Understanding our Wonderful Advent Liturgy and 7 themes of this Blog
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.
In our day Christmas carols and mall directions appear in late October and are used just to get us to buy stuff. The consumerist grinch tries to rob us of the holiness of this season. The consumerists tell us that it’s all about GIVING gifts to fill their cash registers by buying frivolous stuff for aunt Suzie and Uncle Joe. But Christmas is really all about being ready to RECEIVE the gift God wants to give us this year. And it takes some 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 really about love. Poor people understand this. 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 heartfelt tokens of our love.
The Christian story is that God wanted his son to be Emmanuel – God with us. He became incarnate, 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’re not a believer, just regard it as a wonderful story; it still can work for you.)
From year to year I hope to find new meaning in our age-old Christian story, the mystery of God’s love affair with the human race, the mystery we celebrate at Christmas. (I’m not talking about a mystery, Sherlock Holme’s kind of mysteries. The word mystery is a story that is so huge that it has many levels of meaning that always brings up something new, so huge that everybody can find meaning in it.
And so that’s our Christmas story; it’s a living story that you and I can place ourselves into. It’s a story so profound there’s always something new for us that we never got before.
It is my hope that I can share the fruit of my own Advent prayer to lift you up also, to encourage and console you; to deepen your faith and give you hope in these difficult times.
So step out of the hustle and bustle of this busy season. Take a moment to place yourself in the presence of your God each day. Prepare a place in your heart to receive the gift God wants to give you this year. Ask for it.
The Advent season consists of the four weeks that lead up to Christmas, observed by Catholics and other liturgical churches, such as Lutherans and Episcopalians. It is based on the two thousand year accumulation of rich and beautifully, comforting and challenging scriptures, but also 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.
The liturgical texts build in suspense and intensity. In the liturgy, our Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve and goes through the Feast of Epiphany (around January 6) When I was a kid the Christmas tree wasn’t put up until after we kids went to bed on Christmas Eve. 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 would do my heart good if I could persuade you to have a simpler, more interior, more reflective way of observing this holy season of Advent. It is always the richest for me spiritually.
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. The Advent prayer par excellence, “Come, Lord Jesus!” which is the very last verse of the bible. You can pray this little prayer when you’re waiting in line at the store or cooking dinner.
But I hope there is also something here for my friends who are not so spiritually minded. I suggest that you just read these reflections as a story that can convey meaning for us like any other wonderful story in literature. Perhaps you might receive something that will touch your life or bring a bit of hope into your darkness.
We share this season with others outside our faith as well. Many of us celebrate the coming of Light into our world at this holi(holy)day season:
Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate Hanukkah (this year ~ Monday, December 15th through Wednesday, December 24th.)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 Kwanzaawith a seven-branched candleholder 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 on Sunday, December 21. (Christianity subsumed pagan celebrations into its own. Christmas trees came to us from Germanic pagan customs.)
I also continue to call us to prayer for prayer for the transformation of our country. I continue to be concerned; I think a day of retribution is coming, as it did for Israel of old, thus: 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 in God’s place.
Here are seven themes we will reflect on during the four weeks of this Advent blog:
+ + + 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.
+ + + The emergence of hope . Persevere, persist in unrelenting hope in the midst of the difficult circumstances of your life.
+ + + Be patient! Learn the art of waiting well. 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 to connect 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 us stronger.
+ + + Be prepared for whatever might come. Our financial gurus in 2008 were blind-sided 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 in times of stress? 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!
+ + + Be silent! 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 called to enter the refining fire, willingly or unwillingly. It can cleanse and purify us, make us newer than before. Or it can bring us down completely. This is my loving prayer ~ this is my passionate focus in our present times.