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The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton
Peace on each one who comes in need;
Peace on each one who comes in joy.
Peace on each one who offers prayers;
Peace on each one who offers song.
Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,
Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One.
God of all hope and joy,
open our hearts in welcome,
that your Son Jesus Christ at his coming may
find in us a dwelling prepared for himself;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and forever. Amen.
The Gospel Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Poem: “Advent” by Charles R. Murphy
Out of a silence greater than all words;
Over the unspeakable, dumb,
With their muter herds;
Swifter than a blade that kills;
Mightier than a prayer;
Fairer than the dawn
When some dew yet remains unbroken;
Stronger than despair;
From the unspoken to the spoken,
While the heart rests momently;
Lovely as the half-uttered words of a child,
More delicate, more mild;
Terrible as the torn breasts of anguish
When strong wills languish:
Suddenly, dreadfully, exquisitely,
Love, death, and God shall come.
Few passages of scripture, if any, have inspired more music, painting, and poetry than this account of the angel’s message to Mary. And few have caused more puzzlement and even anguish on the part of those who feel the need to wrestle with the doctrinal issues that gather around this passage. For those who are untroubled by the doctrine of the virgin birth, however, or who can set the issue aside, perhaps this response from a contemporary teenager will give rise to fresh wondering: “It’s too beautiful not to be true.”
The poem, without making explicit reference to this passage from Luke’s gospel, evokes a multitude of scriptural and traditional images connected to the expectation and arrival of God with us. Just a few of them: the herds on the everlasting hills, the sword that pierces the heart, the spoken that emerges from silence, and finally, in just three words, an encapsulation of the mystery of the incarnation: “Love, death, and God shall come.”
After reading the gospel passage, and the poem, paying attention to the words and images that resonate for you in this very different year, which of the following paintings seems most compelling to you?
We bring to God a troubled situation in our world
We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust
We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection
We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives
We name before God those who have died.
Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.
Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.
May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.
Fra Angelico, c. 1440
Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1882
Gloria SSali, 2001