On this Third Sunday of Advent, we mark our third significant Saint’s Feast Day in Advent, the Feast of Saint Lucy or Lucia. Like her contemporary Saint Nicholas, Saint Lucia marks a consequential shift from the early, persecuted church to the landed, establishment church of the early Middle Ages. The complex veneration of Lucia holds great treasure awaiting discovery for the Advent Christian seeking deeper waters of faith. Lucia’s cult (remember…..the expression of Christian piety anchored in the outstanding example of a particular saint whose life speaks to those of their own time and generations afterwards) involved her association with generosity, purity and above all else….light. Her very name echoes the Latin word for light, and in the old calendar today was believed to be the shortest day of the year. Evidently better science and Doubting Thomas won that argument, more on that later! Distilling her dense hagiography (a new word for some….hagios in Greek means “holy,”graphia, “writing,” thus the sacred biography of a saint’s life, usually promulgated to encourage others to model their own lives after the saint’s Christlike example) reveals suffering, like Nicholas, under the mad Emperor Diocletian’s pogroms of religious genocide. It reveals foregoing marriage for utter dedication to God, a popular option for young female martyrs in this period, and also donating her own dowry to the poor. Her suitor was so angered by this magnanimous philanthropy of funds he expected for himself that he had Lucia consigned to a brothel before her torture and execution. Let’s again skip the enthusiastic narration of Lucia’s final suffering invoking Anglican reserve (and a healthy dose of Protestant disdain for that portion of medieval Catholic piety) to simply say that Lucia is the patron saint with those suffering from blindness, visual ailments, authors and many blue collar skilled laborers. Her relics end up making an extended geographic tour of Europe over centuries (urgh, I vote with the Protestants here…), and are so valued to the current time that they were last stolen and recovered in 1981. 1981!!!
For me, Lucia’s gift of light, much celebrated today not only in Sweden but throughout Europe, is a true Advent treasure. With daily darkness stretching greedily to encapsulate the entire day as we approach winter solstice, a small candle in our “Advent in a Bag” bags recalls the Fourth Gospel’s dramatic Nativity creed that the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness cannot overcome it. Ever. Those poignant video clips (my favorite here is the redoubtable Rick Steves’ European Christmas videos, when he wore the same red scarf and black coat like 4 Christmases in a row to retain his trademark consistent travel look) of the oldest girl in the family dressing in virginal white, processing with candles and palm branches while sporting the evergreen wreath around her head, must be so uplifting to everyone who sees them today. But less well known is Lucia’s reported retort to her mother as her mom exhorted her to find a husband, pay him the sizable dowry, and settle down. Lucia replies, “…whatever you give away at death for the Lord’s sake you give because you cannot take it with you. Give now to the true Savior, while you are healthy, whatever you intended to give away at your death.” Yep, that’s where this famous Christian axiom derives! And Lucia is so correct. We cannot take anything with us from this world, except perhaps the love we have been given. And perhaps I may amend further this venerable Saint’s bold axiomatic claim, in the Advent season in which we celebrate her beautiful legacy of light shining in darkness? Give now to the true Savior. Period. Everything. All of us. Right now.
- I wonder if Thomas Edison ever realized how many centuries of profound Christian hymnody, theology and liturgy he obliterated with the invention of reliable artificial light?! It’s a good time to give us some old time religion right now! Would you join me tonight or sometime this week in extinguishing all electronic light and relying instead upon candle light for domestic illumination? Please be careful with transporting lit candles if you must (safety first!!!), but do give it a go and see how it changes your daily habits and perspective of your (by-now-all-too-familiar) home. That’s exactly how our Christian forebears (and everyone else) did life until quite recently!
- Lucia’s purity was and remains a big deal, modeling more temperate Christian virtues over against contrasting libertine Roman establishment sexual practices. As we approach Christmas, we are invited to clear out more than normal shelves and closets to prepare to welcome our Lord. Purity and holiness are conjoined twins theologically. Can we find either evidenced in our lives today? Do current pandemic circumstances invite impure or unholy practices, habits, experiences for us? Do we need some loving support to prune away these practices, habits, or experiences before Christmas? Please, please ask any of us for help in this sensitive, tender and confidential area of Christian faith! When in doubt, ask!
- Generosity is listed by the Apostle Paul as a spiritual gift. Is there anyone to whom we are being called to be particularly, conspicuously or anonymously generous to this Christmastide? What can we do with our resources which we cannot take with us? Is there something in this area of life which is, in the Prayer Book language, left undone which we ought to have done? If so, can we hear Lucia’s voice echoing through the long ages, Give Now!