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First Sunday of Advent
As I write this, we are turning the page into a new liturgical year. So, I guess… Happy (church) new year! It is my goal to keep the theme of the lectionary this year, especially in these weekly pastorals. We’ll see how it goes.
It is Advent, the season BEFORE Christmas (no, it’s not Christmas in the church until Christmas Eve). Now, some people get legalistic about this. They VILL NOT (using my best German accent here) decorate or listen to ANY Christmas music before Christmas Eve. They VILL NOT watch Elf or Home Alone before then either.
But legalism ruins the fun. Don’t do that to yourself. Do what you can in Advent. I’m a hopeless Christmas maximalist myself. I start sneakily listening to Christmas music in October. I watch my first Christmas movie on our first cold day of the year. Etc.
Advent is a gift, not a burden. It’s a gift to ease into Christmas gradually. It’s a gift to not overindulge in consumerism or overload your holiday calendar with stuff and things. But there’s only so much we can do. And God loves even we who want to dive head first into Christmas after Halloween.
Advent is counter-cultural. Our culture in the US tells us to hustle, work more hours to pay for those gifts, drink more booze, eat more crap, gaaaaahhh… It’s about toxic indulgence and consumerism. But in Advent, we do the opposite. We slow it down. We reflect on our relationships (with ourselves and others). “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another… Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5, 7)
Advent is a season of waiting. “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” (James 5:7). In Advent, we anticipate the incarnation of Jesus, Emmanuel, or “God with us.” Even though Christ IS with us and HAS ALWAYS BEEN with us, Christ WILL come again. Christ is with us NOW and NOT YET. It’s a weird timewarp thing that Christian theology plays with. Right now, we’re playing with the NOT YET part as we await both Christ’s birth in the manger as well as the end of time.
Kinda fun, right?
Advent is a season to slow down and notice. As it’s written in the Gospel of Matthew, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:44) So how does one do this?
This is a time of year for loving self-evaluation, heart-felt repentance (no, not just an “I’m sorry, God,” but a willingness for God to change our hearts and minds away from self-obsession and towards our loved ones), and seeking reconciliation (yes, with other people but also ourselves, our lifestyle habits, our inner narratives, etc. and with God).
Advent is a season to celebrate the darkness. Sociologists say that some of our prejudiced tendencies are driven by this subconscious propensity to equate darkness with only evil as our cultural narrative has carried it to us (in old cowboy movies, the bad guy always dresses in black while the good guy dresses in white). Advent is a season to embrace and love the darkness, not to resist it. God doesn’t hate darkness. God is light. But without the darkness, what good would that light be? Yes, darkness can signify evil. Being in a dark alley at night on our own with ominous sounds around us is terrifying. But if we zoom out, we see that darkness is also beautiful and holy. God uses the darkness of the cosmos to create life and materiality. God uses the darkness of Mary’s womb to come to us in flesh. God uses the darkness of our sleep to restore our minds, heal our bodies, and calm our nerves. Without darkness, all life would end. In Advent, we celebrate the darkness before the Christ light arrives. In our northern hemisphere, darkness draws in on us literally as our days darken approaching the winter solstice. What a great time to meditate on this.
The Advent Wreath
I love this tradition and I encourage you to join me in the ritual of the Advent wreath. It’s pretty simple… Get four candles. You’ll light one for the first week of Advent, two for the second week, etc. You can attach them to a wreath if you’re a fancy florist or you can just plop them down in some sand or right on the table. Dress it up with some evergreens and whatnot. And you’re good to go. Yes, you can do it up by using three purple candles and one pink one for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudette Sunday), but no need. I’ll include a link to a really great Advent guide that I found below, but for now, this is the gist of it. As you light each candle, you can say a prayer (if you have a kid, why not let them light the candle and say the prayer?). I’ll include a prayer each week with this newsletter. Here’s the first one…
First Sunday of Advent candle blessing
Praise to you, O God, our salvation who is near.
You hold us in our waiting and keep us awake to the world.
You show up in our lives at unexpected times.
Bless us as we light this candle to keep vigil for your arrival.
We trust that even though we do not know the day or the hour,
you hurry to gather all people to your peace.
Prayer of the Week
First Sunday of Advent
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Weekly Grab Bag of Miscellany
If you live with young ones or even if you just want a simple resource to walk you through the liturgical calendar with prayers, Scripture, and rituals that you can do at home, Little Way Chapel is pretty great. It’s run by Alissa French Case, a lay minister (I believe in the Episcopal church). She also has a fantastic Instagram account.
Speaking of Little Way Chapel, she has an excellent Advent guide ($8) that I just downloaded and am using with my daughter (age 9). Yesterday, we printed it out and are starting to do the daily Advent exercises today. I encourage you to join along. (No, Little Way does not sponsor this newsletter.)
If you’re looking for a solid read this season, I encourage you to get a copy of this book, written by my dear friend Fr. Vincent Pizzuto. I’ve mentioned his work on this newsletter before because I’m such a huge fan. He’s put 50 years of intense Christian scholarship and experience into it. It’s used by the late Thomas Keating’s group, Contemplative Outreach and Richard Rohr’s Living School. Take your time with this one. It’s well-written and a good read, but it’s rich.
Due to the holiday, I gave myself a little break (and thus, I gave your inbox a break as well to make room for all of those Black Friday ads). So not a lot to share. I’ll be back to my regular posting schedule this week.
In comfort + joy,
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