Sunday, November 28, 2010

How will you celebrate Advent this year?

Re-adjusting your calendar really does reveal priorities.  As I consider how I will celebrate Advent, I realize once again how important my time is to me, and how hard it is to give it up.  I realize that, subconsciously at least, it feels like I must make a choice between doing well academically (and just coping with life!) and focusing on Christ.  But is this really the case?

The more I think about it, the more I realize this 'choice' is yet another subtle lie that I have forgotten to question.  Instead I need to remember that  "in him we live and move and have our being"(Acts 17:28), and that it is in pushing Christ out that we lose our life. "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." (Mat 10:39,16:25, Mk 8:35,Lk 9:24...)   Putting Christ over the 'logic' of self interest is one of the counter-cultural parts of our faith, yet it is something God wants to teach us to do - abd what a gift it is!  Advent gives us an opportunity to practice just that.

Here are a list of practical ideas for celebrating Advent this year:

  • Buy or borrow an Advent devotional book, and take time either on your own or with a group of family or friends to use it once a week or even daily.  
  • Make/buy an advent wreath and light it during these times, and even at meals.  This could be as simple as arranging five candles on your table.    The traditional colors are purple, pink (see previous post) and white (for the Christ Candle - the center one).
  • Give up something (for example, sweets, or the singing of Christmas carols) for these four weeks before Christmas.  This helps remind us of our need for repentance, and also makes more tangible our sense of waiting for the true celebration of Christmas.
  • Simply challenge yourself to spend more time with God in prayer.
  • Participate in advent celebrations within your local church body.
This list is based off things that I have found helpful, but I'm sure there are many other ways you could celebrate advent.  May you be challenged and encouraged!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Seasons of the Church (part II): Advent

Greeting by Sr. Claire Joy, Digital art, October 2008.
This was taken from the blog 
"What is Advent?", a friend recently asked me.  Advent is the four weeks before Christmas in the church calendar, in which we celebrate the coming of our Savior, Christ.  It is, as Ireton calls it, a "season of waiting".  Our waiting is twofold: we await the celebration of God coming into our world as a human (the incarnation) called Jesus, and we look forward to that day when he will return.

Ireton writes a bit about the origins of Advent:
Advent originated as a period of fasting in preparation for the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas), most likely in Gaul (modern day France).  This pre-Christmas fast was practiced in some form by the late 400s, though it wasn't until the second half of the sixth century, when prayers and scriptural texts for the Sundays preceding Christmas began to be written and selected, that Advent as we know it came into being. (18)
How is it relevant to us today?  Ireton challenges us to let it shape us:
If we were to observe Advent as the season of thoughtful reflection and repentance that it has traditionally been, we would have an opportunity to ... rethink our priorities, to realign our lives with God's desire for us, to seek forgiveness and start anew... To spend the weeks before Christmas in this way would be radically countercultural, to be sure, but it would also serve to remind us that we are waiting for Christmas -- and that the celebration of Christmas is worth waiting for. (21)

I will talk more about the 'basics' of Advent.  As you will see, with each part of the celebration of the church is associated a color.  Purple is the color of Advent, symbolic of repentance as we prepare for the coming of Christ.

Each Sunday has a slightly different traditional focus, or "watchword":

  • Wait - not passive, bored waiting, but "active waiting", as Nouwen calls it.  Ireton also points out that "in Hebrew, the word for wait is also the word for hope" (22). 
  • Prepare -  As John the Baptist urged those who would listen before Jesus came, and as Christ warned us, we must be ready for the coming of Christ.  Ireton points out how appropriate this is in the context of the rest of the church year:   " Advent follows a long season of Ordinary Time in which the busyness and dailyness of our lives can distract us, making us forget to pay attention or to remember that we are living in expectation of Christs return.  That is why we need Advent -- it reminds us to pay attention, to be on gaurd, to keep watch that we might be ready for Christ when he comes again" (24)
  • Rejoice - The color pink is used on the third Sunday as a symbol of joy.  Mary's joy is particularly a focus.  I found it particularly meaningful to think about the story of Mary in terms of the way in which God is working.  As Ireton writes, "It is God who does these great things, to be sure, as Mary herself proclaims, but how great a God we serve, that he would allow us, invite us, long for us to participate in his redeeming work in the world."  Yes indeed, how great a God we serve!
  • Love - traditionally associated with Joseph.  It is time when we are challenged both to love and to see more of God's love.  Ireton explains that "Joseph's love for Mary and for Jesus, with its attendant self-sacrifice, points beyond itself, giving us a glimpse of God's great outpouring of himself in love for all of us, love that is seen so clearly in the incarnation, the coming of the God who created the cosmos to live among us as one of us"
Advent is quite possibly my favorite part of the year.  I have many memories of lighting the advent candles with my family and each week seeing the light grow in our darkened house.  It is a time that teaches us to wait in the darkness so that we can really understand that light which we know and for which we hope.

There is so much more I could say that I'm guessing there will probably be more posts on the subject.  I hope this has helped you think about the four weeks ahead in a different way.  I know I am challenged to consider what I will do to incorporate into my life this kind of "active" - not busy - waiting.

How are you going to celebrate Advent this year?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Church Year Spirituality - a related blog post

The InternetMonk blog is also starting a series on the church calendar.  The first post makes some similar points, but I thought you might be interested in reading it.  I found it helpful.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Seasons of the Church (part I)

For the past few years, I have had a growing interest in learning more about the liturgical year of the church.  I decided to do some reading on the subject, and will discuss what I am learning on this blog, in the form of a series of posts.  I thought it was an appropriate time to do so, since the beginning of Advent (at the end of this month) marks the beginning of the church calendar.

I am reading The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Ireton.  The book is subtitled "Meeting God in the Church Year".  Here are some of the tings she has to say about why we should, as a church and as individuals, learn to celebrate the seasons of the church.

First, it helps us relate and understand all of our time "through the lens of the Christ-story"(12).  She writes
"The church year has seasons of darkness, of light, of sorrow, of rejoicing, of just getting through.  Our lives have such seasons too.  By incorporating these experiences, the church year hallows them, reminding us that all time is sacred because God is present in it." 
 Time is an important part of our lives, and God is present in that, too.  Ireton writes
"The church year is another way God reaches into time to draw us to himself.  In living each year the mystery of our faith - Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again - we open ourselves to receive a deeper understanding of that mystery..."  
There is also in this cyclical nature of the church year the graceful allowance for us to learn more from it each year as we come back again and again to these truths and mysteries.

Ireton also points out that celebration of the church year is "necessarily communal".  This is something that the Church has always been.   Yet what a witness it can be!  As she points out, "In an individualistic culture, this focus on community celebration is a witness to the wholeness that people can have only in living life together." (14).  I have personally experienced the truth of this statement many an Advent and Easter season.

Finally, and perhaps most personally motivating, is the potential for celebration of the church year to help change our perspective God-ward instead of culture-ward.  Ireton writes
Observing the seasons of the church year also helps us embrace the church's telling of time instead of our culture's.  Our culture's calendar is grounded in capitalism, which requires consumption.  Back-to-school sales, day-after-thanksgiving sales, the Christmas shopping season, after-Christmas sales, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, graduation, Father's Day, the Fourth of July -- there is a sale associated with each and every cultural holiday or occasion to induce us to consume more.  This way of measuring time reduces us to mere consumers, instead of inviting us to be fully human, with all the varied emotions, experiences and roles that entails.
Isn't this so true?  It is so easy to slip into this.  Yet when we consider the rich potential of understanding our lives in the context of the church and God's workings - why would we ever want this consumer version?  The way we measure our time is perhaps more powerful than we always realize.  God knows this.  He works in time, and invites us to join Him.  I hope you are as excited as I am to grow in this area!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

You should listen to this.

I don't think I've ever just forwarded something like this, but I just listened to this sermon and I think it really bears listening too.  I recently had two brief discussions with friends about whether or not there is a spiritual world. What do you believe?  What you believe affects how you live and pray.

Listen to this while you make dinner tomorrow, or while you're getting ready for bed, or whenever it is you have 45 minutes.  And if you don't have time, at least include Ephesians 6:10-20 in your thoughtful reading of the bible this week.

How to Win in Prayer: Spiritual Warfare
a message by Pete Grieg at Holy Trinity Brompton, London.