Waiting for daybreak: Advent

An exhortation

I LISTEN for him through the rain,

And in the dusk of starless hours

I know that he will come again;

Loth was he ever to forsake me:

He comes with glimmering of flowers

And stir of music to awake me.

Spirit of purity, he stands

As once he lived in charm and grace:

I may not hold him with my hands,

Nor bid him stay to heal my sorrow;

Only his fair, unshadowed face

Abides with me until to-morrow.

—Siegfried Sassoon

Eastwards for hope

If you go into a medieval gothic church one which has its stained glass windows intact you will notice that there is often a progression in the scenes depicted there.

On the north side, to the left of the high altar the scenes are generally those of the Old Testament. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Moses, Abraham, Melchisadech, the prophets. They are in chronological order. The scenes on the south side to the right of the high altar are generally of the New Testament and are in the chronological order too. It is above the high altar, facing eastwards, that we find the dividing point between the old and the new.

The reason why churches face east is symbolic and beautiful, for it is eastwards that we must face to see the dawn. It is eastwards that we face to greet the rising sun. There is nothing more sublime than to see a priest elevate the Sacred Host at the break of day, facing the rising sun pouring through a rose window, or any window, above the altar.

To the north there is coldness and shadow; to the south the light of day. It is to the north that the priest or deacon proclaims the gospel, the good news to those who have faith in a Saviour but do not yet know Him. It is to the south that he encourages those illumined by charity with the epistles. But it is to the east that we find our hope. Hope for daybreak.

Advent, a time for hope

The poem 'At Daybreak' is by the great war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, and recounts the agonising wait for dawn in the cold, wet, fearful vigils in the trenches of the First World War. The vigil is full of hope for the dawn for warmth, for light. In this time of Advent too, Holy Mother the Church reminds of the hope of the patriarchs and prophets.

Just as they waited faithfully, in readiness, in hope for the Messiah, we too should do the same. There are three advents of Our Blessed Lord: you know them I am sure. The first is the advent of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity into the world. He became man so that man might become God, as St. Augustine says. He became man to enact the objective redemption. He became man so that we could love Him. The second advent is the coming of Christ at the end of time, the time of the general judgement, the time of the Dies irae. The third advent is the advent of Christ in our souls by grace.

It would be an effort well repaid to study the liturgy of Advent to discern the Church’s yearning for her bridegroom. Christmas would then come like sunlight bursting through the stained glass windows of the soul. The liturgical texts, the introits, collects, post-communions and antiphons of Lauds and Vespers are among the most beautiful of the liturgical year.

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