Ashes in Advent

As I was preparing for an Advent service of communion and anointing, I pulled out the little bowl—hand-formed and glazed a brilliant blue—that we use for anointing oil. To my surprise, the bowl still contained ashes from Holy Week.

So there I was in mid-December, trying to pour the ashes on our lily plants and getting most of them on my hands instead. Black, sooty ashes under my fingernails and covering my index finger where I tried to wipe ashes off of the sides of the bowl.

I had a sudden urge to rub my finger on my forehead; to draw a sooty cross for everyone to see. “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.”

The nights are getting longer. The wind is getting colder.

“From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.”

This time of year, I especially miss people I love who have died. I miss baking Christmas cookies with my great grandma while we played Bing Crosby on the record player.  I miss the graciousness with which my father-in-law gave and received gifts. I miss my dad.

“From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.”

Perhaps ashes aren’t entirely uncalled for in Advent as we celebrate the astounding truth that God put on flesh and entered our dusty world. Born in a dusty stable. Sawdust under his nails working with Joseph in the carpentry shop. Dusty feet after walking from one town to another. Forming dust into mud to heal a blind man. Kneeling in the dust to pray, “Father, if it be your will, let this cup pass from me.”

Even Jesus, knowing his flesh came from dust, was reluctant to return to dust.

“From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.”

Sort of. Yet the paradox of the incarnation is that in becoming dust, God enacts our salvation. Our true end is not, after all, dust. Our true end is life abundant and everlasting.

So light the candle of joy today. Be anointed with the oil of gladness. And I pray for you these words of anointing:

May the Giver of life heal your deepest wounds.
May Jesus the Christ grant you forgiveness and the grace to forgive.
May the Holy Spirit restore you to all wholeness. Amen.

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