Before jumping in this week, I want to point out that the Book Club also read this story 6 years ago. On that page, Amy shared some research about the author that is pretty interesting!
About a year ago, I started reading Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge. The author is an Episcopal priest, and this book is a collection of her sermons and writings about Advent. The book came to mind several times as I was reading “The Burglar’s Christmas” by Willa Cather (writing as Elizabeth L Seymour) this week, so I’m going to draw in a few quotes as we go along.
The story is about William, whose birthday is Christmas Eve. It takes place in Chicago on his 24th birthday. He was far from home, and as far as he knew, his family still lived “down East.” He was homeless and completely broke. He hadn’t eaten in more than a day, but he refused the invitation for some free food with his buddy. He wanted to be alone as he thought about his birthday, his failures in life, and his empty stomach. “It is a tragic hour, that hour when we are finally driven to reckon with ourselves, when every avenue of mental distraction has been cut off and our own life and all its ineffaceable failures closes about us like the walls of that old torture chamber of the Inquisition.”
William was in a dark place at the beginning of the story. He was the prodigal son, starving and wallowing with pigs, remembering that his father’s servants were at least well fed. But, unlike the prodigal son, who decided to go home and beg for mercy, William was still looking for one last thrill: “He had failed at everything else, now he would see what his chances would be as a common thief.”
A lot of Christmas stories start in a dark place, and after reading Rev. Rutledge’s book, I think these stories are actually Advent stories. She wrote, “Advent is about a world in darkness.” And, “In Advent, we don’t pretend, as I once thought, that we are in the darkness before the birth of Christ. Rather, we take a good, hard look at the darkness we are in now, facing and defining it honestly, so that we will understand with utmost clarity that our great and only hope is in Jesus’s final victorious coming.”
Lest he lose his nerve, William quickly set about robbing the nearest house, which was big enough to have some good loot. As he picked through the valuables, he began to recognize things… It was his parents’ house!
His mother responded just like the prodigal son’s father—welcoming and forgiving. She completely restored her son to his rightful place. His rightful place was not based on his own merit or what he had earned. If it were, his failures and resorting to burglary would have earned him a very bad place. No, his rightful place was based on who he was: her son!
He tried to deny her affection and welcome, tried to explain as much of himself as he could, though he wasn’t ready to tell her all yet. He asked, “I wonder if you know how much you pardon?” She answered, “O, my poor boy, much or little, what does it matter?”
Rev. Rutledge wrote (in Advent), “Even the tiniest sign of reconciliation, the smallest hint of forgiveness, the most minuscule glimmer of kindness is a sign that God is with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”
The physical darkness of the winter season in the northern hemisphere is often used as an analogy to the spiritual darkness that Advent brings to our attention. The hours of daylight get shorter and shorter as December progresses. Plants and animals slow down their life rhythms, hibernating. Everything is dark and lifeless until spring arrives.
I live 3 degrees south of the equator in coastal Kenya. Not only do we not have winter weather, but the length of daylight hours also hardly varies from one solstice to the other. Dry season is the time when the natural world appears to wait for reconciliation. In March, the grass will appear to be completely dead. But it’s not! It’s waiting. As soon as the first rain shower comes in April, the grass will suddenly green up! If the Church calendar were made by people who live in the climate and latitude I do, I think that Advent would fall during the dry season. What about where you live? When is the season of dormancy, waiting, or darkness?
Here’s our schedule for the rest of the month:
December 21st: Favorite Books of 2021
December 28th: Uncle Richard’s New Year Dinner