Advent Devotional

This Advent Devotional has been prepared by the Ancient Christian Faith Initiative (ACFI), a ministry of the House of St Michael the Archangel. Both ACFI and the House meet at the Upper Room’s location at 5828 Forward Ave.

Introduction

The Advent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is full of awe and wonder. The God Before All Ages has become God With Us, Emmanuel, Christ our Lord. The Word of God, abiding in unspeakable glory, surrounded by a vast multitude of angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim magnifying his splendor in unceasing praise, has come to us…totally vulnerable, totally dependent, God dwelling in a uterus, an embryo relying on an umbilical cord, a placenta, and a mother. And here is a great wonder of Christ’s Advent! Now, in Christ, relationships have been elevated and made more important than they were before. Now, Mary has become the mother of her God. Now, the Son of God has revealed his Father. Now, we have become sons and daughters of God. Now, those in relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ have become his temple (1 Cor 3:16)…transformed into his glory (2 Cor 3:18).

In this Advent Devotional, our focus is on relationships and our guides into these relationships are four ancient teachers of the Faith.

In week one, Jacob of Serug (450-521), a Syriac priest from modern day SE Turkey/NE Syria, guides us into a reflection on the mother of Jesus, the one who uniquely bore the presence of God in the flesh.

In week two, Irenaeus of Lyon (2nd century), a Greek bishop from modern day France, invites us to consider the relationship between the only-begotten Son and his virgin mother.

In week three, Cyril of Alexandria (376-444), a Greek bishop from modern day Egypt, takes us into the timeless relationship between the Son of God and his Father.

In week four, Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022), a Greek abbot from modern day Istanbul, ushers us into the depths of our reality as adopted brothers and sisters of God, we who continue to receive the coming of the Word.

This Devotional is intended to be used slowly and patiently. Each reflection is to be used throughout the designated week as something to ponder, put down, and come back to. Perhaps it is something to be read and considered each day, perhaps not. However the Lord calls you into devotion, we invite you to allow these four guides to take your hand and lead you this Advent Season. Though, in some ways, these ancient teachers are far removed from us today, we offer them to you as ways of seeing Christ’s Advent from new perspectives, ones that we pray may draw you further up and further into the glorious coming of our Lord Jesus.

Many blessings,

Timothy Becker and Matthew Bell

Week 1 (November 28-December 4): Hope

And in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all the commands for the Israelites.

(Exodus 25:21b-22, NRSV)

Also John when he was a babe danced for joy even better than David;

being a babe he did not comply with an age which was his.

The Mother, Virgin and blessed, was even more beautiful

than the ark full of mysteries of the house of God.

And he, David, exulted with reverence before the ark,

for this had prefigured that John would dance before Mary.

That a king might dance was unheard of, except David,

nor a babe who exulted, because the one was prefigured in the other.

Prophets and kings prefigured the way of the Son of God;

when He had come He fulfilled the figures which were seeing Him.

While the ark was being carried, David had danced for joy,

so that he too might attest to the figure of the King, his Lord.

He typified in figure the way of Mary with John,

for also that maiden was the ark of the Godhead.

The Lord of mysteries had dwelt within her and because of this,

the babe had danced for joy like that king filled with exploits.

She was carried as an ark full of scriptures;

in her dwelt the interpretation of the mysteries of prophecy.

So that her magnificence might be greater than that of the ark,

the babe exulted for she was adorned in a wonderful way.

(Jacob of Serug, Homilies on the Mother of God 3)

During this first week of Advent, meditate on the hope of the Faith. Meditate on the wonder and joy and beauty of what Jesus has done. He dwelt as a fetus in his mother’s womb, making her greater than the ark, as the vehicle for his Advent, and making John the Baptist leap for joy. Now, pray this week for hope…the hope that you too would be made greater than the ark, the hope that the Holy Spirit would also come upon you and form Jesus in the womb of your soul, making your mind dance and your heart leap for joy.

Week 2 (December 5-11): Love

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

(Genesis 2:4-7, NRSV)

For as by one man’s disobedience sin entered, and death obtained [a place] through sin; so also by the obedience of one man, righteousness having been introduced, shall cause life to fructify in those persons who in times past were dead. And as [Adam] had his substance from untilled and as yet virgin soil (“for God had not yet sent rain, and man had not tilled the ground”), and was formed by the hand of God, that is, by the Word of God…and the Lord took dust from the earth and formed man; so did He who is the Word, recapitulating Adam in Himself, rightly receive a birth, enabling Him to gather up Adam [into Himself], from Mary, who was as yet a virgin. If, then, the first Adam had a man for his father, and was born of human seed, it were reasonable to say that the second Adam was begotten of Joseph. But if [the first Adam] was taken from the dust, and God was his Maker, it was incumbent that the [second Adam] also, making a recapitulation in Himself, should be formed as man by God, to have an analogy with [the first Adam] as respects His origin. Why, then, did not God again take dust, but wrought so that the formation should be made of Mary? It was that there might not be another formation called into being, nor any other which should [require to] be saved, but that the very same formation should be summed up [in Christ as had existed in Adam], the analogy having been preserved.

(Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies 3.21)

“By grace you have been saved, and not by works,” the Scriptures say. All the time, we expect from God the sorts of miracles we can already imagine. Usually, this means we want the Lord either completely to alter our circumstances, making us and our relationship to the problem irrelevant, or, failing that, to put the problem completely within our power to solve, to make it “doable” for us in our own strength. How small our concept of “miracle” and “God” is! If God completely altered our circumstances, as if they had never occurred or were not real, then we would not be healed – only replaced. If God simply resolved our problems by leaving us to solve them, then, again, we will not have been glorified – we will not have been brought beyond ourselves and our limitations. Therefore, God usually graciously takes a third option, one we never considered.

In this way, every miracle, however small, is a symbol, an allegory, of the Incarnation. God did not throw away the old humanity with its sins, for that would not have saved us. But, neither did God ordain the Messiah to come by the means already within the reach of human powers. God took a third way. He united our flesh, our humanity, to God by using Mary, but he did so by giving her a child as a virgin by the power of the Spirit and not by the seed of the mortal Joseph.

Praise be to the God whose loving ambitions for us are higher than ours for ourselves! “Take every thought captive” (2 Cor 10:5) to that Love this holy season.

Week 3 (December 12-18): Joy

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

(John 1:1-5, NRSV)

The Blessed Evangelist, then, seems here to name the Father “Archē” [“The Beginning”], that is the Power over all, that the Divine Nature Which is over all may be shown, having under Its feet every thing which is originate, and borne above those things which are by It called into being.

In this “Archē” then that is above all and over all was the Word, not, with all things, under Its feet, but apart from all things, in It by Nature as Its Co-Eternal Fruit, having the Nature of Him who begat Him as it were a place the most ancient of all. Wherefore He Begotten Free of Free Father, will with Him possess the Sovereignty over all.

(Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John 1.1)

I cannot imagine how exalted the Word of God is. We were brought into being by the Beginning, after the Beginning. The Word, however, is already there in the Beginning. The Beginning we’re talking about here isn’t simply a beginning of a story, but The Beginning of All Possible Stories, The Absolute Beginning. And, the Word was already there in that Beginning.

Joy is more than happiness. Joy is being swept up and off your feet by the sheer Fact you never could have imagined and which you’ll never be able to define, but which you discover completely redefines you and your world. “Gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Pet 1:13) to endure the race of this holy season, for the Joy that is set before us (Heb 2:12)!

Week 4 (December 19-24): Peace

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy.

(Isaiah 9:2-3a, NRSV)

It is on my behalf that You have been seen on this earth, born of a virgin,

You the invisible One who exists before all ages,

and You became flesh and You appeared as man,

You who are bathed, in an inaccessible light.

You whom nothing can contain,

whom no word is capable of expressing,

that the mind violently pursues with love

and cannot seize being inhibited by its fear.

It seeks You again, interiorly consumed,

but, after having received a brief vision of Your light,

it is rejected through fear and it rejoices in gladness.

…You wash the stain of my evil deeds

and You expel the darkness of my sins.

You purify the shame of my heart,

You lessen the depth of my malice.

You render me light, I who was previously plunged in the dark,

and You make me beautiful when we are together.

You bathe me with a brightness of immortality

and I am in stupor and I burn interiorly

with the desire to adore You Yourself.

and when I reflect on that, I the unhappy person,

O Marvel, I discover You in myself:

You live, You move, You speak,

and then You render me speechless,

with stupor in the presence of Your inaccessible glory.

(Symeon the New Theologian, Hymns on Divine Love 20)

During this final week of Advent, reflect on the peace of the Faith. Consider the power of the coming of our Lord and Savior, a power that renders us speechless. Jesus came to the world and shined in its darkness – from the darkness of the womb to the darkness of the tomb, he has illumined all things. Pray this week that you would receive a vision of his inaccessible glory, that Jesus would come to you and expel your darkness and bathe you with the brightness of his immortality, that you might be consumed with his peace.

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