Wishing and Hoping

We have begun the season of Advent. Advent is the English version of the latin word adventus, which means “coming”. If we know something is coming, we are in some sense waiting for it to arrive.

Over the millennia, Advent developed as a time of waiting for a new coming of Christ in the world. On one level, it may mean that we are moving towards the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But that is not the original meaning of the season.

Originally, the season of Adventus, was a time to prepare for, and wait upon the second coming of Jesus. That is why some of the scripture readings at this time of year are so dark and scary. They are drawn from the apocalyptic parts of the Bible which discuss a time in the near future, when Christ would return, and it would be the end of human history. That is definitely the tone of the Gospel lesson we just heard:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”

Not very Christmassy! But understandable, especially for us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. The December weeks leading up to the winter solstice are the darkest time of the year. The days are shorter, the nights are longer. It is as if the sun, the source of light and life in our world is withdrawing. What if it did not come back?

There are always stories and predictions about the end of the world. The latest doomsday scare involves the end of the Mayan Calendar. What all the end of the world stories have in common is that they connect very deeply to our human sense of frailty. We don’t like to dwell on it all the time, because we like to feel strong and independent- but we know in our hearts that our very lives depend upon factors and forces that we do not control. We are as vulnerable as a homeless new born babe on a cold dark night.

Speaking of newborns, no one actually knows Jesus’ real birthday. The bible offers no clues. Actually, for the first 3 centuries of Christianity, there was no celebration of Jesus’ birth. The big Christian days were Easter and Epiphany. The Easter story was celebrated every Sunday.  Epiphany was a big holiday, celebrated early in the new year, and marked not the birth of Jesus, but the visit of the Magi, or Wise Men to the infant Jesus. This was considered vitally important, because the Magi were not Jewish. This meant that the message of Jesus was not just for Jews, but for people of all nations.

Some scholars think the date, and the tradition of celebrating Christmas, was introduced as the church made its way into the more northerly climes of Europe. The missionaries encountered pre-Christian religions that had festivals of light in the last month of the year. These festivals in the cold of winter were about praying to the sun, pleading with it to not abandon the world, but to return, and bless us with another year of life. The missionaries failed miserably in their campaign to get the people to stop these so-called pagan festivals of light. An alternative was to baptize the ancient holiday and turn it into a Christian celebration. The scholarly term is syncretism, which is another way of saying, if you can’t beat it, absorb it.

Whether we call it the Winter Solstice, or Advent, the season still carries the sense of waiting for something big. We wait for a sign that God is still with us, and we hope will not be abandoned, and left in the dark.

Hope is our word for today. Each week in Advent we are offered a different theme. If you get the chance, take a look at the Trinity Branches newsletter. I wrote an article for you that suggests a different spiritual exercise for each week’s theme.

All of these words, Hope and Joy and Peace and Love get used so much, and in such a variety of ways, that their meaning and power can get lost, watered down, washed away.

When I listen for how the word hope gets used, I hear at least two basic trends. One goes like this, “I sure hope it’s not busy at the mall today! “ To me this sounds more like wishing for something, than actual hope. It is also probably not the end of the world, if the wish does not come true.

Here is another way I hear the word hope being used. “Life can be hard. But I know that God is  with us. I have hope that whatever happens, it will all somehow be okay.” That sounds like hope born of living through tough times, and coming out the other side. Hope that comes through living through enough dark Decembers to know the days do eventually get longer, the sun never really leaves us, and there will be brighter, warmer times ahead. Amen

A project I dove into this spring….

diving deeply cover I am one of the contributors to a new book just released by the United Church Publishing House. Diving Deeply is a daily devotional resource for the season of Lent.

http://www.ucrdstore.ca/catalog/product/view/id/12134/s/diving-deeply-daily-devotions-for-lent/

 

Here is a review of the book:

Touching Review by Wendy Jean MacLean

Price
Value
Quality

As I read through these daily reflections, I am touched by the depth of intimacy the writers share. They struggle and bless as they navigate the gap between “yes” and “no,” fear and confidence, pride and humility, death and resurrection. I recommend these readings as a way to “plough a furrow through our busyness” (Day 9) and to take time in the day to meet the followers of Jesus—in these stories of grace.
“Being with the Holy is surely a deeper adventure than our mind or imagination can conceive,” writes editor, Betty Lynn Schwab, in the introduction. This is an adventure we can take each day of Lent. Across the churches, others meet us as we dip and dive to the depths in spirit, and in prayer.  “Read them as if each word held a treasure,” is the introduction’s invitation; a study guide lays out ways of sharing the treasure with a small group in a weekly gathering.
The stories are drawn from the daily ministries of chaplains and spiritual directors across the country. In their reflections we meet in hospitals as the end of life invites us to holy ground; on university campuses where students and their chaplain share the “sacred ecology” and “with new language and fresh ideas they express the ancient religious vision: that all human beings are called to a transformation of awareness” (Day 25). We meet in ministers’ studies and in prisons.
The season of Lent “might be viewed as a plunge into the depths of our own lives to find our soul,” writes Darrow Woods on Day 36. During Lent, let the stories in Diving Deeply help you risk the “fierce grace” and the “hidden mysteries” of Christ’s presence in study, prayer, and trust.

Contemplative Advent Project 2012

 

Advent is a season of waiting.

Waiting for what God has promised (remembering the past).

Waiting in the midst of what is in progress (awareness of the present).

Waiting for what is to come (anticipating the future).

We encourage you to allow your worship to have times of waiting in it.

Take your time.

Breathe.

Enjoy the silence…

 

Larry Doyle, Bob Root and Darrow Woods have met to form a Contemplative Liturgy Group. They share a desire to develop liturgy that inspires and makes space in congregational worship for the contemplative spirit. This initiative grew out of an April 2012 Worship Matters event that gathered worship leaders who share an interest in “diving deeper” into spiritual waters.

Please use this liturgy as you wish for worship.

May God bless you with a rich and holy contemplative Advent!

 

Calls to Worship

Advent 1

Advent is a season of waiting.

But we do not wait alone.

God is with us.

We gather with those who have seen the signs,

heard the whispers, felt the tugs in their hearts.

God is birthing Hope into this waiting world.

Let us worship with hearts open to Hope.

 

Advent 2

Advent is a season of waiting.

But we do not wait alone.

God is with us.

We gather with those who have seen the signs,

heard the whispers, felt the tugs in their hearts.

God is birthing Peace into this waiting world.

Let us worship with hearts open to Peace.

 

Advent 3

Advent is a season of waiting.

But we do not wait alone.

God is with us.

We gather with those who have seen the signs,

heard the whispers, felt the tugs in their hearts.

God is birthing Joy into this waiting world.

Let us worship with hearts open to Joy.

 

Advent 4

Advent is a season of waiting.

But we do not wait alone.

God is with us.

We gather with those who have seen the signs,

heard the whispers, felt the tugs in their hearts.

God is birthing Love into this waiting world.

Let us worship with hearts open to Love.

 

Christmas Eve

How long we have been waiting.

But we have not been alone.

God is with us. God has always been with us.

We gather with those who have seen the signs,

heard the whispers, felt the tugs in their hearts.

We gather with those who have seen the glimmers of light.

The light of love is born into our world.

Prayers of Invocation

Advent 1 – Hope

We enter, O God, into this season of preparation and anticipation, longing to skip ahead and celebrate the coming of your light into our darkness – but you would have us first slow down, breathe deeply, and prepare ourselves to receive your gift. We know that your Holy Spirit comes in powerful and unexpected ways, and so we pray we might recognize you moving in and through the season. In Christ’s name and in Christ’s way we pray in hope…

(a moment of contemplation)

 

Advent 2 – Peace

We live in a world where peace seems like just a distant dream, O God.  And so we pray – not just for the absence of violence and conflict but for the deep peace of knowing and trusting your will and your way.  As the darkness and coldness of December set in we trust that the light and the warmth of your Holy Spirit will enfold us and remind us of the Shalom that is to come, and the Shalom that is already within us…

(a moment of contemplation)

 

Advent 3 – Joy

God of light and love, this morning we rejoice and celebrate in your reign and seek to participate in it through our acts of faithful living.  We celebrate justice and righteousness, and with joy we accept your Christmas presence, as we strive to give you our presence.  In the name of Jesus our Christ we pray that you might bless us with an audacious, daring, and joyful faith – just like his…

(a moment of contemplation)

 

Advent 4 – Love

Our waiting has brought us to Christmas week, O God of Light and Love, and our hearts are brimming with anticipation.  In a few short days we’ll celebrate once again the coming of the Light of the World.  Open our hearts and minds to hear this old story in new ways, and fill us with the kind of faith that Mary had as she made her Advent journey.  In Christ’s name, and in Christ’s Way, we pray…

(a moment of contemplation)

 

Christmas Eve

Holy One, born anew each Christmas Eve, be born anew in us this night. This is the sacred moment we have waited for. These are the open hearts we have prepared. Come, Holy Child, and transform our living. Come, Holy Light, and kindle our spirits. Come, Holy Love, and fill us. This is what we have been waiting for. Come…

(a moment of contemplation)


Candle Lighting

 

Advent 1 – Hope

One: The days are surely coming, says the Lord.

All:    We are waiting in hope. (brief silence)

One: Make me to know your ways, O Lord.

All:    We are waiting in hope. (brief silence)

One: Strengthen our hearts in holiness, Lord.

All:    We are waiting in hope.

 

(longer silence – light candle after)

Sing: “While We Are Waiting, Come”  

(Gathering A/C/E 2012/13 Year C, p.83)

1st verse as written

2nd verse: While we are hopeful come…

 

 

Advent 2 – Peace

One: Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.

All:    We are waiting in peace. (brief silence)

One: The One who began a good work among you will bring it to completion.

All:    We are waiting in peace. (brief silence)

One: God lights the darkness and guides our feet.

All:    We are waiting in peace.

 

(longer silence – light candle after)

Sing: “While We Are Waiting, Come”

1st verse as written

2nd verse: While we are peaceful come…

 

 

Advent 3 – Joy

One: We will trust, and will not be afraid.

All:    We are waiting in joy. (brief silence)

One: We do not worry; we pray.

All:    We are waiting in joy. (brief silence)

One: The Lord is near.

All:    We are waiting in joy.

 

(longer silence – light candle after)

Sing: “While We Are Waiting, Come”

1st verse as written

2nd verse: While we are joyful come…

 

 

Advent 4 – Love

One: O God of hosts; let your face shine.

All:    We are waiting in love. (brief silence)

One: The Mighty One has done great things for us.

All:    We are waiting in love. (brief silence)

One: Our spirits rejoice in God.

All:    We are waiting in love.

 

(longer silence – light candle after)

Sing: “While We Are Waiting, Come”

1st verse as written

2nd verse: While we are loving come…

 

 

Christmas Eve

One: People who walk in darkness have seen a great light.

All:    Jesus the light has come. (brief silence)

One: See this thing that has taken place.

All:    Jesus the light has come. (brief silence)

One: Declare his glory among the nations.

All:    Jesus the light has come.

 

(longer silence – light candle after)

Sing: “While We Are Waiting, Come”

1st verse: Jesus the light has come…

 

 

 

 

Commissionings

 

Commissioning for Advent 1

 

Let us go out into the world in hope.

We are not alone.

God is with us.

Hope is promised in these advent days.

Hope is known deeply in these advent days.

God bless you as you wait.

God bless you as you work for hope.

God bless you as you live the life that is yours.

Your hope is blessed.

Go in hope.

 

Commissioning for Advent 2

 

Let us go out into the world in peace.

We are not alone.

God is with us.

Peace is promised in these advent days.

Peace is known deeply in these advent days.

God bless you as you wait.

God bless you as you work for peace.

God bless you as you live the life that is yours.

Your peace is blessed.

Go in peace.

 

Commissioning for Advent 3

 

Let us go out into the world in joy.

We are not alone.

God is with us.

Joy is promised in these advent days.

Joy is known deeply in these advent days.

God bless you as you wait.

God bless you as you work for joy.

God bless you as you live the life that is yours.

Your joy is blessed.

Go in joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commissioning for Advent 4

 

Let us go out into the world in love.

We are not alone.

God is with us.

Love is promised in these advent days.

Love is known deeply in these advent days.

God bless you as you wait.

God bless you as you love.

God bless you as you live the life that is yours.

Your love is blessed.

Go in love.

 

Commissioning for Christmas Eve

 

The child is born.

Our hearts are filled

with hope, peace, joy and love.

Hear in your heart the news of the angels.

Ponder the miracle of this night.

Live in the world

as people of the light.

We are not alone.

God is with us.

Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Open Table

I read an article in the online version of The Christian Century in which an Episcopalian (American Anglican) theologian named Charles Hefling discussed the meaning of “open communion”. http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2012-11/who-communion
 
 
Based on Hefling’s thoughts, I would say that my own theology with regard to this sacrament is summed up in the term “open table”, which means that when I issue the invitation, it is totally inclusive, and usually goes something like this:
 
“At Trinity United Church we believe that this table, and what we share here does not belong to us. It all belongs to God, and is for God’s people. It does not matter to us if you belong to this church or any other church. You do not have to believe the same things we do, or even know exactly what you believe. The only qualification, if that is the right word, for sharing in the food and drink that comes from this table is that you have a hunger, a thirst in your life for God. At the same time, you are absolutely free to not receive communion. “
 
I wrote this quick comment on The Christian Century blog page after reading the article:
 
I looked out from an 8th floor balcony this afternoon, at a mist-kissed canopy of trees over a creek valley that runs through the neighbourhood near my church. I was visiting with the two wonderful women, sisters who share that apartment, and who shared the view with me. It was a brilliant sunny fall afternoon, and the beauty I was gifted with had for me, a deeply sacramental nature. God the creator is present in this world. The Spirit is present in this world, and is alive. Christ was present in the visit I had with these two strong, faithful women. I noted that the only fences limiting access to the trees, to the creek valley I was looking at, are human made. As the pastor, and celebrant at Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, I am grateful that we have a totally open table.

Hope Peace Joy Love

                      Hope Peace Joy Love

Traditionally there is a “theme” for each of the four weeks of the Advent season. We often hear the themes mentioned as the candles of the Advent Wreath are lit.  A few weeks ago I sat with two other United Church ministers for the first meeting of our Contemplative Liturgy Project.  Our hope is to create new worship materials that encourage and make space for awe, and wonder, and silence.  Together we prayerfully read the scriptures for the weeks of Advent. We crafted calls to worship based on the readings. 

 

As I reflected on the scripture selections, seeking ways to connect them to the candle-lighting themes, it occurred to me that the biblical understanding of these words is more nuanced, and has greater depth than the ways these words are used outside a faith context. These are powerful words, worthy of us slowing down, and taking time to reflect on their spiritual meaning. For this Advent season, I offer you the following spiritual exercises, intended to help us to live more fully into the meaning of each week’s theme.

 

Hope  (December 2-8 ) This week, commit a hopeful piece of scripture to memory, and say it to yourself during the day as an ongoing prayer.  Here are two possible scriptures, from the Sunday readings:

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” (Psalm 25:1)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:33)

 

Peace (December 9-15 ) Make an appointment with yourself (and perhaps with a friend)  to go for an early morning prayer walk, outside if you can manage it!  Think about this line of scripture as you walk:

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

 

Joy (December 9-15 ) The children’s song Magic Penny  says “Joy is something if you give it away, you end up having more.” Gratitude for life, and generosity towards others are signs that joy is flowing through us. Here are two things to do this week, to prime the pump of spiritual joy:

“Give thanks to the Lord” (Isaiah 12:4) Make a list each day of three things for which you are grateful to God.

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)

Each day this week choose one of your possessions that would be of use to someone else, and give it away.

 

Love (December 16-22) “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:41-42)

 

Elizabeth’s response to the arrival of her younger cousin is visceral- she is moved from the core of her being. The scripture describes her as being filled with the Holy Spirit. Love is an animating, life-giving flow of energy from God. Take time to remember the people in your life that you love dearly. Remember especially those who have died, and are now safely held by God. Imagine God’s love flowing through you, towards them. Imagine God’s love flowing through their hearts, towards you. Let the feeling of love flowing be your prayer for those most dear to you. Give thanks for these people who mean, and have meant so much to you. Ask God to bless them.

 

The season of Advent offers us an opportunity to grow as faithful people. As we anticipate the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we can also take time in our days and weeks to allow something new to be born in us. We can actively seek to make of our heart a place for the Holy One to be born.