We waited in silence ten years or more for the bell to ring. Then in the pre-dawn darkness of a late-Advent morning it tolled, at a notably non-liturgical hour.
Tolled twice in fact: Once at 6:17 or so…and again, a little beyond half-past the hour. Unplanned, the pealing was, but deeply desired nonetheless by many in our parish family.
Since the mid-1970s, the bell tower has served as a signature of our campus – a comfort to those who already “belong” and a sonic beacon to those who are drawn to “inquire”.
Alas, our three bells had gone silent in recent years due to perceived structural issues with the tower. We simply didn’t want to risk having someone donged by a dinger broken free from its mooring. Then some months ago, hope arose on the wings of a drone (a mechanical Gabriel perhaps?) that allowed a closer inspection of the system’s flaws. Turns out, it wasn’t the concrete that was failing, but the main bell’s metal mounts. And this revelation set the industrious minds of a few parishioners to thinking about potential engineered solutions.
Long story short, their towering plans came together a week or two ago…allowing our Big Bell to be put back into service at last. Only in the early morning hours of the next day did they discover that the bell’s automatic timer had gone a bit haywire, too – leading to the wake-up call that would have caught even a rooster by surprise.
The automatic timer has since been shut off, awaiting its repair. But I couldn’t help thinking it had already done its duty – sending us locals a message that’s appropriate to this fourth week of Advent. After all, unexpected wake-up calls abound in our scriptures this week, don’t they?
Ahaz, the king, gets one from the Lord, through his prophet:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!
Alas, it turns out Ahaz would prefer to do things his way instead. St. Paul in contrast takes his call to heart, and finds his life’s arc taking a wholly unexpected direction:
Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…
And finally, there’s St. Joseph (patron of our parish, and perhaps in whose hallowed memory our bell mysteriously tolled this week). He, too, is given the great gift of divine direction:
…behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home…”
One thing I notice is that all three of these guys remained free to make a choice about what they’d heard. Ahaz famously spit out the bit, but the other two found a way to welcome the Word of God into their lives.
It came not without a cost – this decision of theirs to embrace the towering chaos of Emmanuel, “God With Us.” But I’m inclined to think that neither St. Paul nor St. Joseph regretted their decision in the end. On the contrary, they were blessed beyond measure when they found the courage to say “yes,” even to things they could not possibly understand.
Perhaps this is something we could all ponder, fruitfully, in this last week of Advent. And as we wait, together we pray: “Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus.”
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.