By David Jette, Head Verger, Trinity Wall Street, New York City
Let me be up front at the beginning of these seasonal musings: this article is not about Advent wreaths, pink candles, Sarum blue, or the inappropriateness of singing Christmas carols before sundown on December 24th. The observance of Advent need not be burdened by worrying about these things.
Vergers are almost by definition ruled by time. It takes time to set up a Sunday service and it must be done before it’s time to begin. Preparing for Christmas doesn’t happen miraculously or under the guidance of angelic directives. For us vergers, arriving early and staying late is a guiding principal that no labor standard can override. The Parish of Trinity Church in New York City where I serve as head verger, webcasts almost all liturgies. This requires a scrupulous adherence to precise time as determined by atomic clocks placed in strategic positions throughout the church building.
Advent is a season that often focuses on time, precisely the end of time and the second coming of Christ. All of this seems remote and removed from our earthly time reality as we think of ourselves as terribly modern and sometimes blasé about the end of everything. We might even catch ourselves thinking, “I have no time for the end of time!” Though often misused as a theme by self-appointed religious prophets of doom, the notion of final judgment, seemingly unscientific, warrants our serious consideration and prayer.
In early October while recovering from surgery at home for two weeks, I had ample reason to contemplate my own mortality and end of time. Not content to recede into pointless gloom, I engaged in two fairly monumental head exercises. First, I picked up Leo Tolstoy's novel, "War and Peace," for the first time. I’m about three quarters through this odyssey of reading and I hope to have it finished by Christmas. I recommend it highly!
Second I began watching a series of lectures called “Big History: the Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity.” This got my attention initially because the lecturer, David Christian, is a professor of history and not a scientist. The very first lecture sets the stage for what is to follow. Big history is big because our universe is unimaginably immense and stupendously old - perhaps 15 billion years old. These statistics alone provide ample opportunity to engage in renewed humility about everything we do.
Our consideration of Advent has the potential for taking us out of self to consider a far more grand scope of the created order we are graced to inhabit. Our contemplation of big time and big history isn’t a contest between science and theology, but rather a realistic look at the immensity of creation as a manifestation of God’s power to launch and direct it all and yet still come to us in the Word made flesh. God is big history indeed but then each of us, as vergers in our sundry callings, play a part in the divine story and are capable of comprehending that still small voice of God clearly through the chaos of babble all around us.
Take time this Advent to think big, to imagine with care, and to guide and nurture those we’re called to serve. Our ministry is rooted in the God of the cosmos and the God who is born in a humble stable.
Abstract: One of the most experienced vergers in North America answers the question, "What does Advent mean to vergers?" You may be surprised with what he has to say. We pray that you are moved to new consideration of our place in humanity. He says that it is, "as big as all outdoors." Read this week's Verger's Voice and be inspired.