Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior. The heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of His hands. -The Introit for the First Advent Ember Day (taken from Isaiah 45:8 & Psalm 18:2).So begins the three day period of Winter Ember Days.
Ember Days occur four times during the year, close to the beginning of each of the calendar seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter). The observance of Ember Days pre-dates Christianity by probably thousands of years. They were the times when European pagans would specifically pray for the harvests and blessings upon nature for them. As Europe was Christianized, many holidays were re-ordered with a Christian understanding. The basic goal of this particular fast was a good one: supplication for mercy regarding nature.
Because Ember Days were developed outside of the Christian Calendar, we find a slight clash between the Christian Calendar, which begins close to the beginning of December, and a Christian observance connected to the calendar seasons, which begins 1 January. The Winter Ember Days, also called the Advent Ember Days, are the last of the four, while the Christian year has only just begun.
Nevertheless, as Christians included Ember Days into their yearly observances, they began to find a place within the Christian Calendar. For the pagans, Winter meant the end of the year, death, and conclusion. For Christians, the focus for these Winter Ember Days shifted, not surprisingly since the occur during Advent, to waiting and hope.
The connection between prayers for nature to bring forth a bountiful harvest and the Jewish wait for a Messiah is illustrated in the Introit above. Throughout Advent, we've been waiting and longing for the coming of our Saviour. During these three days, we connect with and realise that even Nature longs and groans for His coming.
The Gospel Reading for today builds toward the coming Nativity of Our Lord. The Annunciation, officially recognized on 25 March (nine months before 25 December) has a place during Advent. Gaudete Sunday marked the shift from the Old Testament longing, including John the Baptist, toward a focus on the events directly preceding Christ's Nativity as told in the Gospels.
Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. Having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!”
But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be. The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’ He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?”
The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing spoken by God is impossible.”
Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”
The angel departed from her. -Luke 1:26-38 (WEB)
Nature, or rather God's intervention in Nature, plays a significant role in the Nativity story. The greatest example of this is how God overrides the natural process for conceiving a child in Mary. Another example is the appearance of the Star in the East.
NOTE: Ember Days actually occur on Wednesday, Friday, & Saturday of their respective weeks. This post is actually a reflection on Wednesday's Ember Day. Sorry!