The gulls no longer call to each other in unbridled delight as they do on Summer mornings. Every now and again, one will make a cry that sounds more like a Kyrie eleison than the festive cacophony of morning Hosannas which used to greet me only a few short months ago.
There are only two boats left in the lagoon that runs along the northwest side of our wee cottage. They were both out for a spin this weekend. Everyone on board was bundled up in puffy down jackets, scarfs and mittens and they seemed to be having a grand time.
The sight of them made me smile and giggle when it didn't strike a cord of admiration somewhere deep in my heart. Bravo! I thought. Brava! Good for you!
Things are different in Lower, Slower Delaware. Very Different.
That includes the observation of the Season of Advent.
The patient waiting of Advent was always connected, in my child's mind, to the coming of winter's first snow storm. We seemed to have more of them, earlier in the season, than we do now.
Then again, New England was my childhood home. Snow is an expected visitor which comes any time between late November through April - too often for some and not enough for others.
I remember one childhood Easter snow storm which rendered our Easter Spring finery as silly as that boat full of bundled up people on on the Bay I witnessed just the other day.
It's not that Rehoboth Bay has not known a good snow storm. Just last February there were 23.5 inches of snow right outside my very door. I know because I measured it myself. Of course, that hadn't happened in 102 years. The memory of the deep chill that took up residence in my bones as I was trying to shovel Lucy True Bug out from under the piles of snow is easily awakened.
Advent, as Sunday's lessons (Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44; Psalm 122) remind us, is about staying awake and looking for signs.
"Keep awake therefore," says Jesus in Matthew's apocalypse, "for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming."
An article in NorthJersey.com reports that it was put up as part of a campaign to reach out to atheists and encourage questioning certain holiday traditions.
The message reads, "You KNOW it's a myth. This season, celebrate reason," with a silhouette background of the three wise men walking toward a manger.
The campaign is sponsored by the American Atheists, said the report.
Now, THAT'S quite a 'sign', init?
My response? Doh, yeah! Of course it's a myth, but not in the way one presumes the American Atheists are presenting.
My colleague Robert Corbin Morris points out that myth is used in two senses.
For many poets, philosophers, psychologists and theologians, myth is a story, which while not historically true, "is profoundly true, because it symbolizes deep and recurrent realities in human experience." So, for example, many believe the story of the Fall in Eden is mythic, not historical — but a true tale about how human beings in every time and place disobey God.Which is okay. Really. Just because they say it's not true doesn't mean it isn't. It just means that they don't believe it.
Some historical events take on a mythic — symbolic — meaning: Pearl Harbor becomes and symbol of sneak attack and treachery, and the death of Christ on the cross speaks volumes of meaning to those who contemplate it.
The atheists who put up the sign are saying the Christmas story is an untrue story about something that never happened (other than the actual birth of Jesus of Nazareth). They have no sympathy with the deeper meanings of the story, presumably.
Which is also okay. Last time I checked, the First Amendment still guaranteed freedom of religion. I suppose that also means freedom from religion.
Besides, Christmas has become so enculturated and commercialized that we've lost the meaning of the myth. We've 'reasoned the season' to its lowest common denominator and placed a dollar sign in front of it.
No wonder the 'deeper meaning' of the myth is lost on Atheists. We seem to have lost our way to the depths of the meaning of Advent and Christmas ourselves.
St. Paul writes, "You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep." (Romans 13:11).
That billboard at the NJ entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel has become an Advent wake up call, of sorts.
French mathematician, philosopher and physicist Blaise Pascal once wrote, "The heart has reasons that reason cannot know."
Love and hope have a permanent place of residence in the human heart, broken open by suffering and compassion. Reason is neither threatened nor diminished by the contents of the heart. Rather, it is edified by them.
Pascal also wrote, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”.
This year, as one of my signs of Advent, I'll carry with me the image of that boat load of people, all bundled up in puffy down jackets, out for a sail on a crisply cold, sunny day in late November on Rehoboth Bay.
It's not exactly an "armor of light" of which Sunday's collect speaks, but it does give me a sense of "grace to cast away the works of darkness."
It's a symbol of unseasonable, unreasonable love and hope. It's an image which fills that "God shaped vacuum" in my human heart, which is being broken open once again to be filled even more deeply and fully with Jesus.
It's not the same images of anticipation of the Advents of my childhood, when we would awaken in the morning and look out the window for the first flurry of snow, hoping against hope that school might be canceled and we'd be free. "No more teachers, no more books, no more student's looks."
It's not even a classical image of Advent: Electric white candles in the window. Advent wreathes on the door. Advent candles being lit, one by one - blue, blue, pink (because Mary really wanted a girl), blue and then WHITE! Purple or Blue vestments. Advent calendars on the wall. Manger scenes on the coffee table.
Things are different here in Lower, Slower Delaware.