st. augustine beach, florida / october 27, 2007 / photo © bob traupman / all rights reserved
Your light will come, dear people of God!
The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty!
. . . from morning prayer for each day of Advent.
Are you looking for hope, a perspective that will get you through
whatever 2009 will bring?
Are you looking for a Rock to climb on when life swirls around
you like a raging flood that threatens everything you know?
Are you looking for guidance to help you know what to do next?
Then . . . Welcome to our Advent Reflections for 2008.
I hope these next few moments will be a sanctuary for you. Step out of the hustle and bustle of what is supposed to be a season of peace and joy and love, but for many of us is just the opposite. Relax for a moment. Take a deep breath. Take a moment to place yourself in the presence of your God (or your Higher Power) if you prefer.
For some of us, this series of reflections from now until Christmas will be a time to seek and find new meaning in our great Christian story, the mystery of God’s love affair with the human race, the mystery we celebrate at Christmas.
There are others of us who have not gone deep enough to find its relevance to our own lives. May I suggest that if the world’s celebration of the holidays does not satisfy, just look at it as you might any other great story or any other great movie. See if there is something there, some meaning, for you. As they say in A.A., “Take what you like and leave the rest.”
The Christian story is that God wanted his son to be Emmanuel – God with us. He became incarnate, literally encased in the fleshiness of human existence. The Christian story (and belief for many of us) is that Jesus is Son of God and Son of Mary. (If you are inclined to say that is preposterous, just regard it as a wonderful story; it still can work for you.)
The Advent season is the four weeks that lead up to Christmas, observed by Catholics and other liturgical churches. It is based on the two thousand year accumulation of rich and beautiful, comforting and challenging scriptures, and poetry, hymns and songs in our liturgical books. Playing Handel’s magnificent oratorio Messiah has always been a wonderful way for me to enter into Advent, the world’s longing for a Savior.
When I was a kid, the Christmas tree customarily was put up after we kids went to bed on Christmas eve. The liturgical texts build in suspense and intensity. In the liturgy, our celebration begins on Christmas Eve and goes through the Feast of Epiphany. In the Eastern churches, their Christmas is January 6th! But in our world today we are often so weary of Christmas that we want to be done with it after the Christmas Day football games.
It is disheartening to me that most people have little awareness of our spiritual way of preparing for Christmas because our consumerist culture has twisted and distorted it to be far from the real thing. This blog is meant to allow you a little peek at those riches. It is my hope and prayer that they may lift you up, encourage you, console you and help you think, believe in you and your God, and have hope that there is a beautiful future in store for you, even in the most dire circumstances.
Many Christians focus on Jesus’ coming in the future; here I invite you to focus on opening our hearts to receive him right now in our daily lives.
To pray earnestly “Come, Lord Jesus!” – the Advent prayer par excellence, ¬¬which is the very last verse of the bible. I just invite you to pray this little prayer when you’re waiting in line at the store or cooking dinner.
Luke, in his familiar Christmas story, tells us that Jesus was homeless at the time of his birth. His family was poor and the first ones to receive the Good News were poor shepherds who were the outcasts of society in that time. It makes us soberly realize that God has a preferential option for the poor. And one of the relevancies for all of us – Christian or not – as we reflect on this story is that it is from the poor of our own day, not the rich, from whom we will learn the lessons that will help us through these difficult times!
Some others of my readers are not so spiritually minded. I write also for those who may be skeptical or cynical about the Christian story or never really thought about it. I suggest that you just read these reflections as a story that can convey meaning to us like any other wonderful story in literature. Perhaps you might receive something that will touch your life.
Many of us celebrate the coming of Light into our world at this holi(holy)day season, so in that we already share something in common. I wish to recognize and be in solidarity with others who also celebrate the coming of light into our darkness:
Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate Hanukkah (December 21 – 28). The festival of Hanukkah (Chanukah) was established to commemorate the Jewish Maccabees’ military victory over the Greek-Syrians and the rededication of the Second Temple, which had been desecrated by the Greek-Syrians, to the worship of God. Thus, Hanukkah is a celebration of Jewish national survival and religious freedom.
Our African American brothers and sisters celebrate Kwanzaa with a seven-branched candle holder from December 26 – January 1 with its seven themes: unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, inner purpose, creativity and faith.
And earthy religions celebrate the Winter Solstice, the beginning of the ascendancy of the sun in the northern hemisphere – this year at 12:04 PM on December 21. (Christianity subsumed pagan celebrations into its own. Christmas trees came to us from Germanic pagan customs.)
The Consummerist Grinch. In our day Christmas carols and mall decorations appear in late October and are used to get us to buy stuff. I feel ¬¬¬¬disheartened that our consumerist grinch tries to rob us of the holiness of this season. The consumerists tell us that it’s all about gift-giving to fill their cash registers by buying frivolous stuff for Aunt Suzie and Uncle Joe. Christmas is really all about being ready to receive the gift God wants to give us this year. And it takes a great deal of effort for even the most devout to have the peace and silence to prepare for and find Christ in the middle of the frenzy and the hype.
Christmas is all about love. Poor people understand this because, for many, that’s all they have to give one another. And in these difficult times perhaps we can learn that. What our children need is our love and simple gifts that are genuine heartfelt tokens of that love.
Personal renewal and conversion. The Advent texts are all about personal renewal and transformation. The prophets of old warned Israel time and again that they had wandered far from the path of their covenant with God. They had forgotten to acknowledge that God was The Source of all they had. They warned if they did not return to acknowledging God instead of the idols which they had created (in our day, our worship of the latest technology) that they would destroy themselves.
In this, I speak here not so much to the secularists — those who openly deny the existence of God — but to those of us who say we believe but put God at the periphery of our lives and place the almighty dollar (which is not so almighty anymore) in God’s place.
Here are seven themes we will reflect on, either in this blog or in some of the “best of Arise Advent issues in my twenty year archive:
+ + + The coming (advent) of Light into darkness. We can’t have one without the other. Light will emerge in the midst of our personal darkness and the darkness of our world. Look for it! Even if it is only a match.
+ + + The emergence of hope. Persevere in unrelenting hope in the midst of the difficult circumstances of your life. (In the midst of WWII Winston Churchill’s address to a graduating class was “ Never give up! Never ever give up!” And he sat down.)
+ + + Be patient! Learn the art of waiting with style and grace. Today we expect our computer to boot in ten seconds or we grow impatient. Use your time in line or in traffic to quiet your mind, go within yourself, and have a moment of contact with your God. Waiting time does not have to be wasted time. In Advent we wait for the coming of Christ anew in our lives and our world with hope. Life happens when we’re waiting. In the waiting will be the testing and purifying that will make you stronger.
+ + + Be prepared for whatever might come. Our financial gurus did not see this thing coming. They were blinded by their own self-interest. They were not prepared. Is your spiritual house in order? Are you ready to cope with the hardships that may face you in this economy? Will you or your kids be prepared to cope? Where will you find your strength?
+ + + Be consoled by the story of Israel and Jesus (or whatever epic story transforms your life). The Word of God renews me, challenges me, comforts me, encourages me every single day. The first thing we need to do in difficult times is to stay in contact with God. If we can be instantly connected to the Internet, which is manmade, realize we can stay connected to God all the time! (More later.)
+ + + Silent music. Turn off your TV, computer, ipod, stereo, cell phone and let yourself be in touch with the music of the universe: SILENCE! Silence is the language which God speaks. If we cannot quiet the clutter of our mind we will not hear God’s gentle Soft Voice. Will your Christmas be a “Silent night, holy night?
+ + + Enter willingly into the Refiner’s Fire. Gold and silver are refined in fire. Our nation – and each one of us – is now entering that refining fire, willingly or unwillingly. It can cleanse and purify us, making us newer than before, or it can destroy us. This is my loving prayer – this is my passionate focus in our present times. We will begin in the first entry of I’m Here with this message, the message of the great Advent figure John the Baptist who preached repentance to the nation Israel to prepare the way of the Lord.
Come, Lord Jesus!
Tomorrow: John the Baptist’s call to “Prepare the Way of the Lord”
in our hearts and in our world.