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Nov 13, 2013

Advent of a Grateful Heart

The Season of Advent is always upon us according to St. Bernard. Throughout St. Bernard’s theology we hear the theme of the “three Advents” of Christ.  The first Advent is one in which [Christ] comes to seek and to save that which was lost. The third is one in which He comes to take us to Himself. The first is the promise and the third is its fulfillment. The second Advent—the “medius Adventus” or “time of visitation”—is the way by which we pass from the first to the third.  


[Diolog Magazine] He is our rest and our consolation.1  Thomas Merton describes this as sleeping in the arms of God, with His right hand under our head and the left hand embracing us.  Merton says it is “to live at peace in the midst of our inheritance.”2 


We live and dwell in the midst of hope and the promise of God. We work and we play, always knowing whose we are and to whom we are returning. It is out of this that our gratitude flows. Gratitude is our response to God and his revelation in Jesus. Gratitude is our response to hope.


A prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi speaks of this relationship between the mysterious, creative and redemptive power of gratitude to God.


For it is in giving that we receive

For it is in loving that we are loved

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


All that I am, all that I have, all that I will ever be responds to God out of gratitude. All comes from God, all belongs to God, and all returns to God. As Christians we convict ourselves when we chant the Venite or affirm that “All things come of thee O Lord. And of thine own have we given thee.” Then we sprinkle each and every utterance from our mouths with possessive pronouns: “my time, my talent, my treasure.  My church, my altar, my denomination.” All these utterances contradict a theology of gratitude.


Christians believe that all of creation reveals God’s love. Bread and wine for Eucharist (which means thanksgiving), water and chrism (oil for healing) in baptism are some of the materials that have become symbols of our gratitude to God. Money, too, is an outward and visible sign of our gratitude. Architecture and art are perhaps symbols. All of these, and many more, point towards the mystery of the created order and our relationship with God. We mark, by means of gratitude, our journey from birth to resurrection.


When I was at Christ Church Cathedral in Cape Coast, Ghana, in October, I was struck that during the offertory, a box was put at the great crossing. Everyone in the congregation came forward and every person placed their hand inside the box as they processed and danced forward. Everyone came forward at the offertory—grateful. Some gave money but all gave themselves by coming forward. The music was joyful and people were dancing and laughing and singing.  It was a vibrant and energized “outward and visible sign” of their gratitude. It was the incarnation of human gratitude for God’s Advent.


In each of the stories in this issue you will see God in Christ Jesus revealed and incarnate in the lives of His people.  Animated in an attitude of abundance. You will see the middle Advent firmly rooted in lives and in the life of our church. Thanks be to God.