Advent, hot chocolate, and the joy of longing hearts

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 23, 2011

With Christmas barely a month away, sparkling-eyed kids of all ages are already preparing their wish lists. After all, half the fun of the day is in the anticipation.

Speaking of this special season, photographer-priest Fred Monk, our coffee companion from Bow Island, responded to last week’s column on “Family Circus” cartoonist, the late Bil Keane, with a great idea. The former pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cochrane suggested I run a special holiday edition of Coffee with Warren just for kids and head it “Hot Chocolate with Warren.”

That title, as you’ve no doubt guessed, was inspired by the speech balloon above the small boy in Bil Keane’s cartoon I ran with last week’s column. The boy asked, “Mommy, is there a ‘Hot Chocolate with Warren’?”

I must pause here to make a confession – not to Father Fred, but to Bil Keane.

You see, I confused the name of that delightful boy with that of his brother, a common failing of folks over 70 like me, I’m told.

I said the line drawing was of Billy, but my observant son Reg corrected me as soon as the edition came out. “It’s not Billy, but his younger brother Jeffy,” he said, noting the difference in hair between the two otherwise-similar-looking characters. Billy has smooth hair crowned with a cowlick, while Jeffy’s hair is wavy with no cowlick – just as in the cartoon I ran.

My apologies, Bil – and Billy and Jeffy!

Now back to my main point in this week’s column: anticipation.

Especially from a religious perspective, anticipation is really what the four weeks leading up to Christmas are all about.

Advent, which begins this year on November 27, is the season of hope-filled, expectant, patient waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Historically, Advent has been observed in Western Christianity among the more liturgical churches, such as Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran, for whom the church year officially begins on the first Sunday of Advent.

But increasingly, members of other denominations also follow some of the Advent traditions, such as lighting the four candles of an Advent wreath, one candle for each Sunday of Advent.

Another tradition, followed even among some non-church-goers, is the Advent calendar. Most often used by families at home and typically beginning December 1, it consists of a large card with 24 windows, one to be opened each day leading up to Christmas. Each window might conceal a detail of the Christmas story or some other spiritual lesson. Or, in the case of more elaborate examples, each window might conceal a small gift, such as a piece of candy.

In whatever way the Advent season is celebrated, it is deeply rooted in Christianity’s two-fold waiting for the Messiah, both His first coming and His second coming.

Christians understand the prophecies of a coming Messiah contained in the Jewish Scriptures – the Christian “Old Testament” – as referring to Jesus. Indeed, the entire New Testament of the Christian Bible is written from the conviction that Jesus is that long-awaited Messiah, the Saviour not only of God’s covenant people, Israel, but of the whole human race.

This view is beautifully reflected in sacred music, such as Charles Wesley’s 18th century Advent hymn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” the first two verses of which go:

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art.
Dear desire of ev’ry nation,
Joy of ev’ry longing heart.

Christianity affirms not only Jesus’ first coming humbly as a babe in the manger, however, but also his second coming in power as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, a theme reflected in the last verse of that popular hymn, “How Great Thou Art”:

When Christ shall come
         with shout of acclamation
And take me home,
         what joys shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim,
         my God, how great thou art!

I’ll conclude this Advent column with what, for me personally as a Christian who loves the Jewish Scriptures, is a vivid image of the joy of longing hearts. It’s the opening verse of Psalm 42:

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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