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In Luce Tua

Waiting for The Light

The days are getting shorter, and the air is cold and damp. After a long pleasant autumn, the signs of winter are in the air. It can be a bleak season in these latitudes. When the sunlight appears, it is pale and fleeting. The trees are bare, and our backyard garden patches have been stripped to the stalks, nothing left but mounds of dirt and compost. Nearby Lake Michigan might bury us in deep snow on any given night, and after the snow falls it quickly melts into slush and mud.

Every year, as winter casts its shroud and the secular calendar nears its last days, the church’s calendar is just beginning with the season of Advent. This is a season for fasting and alms­giving, for meditation and penitence, the time when Christians await the miracle of the Nativity. We wait in darkness, both the darkness of this barren season of decay and the darkness of our own sin. We wait, believing that into our world of darkness and decay will come light and new birth.

In Lutheran churches during the early Reformation, the liturgy during the season of Advent was appropriately subdued. The music was simple; marriages and other celebrations were delayed until after Christmas. But the quiet time did not begin until the Second Sunday of Advent. On the first Sunday, formal, concerted music was still allowed, and the cantatas that J. S. Bach wrote for that Sunday were a precious gift to the people of Leipzig. In “Splendor and Solemnity: Bach at Advent,” Andrew White of Eastern Mennonite University examines two of the cantatas that Bach composed to be performed during the early Advent season. White helps us recognize not only the brilliance of these works but also how they are perfectly crafted to fit into this particular moment in the church calendar.

Also in this issue, Fredrick Barton of the University of New Orleans considers the films of Canadian director Sarah Polley. In “Requisites of Love,” Barton explores the themes of love, betrayal, and loss that recur throughout Polley’s work. In “Inflatable Youth,” Wheaton College’s Jeffrey Galbraith tells us what it is like to be a young, “naïve sensualist” experiencing the world while traveling in a foreign culture. Two other pieces in this issue also involve adventures abroad. Last year, a group of recent Valparaiso University graduates set out together to hike the route of an ancient pilgrimage in northern Spain. Jeremy Reed, in “I learn by going where I have to go,” tells his story of falling down and getting back up on the Way of St. James. And in “One for the Living, One for the Dead,” Steven Wingate of South Dakota State University describes his shock and sense of disorientation at being a witness to violence directed against the image of Christ in a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral.

Perhaps these stories of going out into the world seem like odd choices for our Advent issue. After all, Advent is a season of waiting, not of going out and looking. But in each story, something that the authors never expected happens. They all went seeking something, but none of them found exactly what they thought they were looking for. Before leaving they believed that somehow their travels might help them answer questions about themselves and their place in the world, but by the time their trips ended they were left with more questions than they had when they set out. In fact, they were left with a recognition that there will be no easy answers to many of the most difficult questions we face, with a recognition of the limits of our own self-knowledge, with a piercing awareness of the mark of sin upon us. And it is precisely this sort of awareness that we are called to in Advent: to patience, to humility, to penitence. This is a time to wait, to turn our attention to God in prayer. We wait for the Coming, for the Word made flesh to dwell among us and to bring God’s light to the world.

 

                                                —JPO

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