He reveals the unfathomable love of God in restoring them.

During Advent we are looking for the coming of the Lord even as we are longing for Him to touch our lips with His holy fire and makes us whole. We look to the One who teaches us the way of repentance, the way of the kingdom of God and prepares us for the holy worship of the Son in the Christmas feast.  

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