Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, The Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi, 1861. Tate Gallery, London.
These Advent days the sky vaults up
Through currents of dark-blue light
Streaming slowly from the North.
The air Burns, the spent moon floats on thin fields
Why will children come to the Creche?
Some for the Magi; not
To see what the Magi saw,
But the Magi — that is
For magic: the night strange
So long after bedtime, the perfect
Stillness; then the padding camels
Jingling, a shower of gold
From a captive star, the swinging
Thurible suggesting power over things
Beneath the earth — stones, coals,
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
They see too what their mothers see:
Child and mother one once, or again.
Mothers without telling see
The four dark flat spokes
Stretching the halo's rim:
furtively They touch the rough crossgrain
Of the crib's wood. The stabled dark
Tingles with the cry of Separation
Children choke back obediently
With a salt and bloody taste.
Little children, look into the light
Till all there is is light;
Till all things torn and separate
Fly together in your eyes.
Now: forever undismayed, arise.
Forgive us, Lord
We are a wandering people
Who kneel before you now
A people who bring prayers
And requests to your feet
When we have need of you
And nowhere else to turn
Then go our own way
When times are good
And life is easy
Forgive us and draw us close
Teach us your way
That we might follow
Help us to walk in your company
And know your presence
From the moment we awake
Until we lay our heads to rest. Amen.
There is a risk for any religion that looks to accomplished events as its foundation. The word once unexpectedly spoken becomes ours, is absorbed more and more into our needs and fancies and preferences. Once it was strange, now it is familiar and idolatrous.
The Advent tension is a way of learning again that God is God: that between even our deepest and holiest longing and the reality of God is a gap which only grace can cross; otherwise we are alone again, incommunicado, our signals and symbols bounced back to us off the glassy walls of the universe.
—Rowan Williams, "Advent: a University Sermon," in A Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections (Lanham: Cowley, 1995).
May the Lord, when he comes, find us watching and waiting. Amen.