Where do mystery and reason meet? One might argue, and certainly Joseph Campbell did so in his book and television series “The Power of Myth”, that they meet in theology, as both mystery and reason attempt, in their own ways, to express truth. Where does myth end and truth begin? Do we have to know? There are truths, I believe, that can’t be confined to our five senses. Personally, I have never been hobbled by a need for certainty, and I enjoy the universalizing process that any story leads us through.
Today, December 6, is the feast day for Saint Nicholas, around whom swirl many myths. The bags of gold that he tossed into one home so that the daughters would have dowries and not have to be sold into prostitution are the origin of the gift-giving tradition we have now at this time of year. He is the patron saint of children because he resurrected three boys who had been slaughtered (Benjamin Britten has them as “pickled boys” in his cantata St. Nicolas, always a source of amusement and a little concern for young Choristers). And Nicholas is credited with saving a ship full of sailors in a storm-tossed sea by calming the waters. These are tales told in many cultures, and of course all relate directly to our own Christian theology. Are they true? Does it matter? In my opinion, it is the universal truths found in these stories that matter. Generosity, helping those in need, and maybe most important at this time of year, being the calm during a storm (the quiet voice during a family argument perhaps or a peaceful presence among harried shoppers or co-workers?) are truths we all should incorporate into our lives.
The season of Advent, which began last Sunday, is above all a time of watching and waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God. While there is a sense of restraint and watchfulness in any time of preparation, there is also a place for confident joy as Christmas approaches. Readings through the season focus on God’s promise of a Messiah and the roles that were played by the great forerunner, John the Baptist, and Mary, mother of Jesus, in God’s plan of salvation.
This narrative is played out across the four Sundays of Advent, as well as in the context of a single service known as a Service of Lessons and Carols. It is famously done each year at King’s College, Cambridge, but also at churches around the world. Together with music of the season – the Advent season that is and not the carols of mall shopping and AM radio – a series of Biblical readings help to nurture anticipation and hope in each of us.
If you are unable to be here on Sunday, December 9 at 4:00 p.m. for a Service of Advent Lessons and Carols at St. Alban’s (in the St. Albans School’s candlelit Little Sanctuary), then enjoy this abbreviated version:
Lesson – Genesis 3:1-15 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhMgfU_iEoI
Lesson – Isaiah 40:1-11 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sfDESOjN0I
Lesson – Jeremiah 31:31-34 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWS7CpFHJ8E
Lesson – Luke 1:26-38 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JJP43Qj4AQ