From the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Reflections magazine
by the Rev. Lera Tyler
Four candles burned over the carved wooden wreath. I sat behind the altar with our English hand bell choir. We faced a solemn congregation. Even before this memorial service, the church was somber.
It was Advent, the season of long nights and stillness and expectancy, a time for reflection. Our friend sat in the front pew, her son’s arm tenderly resting around her shoulders. The congregation was solemn, mourning the too-soon death of a still-young husband and father. I bore thoughts of what was ahead for her: the loss of conversation and intimacy forged by years of marriage, and the sense of emptiness she would feel as family and friends returned to their own homes.
After opening prayers, the bell choir played an arrangement of the Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, its haunting melody floating over deep baritone tolls:
“O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.”
The bells called,
come be with us.
Come be with those who mourn in loneliness here.”
As our vicar prayed, “Deal graciously with his family and friends . . . surround them with your love, that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss, but have confidence in your goodness,” we responded, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy.” Some minutes later, as I held the silver chalice with its simple engravings and precious contents, I felt a small stirring. It was rûah — spirit and breath — a whiff of wind spinning a web of compassion and comfort around us.
Later, after the tears and departures, a handful of us returned to the church to prepare for the following evening: Christmas Eve. In that long twilight, the threads of our common sadness and labor wove us tightly together. The sun, beaming low on this short December day, shone almost vertically through the sacristy’s narrow, west-facing window. We seemed to be treading softly on a threshold between the time gone and the time not-yet-here. We were a household engaging in ancient, holy tasks. I pulled out the box of hymn board tags and placed THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST on the counter.
Then, suddenly, the large double doors of the narthex opened. A parade of poinsettias burst down the aisle. I heard a trill of vigorous laughter. The church awakened, shedding her sobriety as we began dressing her for the coming feast. The Spirit of God quickened as beauty — a lavish abundance of beauty — filled the church. We felt a renewed spirit in our work. The great Feast of the Incarnation, the coming of the Christ Child, was not far away. Our actions — counting wafers for Christmas Eve communion, making secure wobbly torches, discarding tear-dampened Kleenex — was clearly sacramental. In the intimate encounters with this holiness, we sensed Emmanuel: God’s gracious action bringing love, comfort, unity and strength. Like Mary, we were one life-bearing Body.
Then, with the work completed, we walked slowly down the aisle and paused at the doorway, looked back and gave a final glance into the church, the cool December wind blowing behind our backs. We stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, knowing the Christ Child was and would be with us, and yes, we were ready to receive him.
What symbols of Advent fill your heart and your home this year?
How will you prepare your heart to receive Christ even in the midst of this year’s struggles and tragedies?
The Rev. Lera Tyler is a former priest of the diocese. She now lives in North Carolina and Toronto, dividing time with her children. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.