Today’s alphabet block is the letter L which stands for lo, light, lectio and love.
Lo is one of those words we usually only hear in church or when we’ve looked everywhere for something and, lo and behold, it shows up unexpectedly. Lo in the church-y sense is used in scripture or scripture used in hymns and prayers to call attention to something, a sort of shorthand for “look,” “behold,” or “see.” Usually it’s something strange or unexpected but it definitely points to something the reader or listener is not supposed to miss. In the NRSV there are 32 uses of “lo,” most frequently in the words of prophets but in the New Testament it is often translated as “Fear not.” Somehow it doesn’t seem quite the same. There’s a bit of loss of emphasis on “See? This is something extraordinary!” and instead become an assurance that really there’s nothing to worry about. Still, each has their place, and today, I will read the story of the announcement to the shepherds in the language of the Bible I learned as a child. “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” (Luke 2:9 KJV)
Advent is born by candlelight. The light of the first candle on the Advent wreath invites us to a period of reflection, meditation, and expectation, dusted with a bit of penitence like the gentle sprinkling of colored nonpareils on the sugar cookies. We are creatures of light, uncomfortable in pitch darkness where we can easily become prey or fall into gullies or trip over rocks and tree roots. God created us in daylight and we’re most comfortable there, most of us, anyway. In the darkness of winter, light becomes even more precious and we use bulbs and fluorescents, candles, fireplaces, firepits, almost anything to give us light and some sense of security and warmth. Our readings during Advent sometimes talk of light but usually the light they bring is that of hope, hope that is made manifest in the appearance of the Christ child in the crèche. A tiny spark of life in a huge, dark world and look what became of it. Throughout the intervening centuries, that light has grown and spread until there is hardly a place on the earth that has not heard of it or been touched by it. We who treasure this light must ensure it is a light of peace and hope, not a conflagration that destroys everything in its path.
Lectio is the first word in the phrase lectio divina, “divine reading,” a method of scripture reading and prayer followed by millions of Christians both individually and in groups. There are four stages—lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio— which begin with lectio, reading a short passage of scripture and noting any words or phrases that seem to stand out. It is often those words or phrases that can open the door for God to speak to the person in a very direct way. The practice has been part of Christianity for millennia and was alluded to in his Rule, the guidebook of Benedictines, in the 400s. The practice itself was described fully in the writings of a Carthusian monk named Guigo in the 11th century. Interest in it outside of monasteries was revived in the 1960s by Vatican II and has continued to be taught as a contemplative practice. It is particularly recommended as a spiritual practice during Advent and Lent.
With the light comes love, because it was for love that God sent Jesus to earth in the first place. Like the noble vineyard owner in the parable Jesus taught later in his life (Luke 19:11-27), God first sent servants (prophets) to Israel (vineyard workers) to their duty but three times they beat and threw out those servants. Finally the noble sends his own son to the workers, trusting that the sight of a lone figure, one known to be beloved of the owner, might bring the desired result of recall to loyalty and honor to the owner. The parable is prophetic in itself, and the light that had been born in a stable in Bethlehem was almost extinguished on a cross on a Jerusalem hillside about thirty-three years later. But every year, the light is recalled and with it the trust, faith and hope that it brings, not for material things but things of the spirit. And it all began with love. In fact, it continues with love and that is as it should be. Love is a force greater than hate or discord. Love overcomes when might cannot. As the poet Christina Rosetti said in part:
Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas:
love was born at Christmas:
star and angels gave the sign.