Friends, this year, I've written our Advent reflections, and I've done so following the idea that Advent is a worshipful conversation between God and us. I wanted to share with you both the writings and my philosophy and theology behind the readings.
Here you go:
Advent as a liturgical calendar event allows us to dialogue with God as we consider the Christmas story. Advent comes from Latin, meaning the arrival of the important person, thing, or event. There is no greater Advent than that of Jesus Christ into his world. Liturgy comes from the Greek word leitorgia (leitos meaning public and ergos meaning work). Advent, then, is the public work of the Church to relive the story of Christmas.
There is a mystery in the Advent where just as Jesus made his way to Earth, Jesus is still making his way toward the second coming. The mystery is that he is present with us as we celebrate and relive his first coming, even as we await his final arrival. The memory invites us into the story as participants. We remember the humility and the reason for his arrival. Jesus then invites us to live in that memory as humble people called for his defense. These two together, the mystery of the divine presence with us today, and the memory that invites us to humble service in the kingdom calls us toward our Mission. Mission is the call of God to live out the mystery and the memory.
The liturgy, when done well, is not a stale tradition but a living reenactment of the life of Jesus. God himself invites us into the liturgy of Advent. God teaches and reminds us of his plan to live with us. This takes place as a Scripture Reading where we recall the mysterious incarnation. We are then invited to a holy element where God invokes the memory of his Son into our lives. Then we respond to God's word by lighting the candles and singing the songs to represent that we will live out his Mission while we await the culminating Advent.
Isaiah 9:2-7 -The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Today, The Lord has reminded us that there is hope. At the writing of Isaiah, the people were preparing to be carried off away from the Promised Land. They were being removed from the land that they had occupied and inherited from the time of Joshua. The promise of God in this moment seems to have failed.
Yet, Isaiah shines forth a light to the people who walk in darkness. A light has shined and their burdens will be lifted. The bar across their shoulder and the rod of their oppressor will be broken. Not only that but the warriors will no longer need their boots.
Somehow, this all begins with a child, a baby born. Isaiah has already talked about this child in chapter 7:14 "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." Perhaps today you need hope.
Perhaps today you are being carried away from all that is safe and known. Perhaps today you need somebody to lift your burdens. Perhaps today you are too tired to fight. Then this is for you.
We, together, light the candle of hope. Advent is a Latin word that means the important person, thing, or event, has arrived. This candle of hope we light in remembrance of the most important Advent, the arrival of God in the flesh. This candle is a symbol that we remember that God has fulfilled his promise. To us a child has been given: Jesus Christ was born. This candle does not represent Jesus, instead it represents our future hope that our burdens will be lifted and our oppression broken. When we are too tired to fight, may this candle serve as a representation that a day is coming when we will no longer have to fight.
Isaiah 2:2-4 - In days to come the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
There's a story of a pastor in a church in conflict with one another. In a meeting, he asked them all to picture in their minds a peaceful place. After a few minutes, he gathered them back and asked them to describe what they saw. One described sitting in a meadow by a mountain, others by a river, others in their favorite chair at home. The pastor pointed out that often when we think of peace, we start by getting rid of everybody else. We learn that we cannot control the world around us, but we can control our hearts. We learn that peace begins in our hearts.
The peace that scripture speaks of, goes beyond an internal quietude. Peace for the Hebrew people was grounded in right relationships. A sword is beaten into a plow because the nation is no longer at war. In our scripture today, we see people coming to the house of the Lord so they can be restored into right relationship. In right relationships with God, others, ourselves, and our world, we find peace.
We relight the first candle of hope. Our hope is not gone, it continues as we wait expectantly for the return of Jesus. We light the second candle of peace. We ask you Lord. Would you teach us to live in right relationships. Would you bring healing to the broken relationships in our lives. When we would take up a sword would you teach us to beat them to plows to plant a crop for you. When we would hold others at a distance with a spear will you teach us to bend them into pruning hooks that we might harvest abundant fruit of peace. Would this candle represent the peace we have in you as our savior and the continual peace we long for here on Earth.
Isaiah 9:2-7 -The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Israel has little reason to be joyful at the writing of Isaiah. They are being carried away into exile. The have lost the promised land. Yet, to them a son is born, and their joy has been increased. The Bible often times uses joy as a comparison against the natural feeling of defeat. Israel has been conquered by Babylon and yet paradoxically joy has increased. Hebrews also tells us that for the joy sat before him Christ endured the cross.
The Bible also uses joy as we might expect, when Zechariah is told that he and Elizabeth will have a baby, John the Baptist, the angel tells them, "you will have joy and many will rejoice at his birth." When Mary finds out she is pregnant she goes to visit Elizabeth and the first person to greet Jesus is John the Baptist still in Elizabeth's womb, who leaps for joy. Mary then bursts into song and she proclaims, "my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he ha sloke dwith favor on the lowliness of his servant.
We relight the first candle of hope. We remember the initial hope of the world at the birth of the savior, and we look forward to the culmination of that hope in Jesus. We light again the candle of peace. We ask that the peace of God would dwell richly in hearts and extend to all the world. We now light the pink candle of joy. Lord would this candle signify a joy that burns in our bellies and erupts in laughter at your presence with us today. Would this candle burn in joy as a representation that joy is present in you even in difficult circumstances. Would this candle signify that you, Oh Christ, are the great joy born for all people.
Isaiah 43:1-4 – But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight and honored and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.
Hearing these verses about how much God loves us strikes my heart. He says that he created, formed, redeemed, and called you by name. God does this because we are precious in his sight and honored. God says, "I love you." Can you imagine the creator of the universe speaks from his throne to you, "I love you." Take a moment to feel his love.
Jesus at the end of ministry, after the resurrection has a talk with Peter who had denied him at his trial before the cross. Jesus asks Peter, "do you love me?" God may be proposing the same question to us today, "I love you; do you love me?" Peter responds three times, one for every denial, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus tells him, "feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep."
We relight the first candle of hope. May it represent our unfading hope shining into a dark world. We relight the second candle of peace. May it signify the peace of God overcoming our shadows. We relight the pink candle of joy. May it embody Christ giving us his joy.
We light the candle of love. Lord would this candle be a symbol of the love you have shown us. Just as all the candles together provide a greater light collectively, would you empower us to shine a greater light into your world. Would you teach us to love in your purpose, feeding your lambs and tending your sheep. Like the flame drives out the shadow would your love overwhelm us so that we might pass through waters and walk through the flames in our own lives.
Luke 2:1-7 - In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room.
Here he is, the savior of the world, God incarnate born this day in an obscure town in an unimportant part of the world. Away from their home in the hometown of their forefathers, there is no place for Jesus, instead he is born in manger. Where the animals have left their slobber is the only place for King Jesus. The inn was full because his extended family took all the rooms for themselves. They left their cousin, their nephew, their brother Joseph to spend the night in the cold with his pregnant fiancé. Their in that cold night, she wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in that slobbery place. Jesus story speaks to our own. With all that we to do today, is there room Jesus?
Jesus we light the first candle of hope. Our reflection has been on you the hope of glory – continue our hope until it is complete in you. We again light the second candle of joy. Jesus, will you teach us to find our joy in you as you alone can bring it. We light the third and pink candle of peace. Jesus, will you draw us into your peace that passes all our understanding. We light the fourth candle of love. Jesus, when you found no love at your arrival, will you now find love in our hearts. Jesus, we light the final candle, your candle.
We know there was no room in the inn. Would this candle represent the room you are making in our hearts for yourself. Would we be open to having you clear our hearts that you may have the space you deserve. Would this candle represent your presence with us now. We ask this in your name, Amen.
*All Scriptures are taken from the NRSV