Watching and Waiting

We’re into a new church year, into the season of Advent.  It’s really too bad Advent is only four Sundays long, it’s a beautiful time with lots of imagery and meaning.  But things being what they are, we’re glad to at least get four Sundays.

When I was growing up, Advent was something of a Junior Lent.  Same paraments (purple) and still something of a penitential feel, an emphasis on making oneself ready for the coming of the King.  Around the 1970s and 80s, a new trend appeared that had staying power – the use of the color blue for Advent, and with it new thoughts and imagery for the season.

The color blue is seen as representative of hope, expectation, and heaven.  In art and iconography, blue is the color associated with the Virgin Mary.  But the association I like the most is with the pre-dawn sky.

As some of you might know, I’m a skier.  Living in Southern California, this means a 2-hour drive to the mountains, and so I have seen that blue pre-dawn sky many a day as I slid my skis into the back of the truck, made sure I had all my gear and my Starbucks card and headed out.  (I like to ski the mountain as soon as they open.)

As I drive up towards the Big Bear Lake area, I watch the stars fade as the sky loses the depth of blue.  Sometimes the full moon is setting in the west.  I watch the light change dramatically as the sun breaks over the horizon.  And I think about how my day might be – will the snow be fluffy and soft?  Hard groomed?  Will the hill be busy?  And, most importantly, which lodge for lunch?  While it can be very hard for me to drag myself out of bed early for anything else, if I’m going skiing, I’m “up and at ’em” as my dad used to say and out the door by 5 AM.

That deep, dark blue covers us in the hours before dawn.  If you’ve never seen that blue, see if you can find a morning that will be clear and cold, and get up early.  Maybe sweeten the deal with some excellent coffee or tea.  Standing outside, bundled up against the early chill, and drinking in that expanse of deep, rich blue is a profound experience.  If you get up early enough, you can watch the stars disappear one by one as the sun approaches from the east.

Watching and waiting.  That deep blue shades Advent with a hint of expectation and anticipation of the dawn of Christ.  We do have our ritual observances of Advent, be they Advent wreaths, Advent calendars, or a particular devotional series.  The Rev. Eric J. Liles, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ivy, Virginia has this observation about blue in Advent:

“But Advent involves more than penitence and by using deep blue we err on the side of emphasizing the church’s hope-filled and faithful watch for Christ. The deep blue of Advent is meant to inspire in us the hope of faith, and to encourage us to keep watch for the promised light of Christ to break over the horizon, changing night into day, darkness into light, and filling our lives and our world with a holy and righteous splendor.”

For what do you watch and wait this Advent season?

Maranatha.  Come, Lord Jesus.

The King shall come when morning dawns, and light triumphant breaks/when beauty gilds the eastern hills and life to joy awakes.

The King shall come when morning dawns, and earth’s dark night is past/O haste the rising of that morn, whose day shall ever last.

(“The King Shall Come”, text: John Brownlie, 1857-1925.)

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