Paris COP21, Advent and the New Creation: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

This year Advent and the start of the Paris conference on climate change coincide. How does climate change challenge the ways Christians understand and pray,

Source: Paris COP21, Advent and the New Creation: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Shortly after my posting of this column, Br. Taylor Burton Edwards posted the following. I am grateful for Br. Taylor’s corrective of my over emphasis on “continuity” and think that it is an essential to what I wrote in the column. Theology is an ongoing and communal enterprise.

He wrote:
“Thank you for this, Br Daniel.

“The one caution I would offer is the potential for a real (and ongoing) tendency to underplay the actuality of the discontinuity the apocalyptic frame, which underlies Christian proclamation. The New Testament (and the minor prophets before it in the OT) maintain a call to vigilance and participation in this age AND a hope for a discontinuous (if equally incarnate and earthy) age to come. It seems to me that both affirmations are vital to the core of the Christian faith.

“So yes, by all means, the incursion of the kingdom of God (age to come) already within this present age calls us to do all we can to “serve this present age, our calling to fulfill.” But the hope with which we do this, as well as the authority and power by which we do it, is precisely from the age yet to come– an age and a culmination of God’s kingdom which is indeed discontinuous with this present age and its arrangements, including its arrangements of matter and energy, economics and politics.

“The discontinuity is at once declaration and reality. This age is thoroughly vitiated, beyond final reclamation as it stands, even if also infused with another vision and signs of life of the coming age.That reality does not lead us to abandon it, however. Rather, it sets us, as it did the Judean exiles, to be a sign of what God ultimately intends and “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7, NRSV).

“We need not (and I would argue must not) reject the discontinuous vision of the biblical apocalyptic frame simply because some have used that illegitimately to distract us from our mission here and now. Rather, we are called to affirm both– the discontinuity and the mission, and indeed the power of that discontinous/infused kingdom/age to motivate our participation in God’s mission– and so the care of the earth– here and now.”

Paris COP21, Advent and the New Creation: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The day before the climate change conference began in Paris, Christians of all stripes sang, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” It is coincidental. But COP21 and giving voice to our yearning and hope illuminates this moment when the planet is at a critical juncture due to unsustainable human extraction and consumption? What is the meaning of “Advent” in such a world? This world?

Fr. Thomas Berry and others critique a brand of Advent piety and apocalyptic thinking that is otherworldly:
The salvific, redemptive traditions of the West tend to save humans out of the temporal order or to assign meaning to the temporal order in terms of a ‘salvation history,’ with an ultimate goal outside of time. (The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth, Kindle loc 398)

Reflecting on our hymnody in Advent would, I think, evidence this anticipation of being “saved out” of time and also disclose a counterbalancing hope of “redemption within” the temporal order. For an instantiation of the latter see the concluding hymn for Advent Morning Prayer in our new Lukan Book of Hours:

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,
Hail in the time appointed, his reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free;
To take away transgression and rule in equity.

(James Montgomery, my emphasis)

Or see the opening hymn for Advent Morning Prayer:

O come, O Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by your advent here.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Note the poetic dependence on earthy imagery!

A fuller examination of our Advent hymn and prayer texts would be interesting and revealing. We might find that some are, as Berry charges, oriented to God “saving us out of the temporal order” or assigning meaning to life in time with an ultimate goal outside of the temporal order. Other songs and prayers and ritual practices may need to be embodied in new awareness of how precious is the life of this planet we humans call Earth. The issues of climate change are pushing us to choose life here, now and to sing and say in new ways “for God so love the world….” The world God loves is not ephemeral and disposable, to be replaced by a discontinuous “heaven.” As we sing in the Great Thanksgiving: “Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

Historic Christianity denies escapism. Without denying the hope of heaven—the continuity of now and then and here and there (characteristic of most of Charles Wesley’s hymns)—the force of the Hebrew Bible’s prophetic tradition and the long sweep of orthodox and ecumenical Christian liturgy and doctrine is that life on earth and our integral communion with all things is the realm of discipleship on this blue-green ball in an immense universe. Even with cosmologist’s exploring the possibility of “other universes” I continue to believe that the Biblical tradition calls us to assert that ultimately in Love’s universe there is no other “there” for us.

That is what Thomas Berry illuminates with his “three mediations” (See Chapter 2 in The Christian Future). The first mediation or critical relationship we have had to address is the human-divine for ten thousand years or so. The second is the human-human relationship with all of its challenges in the family, within nations and between nations and cultures for the last several thousand years. The third mediation is uniquely emergent in our time (since the 1970s): it addresses the relationship of humanity with our ecosphere—this planet—that must be resolved if there is to be a continuing human future on the planet. (See loc 451)

Far from being escapist piety, understood in these terms, Berry

To see this third mediation as a preeminent Christian task in our times is to begin formation of a powerful planetary     force that will hopefully become effective on the scale needed . . . . Only religious forces can move human consciousness at the depth needed….over the long period of time during which adjustment must be made. (Christian Future, loc 460)
I muse on Berry’s next emphatic statement as the Climate Change conference in Paris continues: “Only religion can measure the magnitude of what we are about.” (loc 460)

No, they won’t be singing Advent hymns at the Paris conference. That is the task of public worship in our churches. Will we sing, preach and pray in such a way that our minds and hearts are caught up in the magnitude of what God is about in the New Creation as COP21 goes on simultaneously with our embodying Advent anticipation?

Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, his encyclical on the care of our common home, is invitation and call for our liturgical engagement and reflection leading to change for the life of the world. Laudato Si teases out the dimensions of our baptismal vocation on a planetary scale. Advent worship happening simultaneously with the Paris meeting could and should deepen our preaching, prayer and awareness that “heaven and earth are full of your glory” is a glory humanity may not tarnish with impunity! Or to put it positively, it is a glory we are called to see and know and cherish “on earth as it is in heaven.”

In Advent the Holy Spirit calls the church to join with Mary’s subversive song.

You have shown the strength of your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit.
You have cast the mighty from their thrones;
you have lifted up the lowly
You have filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich you have sent away empty.

When we sing the Magnificat we dare an alternative reading of the world; we give voice to our doubt that the present “system” is working and put our trust in the one who “has done great things for us.” We leave behind being “nice” and complicit with the existing order of things. We renounce (remember that part of baptism) our pride, privilege and sin of clinging to the extractive economic, political, industrial-consumer system that plunders the poor and the planet. Strangely, the scientific community is joining the prophets in saying, Seek good and not evil that you may live. (Amos 5:14) They are all but unanimous that fossil fuel powered life as we know it is unsustainable and that climate warming will soon be irreversible.

Giving voice to Mary’s subversive song is not most of us learned in Sunday School or catechetical formation. Yet transformation on the scale need requires we too touch the nerve of her daring subversiveness. Many of us at the OSL retreat know the power of singing Rory Cooney’s setting of the Magnificat (Book of Offices and Services, no. 71) where with Mary we sing to God:

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of you justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn.
Words and music © 1990 GIA Publications, Inc

There is passion there to fuel transformation.

Advent song, Psalms, and liturgy afford us a space to question our complicity with a systems that impoverish God’s creation and to risk finding new ways to embody the apostolic hope of the New Creation already begun in Christ crucified and risen.

How will you and your congregation take up the challenge faced by those gathered in Paris and that we all face on this warming planet? How will our apostolic hope inform and form us for the transformation we pray for in Advent? How will it shape your preaching and teaching and service short term and long term?

Abbot Daniel
December 2, 2015

2015 Annual Retreat

The Order of Saint Luke 2015 Annual Retreat

Saint Paul of the Cross, Pittsburgh PA

October 20-23, 2015

Featuring Br. Don Saliers who will lead us in conversation about Liturgy and

Moral Imagination in a context of contemporary cultural issues Plan to arrive any time after 2:00 pm on Tuesday, enjoy the afternoon catching up with your brothers and sisters and sharing an informal pizza dinner at 6:00 pm.

The Retreat formally begins with Festive Vespers for the Feast of Saint Luke, beginning at 8:30 pm. The Retreat will end at noon on Friday.

Remember: The retreat is open to all, not just to members of the Order. Do you have a friend who would enjoy great worship, plenty of laughter, some serious reflection, and  time with Br. Don Saliers? Invite them to attend with you!

Watch for information and the registration form both in the Font and online. Questions? Contact Sr. Sue Moore at

2015 Retreat Flier

2015 Registration Form


The Call to Service Continues—New Font Editor*

Our Rule includes the Call to Service
I am grateful that our rule link our sacramental theology to our daily life in the world. In the commentary of this part of the Rule, we read: “By virtue of our baptism, God calls each of us to ministries which are a proclamation of Christ, seeking wholeness in Creation.” No one should accuse the Order of thinking small, though sometimes we slip into the arcane and self-serving! At the same time, the Order’s continuing life requires some of us to heed the call to service for some loving task within the Order. As abbot I have responsibility from time to time to appoint a sister or brother to such a task and some of you accept such calls in “openness and love” for the Order.
It is my pleasure to make such an appointment today.

New Abbatial Appointment
Today, I am appointing Sr. Cynthia Astle, OSL, to serve as Editor of The Font. Continue reading