What is Advent and How Do We Celebrate It?
The word ‘Advent’ is from the Latin meaning ‘coming.’ Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical or church year as we anticipate the coming of Jesus. It is the first season of the year and leads up to Christmas. The first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (which is November 30th), and so it will always fall somewhere between November 27th at the earliest and December 3rd at the latest. This year it is November 29th. Like Lent, Advent is a preparatory season. The coming that we anticipate is two-fold, preparing for or looking forward to Jesus first in the manger that we celebrate at Christmas and also Jesus’ Second Coming. It is a time of waiting, but not idly for these events, but actively getting ready. The readings throughout Advent go in a sort of reverse fashion, starting with Jesus’ Second Coming and working our way back to anticipating Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem.
Traditionally the liturgical color for this season was purple, the same as Lent. This was because Advent was also considered a penitential season as people prepared for Christmas as we prepare during Lent for Easter. More recently Advent has become more a season of hope and expectation, so many churches have switched to blue as the colour of the season to first, distinguish it from Lent and secondly, as a colour of anticipation. At Trinity we use blue.
A 20th century tradition that helps us to be active in our waiting is the Advent Wreath with four candles, encircling a central candle. The tradition began in the 1930’s in Europe, where the darkness of the season was particularly evident and the growing light from the wreath was a symbol of the light of Jesus breaking into the world. The wreath is often decorated with evergreen bows, symbolizing the eternal life that comes from Jesus. The outside candles generally follow the colour of the church, either purple or blue, with the third candle being pink. This pink candle was considered a lightening up of the purple, but has remained even in churches that switched to blue. There have been different sets of names and meanings, although most Anglican Churches use Hope, Peace, Joy and Love with the center candle the Christ Candle that is lit on Christmas Eve. These themes each point to different aspects of what Jesus brings into our lives – as our source of hope, peace, joy and love. As mentioned, the third candle is pink, which is the candle of Joy, hence the lightening up.
Another tradition often associated with Advent is the Advent Calendar, which tends to run from December 1stto 24th or 25th. As children we might have experienced an advent calendar with little doors you popped open and there was a chocolate behind the door. Other advent calendars might have a scripture verse printed inside. This is a tradition that has been widely embraced by society at large, without the spiritual connection, as we see all different varieties of Advent calendars for sale, from 24 days of tea or coffee pods, to Lego with different small builds each day that create a larger scene. A few years ago, I came across a different kind of Advent Calendar, the “Advent of Gratitude.” Each day you give thanks for what we already have and suggests a small donation amount, like “count the number of pairs of shoes you have and pay 0.10 for each pair. At the end of 24 days you choose a charity to donate the money collected. I have scheduled a post on our Facebook page for this Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, with a version that you can use.
One of the challenges that celebrating Advent can have is Christmas is being celebrated all around us in decorations, Christmas carols and other general preparations for Christmas. Some churches do not decorate or sing Christmas Carols until it is actually Christmas or very close to it. This can leave us feeling out of sync with the wider society. While Christmas often ends for those around us on December 25th ours is just beginning and extends until at least January 6th but for some through February 2nd when we celebrate Jesus’ presentation at the temple, 40 days after his birth. Rather than suggest to people they should not do Christmas before Christmas, I want to encourage you find some ways of incorporating Advent traditions, and marking this as a time of waiting. This could mean holding back on some of your decorating, gradually building up to Christmas, as a sign of waiting and anticipating or doing some sort of Advent devotions around waiting.
Advent is a short but special season that begins our Christian year. My prayers are with you as enter this season of preparation and anticipation. May you discover new hope, peace, joy and love this season that leads you into the great sense of all of these as we celebrate God among us, Emmanuel, Jesus.
November 12. 2020
The events of the last week continue to swirl around us, from the ongoing drama of the US election to the sombre reminder of the cost of peace and freedom on Remembrance Day. Last Sunday as part of our Remembrance Sunday service I spoke about the importance of love for one another in overcoming the ever-deepening divisions in our world. We have seen these divisions gradually growing over recent years, leading to greater and greater hostility, prejudice and even violence. We have seen some politicians feed on these divisions and then feeding into them further. It is distressing to see and experience the ever this growing divide between people, as we see people turning against one another. It seems to me that these divisions are partly rooted in the uncertainty around economics, job insecurity, relationships and so many other things that lead to worry for our own personal situations and our future. We as humans want to be in control, or at least have some control over our lives and future, and when that feels threatened, we often look for someone to something to blame, because at least then we could understand why it is happening. This leads to growth in “us and them” thinking, and sometimes a dehumanizing of those unlike us, making it easier to either turn against them or to ignore what is happening to others because it is not us and doesn’t affect us directly, and we have enough problems of our own to worry about.
An example we have seen play out in the last number of years is the way immigrants, both legal and illegal, and especially from specific places, have been blamed for the problems in society, and as justification for stricter controls. This characterization, often incorrect, has led to greater prejudice and even violence against certain groups of people and a reluctance to get involved when we see it because it does not directly affect us. Some fear that “if I speak-up,” they might turn on me instead and I just want to live a quiet life. The more we are separated into our own little homogeneous groups, those who look, act and think like us, the more society becomes fractured.
All of this is contrary to the way of Christ, to the way we as disciples are called to be and see the world, the way we are called to act in the world. Jesus in his life reached across many of the traditional boundaries within his society and religion. He reached out to those were different, to those who were ostracized because of their social class, illness or disease or their lifestyle or life choices, many of which people had little or no control over in their lives. Jesus invites us, commands us in fact, to love one another as he has loved us (John 15:12 from Sunday). He loved people regardless of who they were or what they had done. He also loved them too much in some cases to let them stay in those situations, inviting them into a new way of life. Like the woman caught in adultery or the woman of the city who washed his feet with her tears, he showed them love but invited them into a better way of life. His way of love was not permission to continue in their sin in these cases, but a love that believed they could change, when so many had written them off. Jesus’ invitation of love was an invitation to see the world and see others differently, for us to see with His eyes. We are called to the same kind of love. A love that sees God within each person and seeks to treat them as such, honouring them and seeking the best for them, seeking to serve them in Jesus’ name.
As I’ve said before, divisions in society are not new, Paul in his letters often addressed the divisions within the community, especially in places like Corinth. So much so that it became a major focus of Paul’s letters to them, comparing them to a body with a variety of parts that are all equally important even though they were different. That it is not the differences between us that is the problem, it is when we begin to think some part of the body or society is less worthy than others. When one part of the body turns on another, perhaps like in an autoimmune disease when the immune system turns and actively fights against other cells in the body as though they were the enemy. We as society sometimes act similarly, turning on other parts of the body. When we allow our differences to become the source of division and strife, we dishonour the one in whose image we are all made.
As followers of Christ we are called to a way of love that sees each other as God sees us, made in God’s image, loved as precious children of God, and to celebrate the differences, honouring all members of the body and their contribution to the greater whole. We are called to be peacemakers, which sometimes involves naming the injustice and prejudice we hear, see and experience. To advocate and be a voice of those who would be marginalized by divisive policies. We are called to build bridges across the differences, for building up of a just society, a society made stronger and better by the inclusion of the gifts and perspectives of all people, not just those in power.
I hope and I pray that we as followers of Jesus can be part of the rebuilding and healing of divisions, so we may see a better world for all people as we emerge from this turbulent time.
November 5, 2020
The best words to describes this week, at least so far, are chaos and uncertainty. Over the last few weeks we have seen and heard daily reports of new COVID cases and hospitalizations that are alarming, record setting. While we are hearing new recommendations for further precautions like extra layers in masks, we are also hearing a push to re-open and relax other restrictions. This week our attention has also been focused on the US Presidential Election, and the chaos surrounding it. Like other things in our life, much of this is out of our control. While we can do our small part in trying not to contribute to the spread of the virus through wearing a mask, keeping our distance, washing our hands and staying home when appropriate, it often does not feel like it is making a difference in the bigger picture. And certainly, we have no control over what happens in the US election and the fall-out that will happen, regardless of who is declared the winner. Between our lack of control over these situations and the effects they have and will have on our lives, it is an unsettling time in which we are living.
As I was wrestling with the chaos and uncertainty these events are causing, I was reminded that I am only responsible for my own actions. As hard as it is to let go and as much as we want to be in control because it all effects my future too, I have to let go and trust that God is at work within the situation. I want to note here, that there is fine line between believing that God is at work in these situations and believing that God is orchestrating them or that God is the puppet master pulling the strings and causing what is happening. I believe that God is always at work for good, but that we as humans have also been given free will by God, which can work against God’s good intentions. With free will comes the ability and responsibility to choose our actions, which means we can choose to act in ways that are contrary to the good intentions that God has for the world. Those choices can have a variety of consequences not just for the person but for others and even the wider community, including negative and even direr consequences.
In relation to COVID, we see this when people choose or are forced by their circumstances, to go against the recommendations of health authorities and have an impact on the wider community. We see this as well, in the deeply divided nation to our south, whose decisions and actions have global consequences. It is also seen in how people choose to respond to situations they disagree with, from peaceful protests to violent uprising. Free choice gives us the freedom to choose right from wrong and to choose love over hate, but it also allows us to make bad choices that have larger consequences. Trusting that God is at work in a situation is not some Pollyanna outlook that all will be well, but a faith that God is working to bring good out of even the worst situations.
For me part of God being at work in these situations is how God uses me and you, doing our part. It means for me, seeking God’s will and striving to live by it for the betterment of all. As part of my morning prayers most days, I use “Pray as You Go” a daily scriptural reflection I listen to as I am walking each morning. On Wednesday morning the reading was Philippians 2:12-18 and there was a reminder that God is at work in us enabling us to will and to work for God’s good pleasure and that we are called to be shining stars in a corrupt world. That really hit home this week in light of everything going on. As I talked about on last Sunday on All Saints Sunday, we as Christians are the saints who are called to shine with the light of Christ. It is not our responsibility to light the whole world, but to be light in our small corner, to allow the light of Christ to shine through us where we are. There is no doubt in my mind that this world is far from perfect, that there is darkness in the world. Darkness in the form of corruption, as well the darkness of misinformation, and the darkness of neglect and mistreatment of the vulnerable. It is into this darkness we are called to bring the light of Christ. We may not be able to fix all the problems of the world or even our little corner of it, but we can bring light to and be light wherever we are, pushing back the darkness. Chaos and uncertainty will always be there, they will ebb and flow with time and circumstances, but our anchor, Jesus Christ, will keep us grounded and secure.
October 15, 2020
One of my Diocesan responsibilities is facilitating a program called Fresh Start for clergy during their first year in a new parish. Our topic this month was “Transitions” and one of the analogies or metaphors that are used for transitions is “unfreezing,” of how things are done and as new relationships are being formed. This fluidity allows for the necessary changes that happen as clergy and congregation adapt to each other, each bringing their own perspectives and ways of doing and being to their new ministry partnership.
It struck me that this is also an appropriate metaphor for these times in which we are living. The pandemic has thawed or unfrozen, everything in society, from the ways that decisions are made, to how we organize and run events, even to how we relate to one another. If anyone a year ago had thought that most meetings and interactions, from the House of Commons, to business meetings, to concerts and galas, to church services and even family gatherings, would be held virtually; I think we would have laughed and said it was straight out of science fiction, and yet that is exactly what has happened. The rules and ways of doing everything from voting in the House of Commons, to huge conferences, to praying and social interactions now mostly happen over Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts, Facebook, Instagram, and other similar platforms. The pandemic has created a very fluid way of life, allowing for greater adaptation as the situation constantly changes.
If we look at history we see that there have been other times when there has been great fluidity that has brought about great change. Biblically, we think of Noah and the Great Flood, the Israelites in the wilderness and the Early church following Jesus’ resurrection. In each case, the way that things had been was in the past, and the way things would be was still part of an unknown future. Their identity as a people was shifting, as was how they related to the world around and their day to day activities, all adjusting to a new way of being and being shaped by their new reality. We are experiencing a similar time of transformation and change brought on by the pandemic and heightened by other societal changes that have flowed out of this time of being unfrozen.
Transitions tend to be times of high energy, either energy invested in trying to stabilize the shifting ground beneath us or creative energy to explore new directions and opportunities. In part the energy is the Holy Spirit at work in and through us, inviting us to use the gifts of the Spirit to respond to the changes, transforming ourselves and the world around us, to explore new ways of being and doing, and of serving God and humanity. That for me is the exciting part of this fluid state we are living in; all the possibilities and opportunities for a new and better society to emerge from this time. The pandemic means we cannot do what we did before, the status quo is no longer an option, so we can either lament and try to get back what is gone, or we can do something new. The latter option is a more positive approach.
This state of unfrozen, of flux brings with it benefits and challenges. As individuals and families, this has included how we work, how we spend out leisure time, and how we interact with others and the wider community. The benefit is not having to spend long periods of time commuting whether to work or meetings. The challenge is needing to define and differentiate work time and space from our leisure or family time and space so they do all blend into one. Families are spending more time together, but individuality and personal space and time is more challenging when we are always together.
As a diocese this time of fluidity has helped us to look outside of the box of what we have always done and how we’ve always done it. This diocese is relatively large, but we have been able to gather people for meetings and conferences who might not otherwise be able to attend because of distance. As a diocese this fluid time coincides with some other big changes namely our diocesan leadership, as Bishop Peter retires and Bishop Jenny steps back into parish ministry and we go from five bishops to three. For over a decade we have been talking about the sustainability of our episcopal structure and this has forced the question. We have the opportunity to assess and to learn from other Anglican jurisdictions and other denominations about their best practices. Given the existing fluidity of the pandemic and the lessons we have learned through it, now is the perfect time to be asking these questions.
Within our own congregation of Trinity we have seen the fluidity of worship moving online and for the most part staying there, as the majority of people still access worship online. The pandemic was the imputes for this my weekly email, and the drop-in office time, both of which have been well received and I plan to continue. In worship itself, I have made some changes, and am planning to write an article for the November News From the Pews exploring and explaining these changes. The most exciting result of the fluidity right now, is the opportunity to celebrate a very unique service this coming Saturday, as we celebrate the baptism of Klara White via Zoom, where the participants will each be in their own environment but we can still be together for this joyous celebration. We would never have considered this an option even a few months ago, but now it seems like a wonderful solution to the challenges presented by the pandemic.
As I reflect on the fluidity, the unfrozen state in which we are living right now, I find it exciting to think what God may be doing in and through us, the ways that God is re-shaping and forming us for a future that is not yet fully, but which we are living in the cusp of. In creation God took a formless void and created what we know as creation, all held together by the wonderfully complex and precise perimeters necessary to support the existence of that creation. I am excited, to see how God will take and use this fluid time to bring about greater good in and through us, through the power of the Holy Spirit.