Proper 27(32) B
25th Sunday after Pentecost
By Jamie Johnstad
The darkness of winter seemed to come early this year, where my family lives along the Catfish Creek Watershed, about two miles upstream from where the creek connects with the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa. The days many people here describe as their favorite time of the year — those sunny, crisp, fall days — were few and far between, as the rain fell heavy and often. The fall leaves seemed to move from green to brown quickly, with too few of the stunning colors in between, then to fall to the ground as compost. Our frequent hikes down the trails are muddy under cloud-covered skies, making the early dusk of November seem especially dark. The only things that seemed to hold onto their leaves are the invasive shrubs that permeate our woods. Last year at this time, the beauty of fall made me forget about the invasive species removal we need to do, the prairie we need to restore, the buckthorn growing under and hiding the beautiful oaks in a field of ours.
I’m ready for snow and sunshine to make things beautiful again. In fact, I almost considered turning on Christmas music the other day, something swinging, 1950s nostalgia, a thought that surprised myself, since I usually try to hold off on too much Christmas through Advent. This is something I don’t mention to many people, not wanting to seem like a prude about Christmas. I enjoy the waiting for Christmas, to live the twelve days fully and with a sense of celebration and then carrying the spirit into Epiphany. Our young children consider Advent as a holiday season in it’s own right, having found for themselves a beauty in the rhythm over their short lives so far, ages 6 and under. But I just wanted an it’s-Christmas-Day-already-type song to give me a glimmer of the light that would come.
Then last night in looking up this weeks’ readings and looking forward to Advent, I read about “expanded Advent”, a movement to “make the Advent we celebrate congruent with the lectionary we already have.” The clergy, theologians and musicians who founded the Advent Project point out that the lectionary after All Saint’s Sunday, which was November 4th this year, already shifts to the primary focus of Advent, “the full manifestation of the Reign of God.” A focus that they say is eschatological rather than incarnational, and is one that can help us live more fully into the spiritual journey of Advent and Christmas despite the commercial Christmas we’re surrounded by the day the Halloween section is taken down.
The Advent Project offers worship resources for those wanting to try this practice out. This Sunday’s readings fall under Sapientia, or wisdom, Sunday. This week’s reading from Hebrews refers to the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the temple in Jerusalem, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and a place in the which the priest would enter only once a year to make a sacrifice for the sins of the people by sprinkling blood over the cover of the Ark. The author of Hebrews tells us this sacrifice was inferior to the sacrifice of Christ and the heavenly reality the Holy of Holies represented. Christ, the author, tells us, will come again to save those who await him.
When I consider this reading in the context of an extended Advent and the first Sundays theme of wisdom, I think of the Christmas fanfare — presents, Christmas concerts in early December, and holiday parties. I think of the decorations that hide the bare trees from my sight. Not that we can’t have these traditions and enjoy them, but could it be that without the wisdom of knowing these things are inferior to the fullness of the spiritual journey of Advent, we come up feeling empty, having the Christmas blues, feeling like we need to be saved from the Christmas chaos? Or that in the church traditions, like a seven week, extended Advent, we have support for the transitioning into a time of more darkness, external and internal? Does the wisdom of these practices, the wisdom of the Holy One, provide a light for us that shines brighter and longer than the commercial Christmas?
The truth is, even when the snow and brightness of early winter does come, it will be beautiful, but not forever. We will still be overrun by invasive species on our land. Winter will get old, and we will long for Spring. My prayer is that with the practice of a full Advent, with wisdom and all that comes after it, we can continue to hold out hope for the God of Love to live fully in our lives and the world until the day what that love is fully manifested, at Christmas and beyond.
Jamie Johnstad is a lay leader and Episcopalian living with her husband and three children in Dubuque, IA, in the Catfish Creek Watershed on a 120 acre conservation property, The property is one of the few protected areas in the city limits there, the historic territory of the Meskwaki. She is a catechist in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori-based spiritual formation program, trained to work with children 0-9. On the land where she lives, she is building community around outdoor, ecumenical church, holds a family forest school based on the 8 Shields model of nature connection, and uses the arts as a response to nature and to God. She is planning to add a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd piece and is discerning how that will work with an outdoor focus.
Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.