Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent Alphabet 2013 - Day 7

In the immortal words of Sesame Street, today is brought to you by the letter G. Today’s words are God, Gabriel, Gaudete, gifts and greetings.

God is the most important word in the entire Advent alphabet. Advent itself is about the incarnation of God in a tiny human being, the greatest gift that we could be given. While we acknowledge the presence of God in our everyday lives all through the year, during Advent we prepare to welcome God among us as teacher, guide and savior, a person like us yet very unlike us in many ways. Our eyes see God enfleshed and yet there is something there beyond any simple sight or understanding. What words are there to explain the greatness of God or the awe and wonder with which we should approach God? Through the miracle of the Christ child’s appearance, his growth to manhood, his teachings and healings and finally his death and resurrection give us an idea of how much God loves us, enough to want to be with us in a very visible and personal way.

Gabriel is one of three named angels/archangels in the Bible. The Jews credit him with burying Moses and giving Daniel prophecies. He’s also reported to one of the angels who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Christians find Gabriel in two annunciations. He appeared to Zechariah (Luke 1:19) as the representative of the presence of God and gave Zach the message that yes, his wife was pregnant and because Zechariah needed a little convincing, he would be mute until he named the child John.  Poor Zechariah, doomed to be speechless in a house with two pregnant women. Still, that curse was lifted as soon as John was born and Zechariah could speak his name.  Gabriel’s second annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) was the one to Mary that turned her whole world upside down. Although unnamed, Gabriel may have also been the angel to visit Joseph in his dream that reassured him that it was okay to marry Mary even though she was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his, and perhaps again when he, Mary and Jesus had to flee to Egypt. Gabriel is always seen as a messenger and a symbol of God’s mercy.

Gaudete is one of those words the church uses from time to time. Simply put, gaudete comes from a Latin word which means “rejoice,” a word heard often in the hymns of Advent and Christmas. The third Sunday in Advent is marked as Gaudete Sunday, much as the fourth Sunday of Lent is Laetare (Refreshment) Sunday. When Advent was seen as a penitential season Gaudete Sunday was like a breather before taking up the penitence again on Monday.  Instead of all purple candles, vestments and hangings, the church used a rose pink to mark the Sunday which takes its name from the first word of the Roman Catholic introit, the opening sentences that begin the service, for the day, “Gaudete in Domino sempre,” “Rejoice in the Lord always.”  Some churches now use the term “Rose Sunday” for the color of the vestments and candle instead of “Gaudete.”  In either case, it means Advent is halfway over and Christmas will soon be here, but not yet.

Gifts and greetings abound this time of year. Perfect strangers may smile and wish you a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” people may be a little more patient with the impatience of others, and there’s a little more aware of giving to those who can’t reciprocate. People spend hours shopping for the perfect gift for a friend or loved one but often they will also shop to find just the right gift for a child whose name they got from a tree in church or the mall, a child who otherwise would not really have a Christmas. It isn’t just toys; it is clothes, food, and the knowledge that someone cares enough to make what seems impossible happen. It can make a real difference, whether it’s just a cheerful greeting and acknowledgement that they are seen as human beings and not invisible things to be ignored because they are dirty or smelly or “not like us.” Advent is a time of preparations when we buy those gifts. What if we bought something extra, just a small thing, and gave it to the first homeless person we saw on the street? 
Prepare to welcome the Christ child. God is coming among us in the flesh and it might be the flesh of the most unlikely person in the world. Be kind and welcoming, because you just never know. . . .

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