Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent Alphabet 2013 - Day 22

The letter V is the next block in the Advent alphabet. It represents virgin, veni, vision and visit.

 Virgin is an easy association to make during Advent. We ascribe the title to Mary who was engaged to Joseph and we base it on a translation of one word in the prophecy of Isaiah (7:14). We are accustomed to read it as “Behold, a virgin shall conceive. . .” but the word often translated as “virgin” is almah, young woman. There is another word Isaiah could have used, bethula, which is always used when “virgin” is meant. That doesn’t preclude Mary from being a virgin or wearing the title of virgin. Instead, it focuses on Mary as being a young girl, perhaps not long after puberty, in a time when girls were married sometime between the ages of twelve and sixteen. If anything, it makes it all the more remarkable that Mary would simply say “Yes” to a strange being who appeared in her own house (or maybe on the roof) and told her God wanted her to be the mother of God’s son. Imagine being a sheltered young girl being faced with such a choice. It makes the story of the annunciation and all that follows it that much more special.

Occasionally on classical music radio during Advent they play a version of a familiar hymn tune with unfamiliar words, “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.” If they use the English words, it would be “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”[1]. It is based on the O Antiphons (see Day 15) and is an invocation to God using the name “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.” During ordinations, baptisms and the Feast of Pentecost we usually hear some version of “Come, Creator Spirit” or “Come, Holy Ghost”, which, in Latin would be Veni, Creator Spiritus or Veni, Spiritus Sanctus. In any event, it is a good thing to remember that no matter what the season, veni, come, is always a good request to make.

Vision has a lot of different meanings. One is the ability to see, whether clearly with the eyes alone or with the aid of corrective lenses for various defects. Another is an experience of being shown something that cannot be seen with normal human eyes but which is clearly visible to someone to whom the vision is sent. Examples of these are the mystics like Julian of Norwich who, in one vision, was shown a tiny thing about the size of a hazelnut and which she was told contained all that had been made. When she questioned how it could exist and not fall apart, the answer came to her: “It lasts and always shall, for God loves it; and so all things have being through the love of God. It lasts and always shall, for God loves it; and so all things have being through the love of God.[2]” The Biblical prophets often had visions, messages from God that they were to pass on to specific groups of people about specific actions or lack of actions. The Transfiguration is another kind of vision as are those of John the Divine in Revelation. Vision is the inspiration of anyone who sees something in a new way, a better one, and it makes a change in their lives. During Advent, we pray for the vision to see the birth of Jesus as a new beginning and a new promise. But seeing a vision does no good unless action follows, so there is the challenge.

Visit recalls the journey of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth which came at the beginning of our Advent season and study. We also look for the visit of the shepherds to the manger at Christmas and that of the Magi with gifts at Epiphany. But”visit” also crops up in our prayers from the BCP during Advent, particularly the one for the fourth Sunday of Advent that begins, “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself. . . .” [3] The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus which means coming or arrival, so we are to be reminded that Jesus is coming, we need to be ready, like the guest room for a very special arrival.

 Advent proceeds toward Christmas with visions, invocations, remembrance of the Virgin Mary, and an encouragement to expect a visitation, not only on Christmas but every day. We move closer to the revelation of the messiah veiled in human flesh, born in a stable. Keep awake! The king is coming!

[1] The Church Hymnal Corporation, The Hymnal 1982. 56
[2] Ockerbloom, John, transcriber. Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich, (1901) Kindle ed., Ch. 5, para. 4.
[3] The Church Pension Fund, The Book of Common Prayer, (1986), 212.

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