The Archetypal Way: First Sunday of Advent

 Mary the mother of Jesus. 

Mary the mother of Jesus. 

In this Season of Advent we anticipate a celebration of Jesus being born to us. The two Bible readings we had this morning were both expressions of anticipation. The Magnificat that we started with, also known as the Song of Mary, was the song Mary, Jesus’ mother, sang, as she awaited the birth of her son. It’s an optimistic, uplifting song of thanksgiving, that through Mary, a lowly servant, some great divine promise will find fulfilment. Her song echoes the Psalms of thanksgiving. Her song also echoes some of the attitudes Jesus later expresses, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. Mary sings that ‘He has filled the hungry with good things’, very much like Jesus’ “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled”. And Mary sings of the rich being sent away empty, which again mirrors Jesus’ general attitude towards those who orientate their lives towards wealth and power, that such as they will bring spiritual ruin upon themselves. Mary’s song becomes our song, a cooperate act of celebration and anticipation. The Psalms in general also invoke such cooperate expressions.
 
If we think about it, most songs or poems work in this way. They consistently evoke an emotion or sense within us. By listening to a piece of happy music together for example, it is as if we together go on a voyage with that music, even if we individually feel bad, angry, sad, or disappointed, or we individually feel good, happy or excited. In listening together, for a moment, we suspend our individual selves, and enter into a collective expression. The liturgical calendar works in a similar way. Moving through different emotions, the highs and lows of the biblical narrative, we enter together into the epic human narrative: the archetypal journey, the spiritual journey from alienation, the dark clouds of nihilistic unknowing, up the mountain of discovery, to the release, the summit, the sense of connectivity with all of creation, the sense of oneness, of love rupturing time and space, of divine presence, of the baby in the barn, to show us a way all but forgotten. It is a journey each of takes. Often we have a sense of taking it more than once, that we get it, we get it, but now we really get it, that year upon year, we walk the well-trodden path, into the clearing, where the Magi and shepherds gather, that each year we look down into the manger, but perceive things a bit differently.
 
Psalm 24 is a psalm of anticipation. I’m going to look at Psalm 24 in depth, as you can map this whole journey we’re on throughout Advent onto this psalm. The psalm begins:
 
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
    and established it on the waters.
 
This is a reference to the creation narrative. Although Christian theology would now state that God created everything Ex Nihilo, which means out of nothing, that is not actually what the first verses in Genesis say. It begins not with God and nothing, but the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. In early Jewish cosmology, the water had always been there, and remains. The land was built upon the waters, and the dome within which we are housed keeps the water at bay. Think of an upturned glass bowl upon the flat earth, and you’re quite close to early Jewish cosmology. The dome above is blue, because water is blue. We know there is water beyond the dome, because from time to time water falls down from the dome. The Psalm continues:
 
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
 
That is clean hands in the ritualistic sense, not in today’s germs sense. We’re reading a Psalm in the Old Testament, so pre-Jesus, so going to the Holy Place is not about entering Jesus’ presence in a physical or metaphorical sense, although Christians would certainly read that into the Psalm today. Rather, we’re entering God’s dwelling place upon earth, which in Old Testament times was either a reference to going into the temple, or going into the tent which housed the Ark of the Covenant. Or indeed, walking along, processing along with the Ark, which was possible before it was housed more permanently within the temple. And that is what is happening here. They’re ascending up the mountain of the Lord with the Ark of the Covenant.
 
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.
They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Savior.
 
False Gods, or false idols in this case, you can think of as those things which orientate our lives towards unhelpful or unhealthy things, such as those which Mary decried, who orientate their lives towards power or money. Or those who orientate their lives towards the approval of others. Or those who elevate all the incidental things of this world, and forget that it’s all about manifesting love, kindness, freedom, and joy in this present moment. So, we are moving up the mountain together. We’re carrying the Ark of Covenant up with us, and what are we approaching? A city upon the hill. Every city in this world is built either next to the water, a river or a sea, or in a few rare cases upon a mountain. Jerusalem is one of these rare mountain city examples.
 
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob.
 Lift up your heads, you gates;
    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.

Who will seek God? This people before me, those who seek to do right, who seek after the way of Love. And so, lift your gates oh city of Jerusalem. This Psalm brings to mind Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, while at the same time, it brings to mind coming into Jesus’ presence on Christmas day. We have climbed the mountain, we have ridden for days, and here we are at the peak, at the crib, and gates of Jerusalem.
 
Lift up your heads, you gates;
    lift them up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
    The Lord Almighty—
    he is the King of glory.
 
This is the journey. This is the time of anticipation. This is our Advent Season. Glory, Glory, Glory...

Amen.

 

Lewis ConnollyMary, Journey, Liturgy