Tag Archive for 'Advent'

Advent 1 2013

Fr. Charles Blauvelt, Vicar

A Advent 1

St. Matthew 24:36-44

 

Gathering his disciples on a hilltop far removed from the noise and haste of the bustling city, Jesus cautioned them to be ready.  As Noah in the days before the flood, as the faithful worker in the field, as the householder in the middle of the night, “you also must be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

 

Without having taken a single step outside the confines of his tiny homeland nestled at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Jesus knew that things were going to get difficult for his followers everywhere.  He saw the signs in the world around him, and warned them to be prepared, to be ready, to be alert through the times of darkness and doubt.  Forces, both religious and political, were already mounting in strength against the small band of believers.  Temptations were beginning to lure some away, including the one who would eventually betray him.  Fear had claimed the allegiance of many hundreds, and would continue to do so even in the best of times.  Disillusionment was waiting in the wings to snatch the new-found faith of others.  And the first of many times of persecution would soon be visited upon the few who remained.

 

If nothing else, the season of advent flies in the face of our yearly plunge into cultural denial, and connects us those same forces of darkness that still infest our world, and afflict our daily lives.  A cursory glance at the recent headlines reminds us that the reality of human evil abounds.  U.S. soldiers are blown up by terrorists, killing and maiming hundreds of innocents—all in the name of God.  In Bagdad a car bomb explodes, and in Afghanistan news of yet another massacre leaves the prospects for peace at an even greater distance.  Young children are assaulted and murdered in schools and houses next door by teenagers and adults who show neither remorse for their actions, nor concern for the pain and heartache they cause others.  And pictures of incredible suffering and devastation left by incredibly violent storms in the Philippines leave us feeling afraid and out of control.

 

In all of this, Jesus reminds us to be ready.

 

A little closer to home, over morning coffee we are greeted by the unsettling news of a neighbor being beaten and robbed right down the street.  Less and a week later an armed robbery closes the bank, with rumors of a bomb scare to boot!  All this follows close on the heels of similar crimes at neighborhood convenience stores, a shooting here, a mugging there.

 

Through all of this, Jesus counsels us to be ready.

 

“How?” we may well ask; ‘how do we stand ready through all of this chaos erupting, not only around the world at large, but also right here in our own back yard?  Do we carry on as others do, and pretend that it’s not really there?  Or do we wall ourselves away, turning our homes into fortresses with alarm systems and trunks full of automatic weapons?  Could that be what Jesus, the Prince of Peace, means by being ready?

 

While these may be the answers which some people adopt for their lives, I would certainly challenge the notion that the same holds true for Christians.  Beginning with the disciples themselves, and continuing throughout history right to our present day, faithful followers of Jesus the Christ have struggled to avoid falling victim to the fear-inspired mindset that leads to a denial of the evils of life on the one hand, or armed confrontation with those evils on the other.  As St. Paul instructed us so many years ago, the Christian path is to know the hour, to know the realities of life, but to live according to a different reality; to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,” that we may “conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day.”

 

So where do we find this armor of light that helps us in standing ready?  Where are whatever tools we need not only to survive the current chaos, but to know the hope of salvation promised by Christ?  Well, my friends, you’ve come to the right place.  For the answer is sitting all around you.  Leaving us much more than a set of teachings for the good times and the bad, Christ Jesus left us Himself—the Body of Christ, the Church.  Our readiness for the advent of God in our lives depends to a large extent on the surety of our connection with this, the Body of God’s Son, right here at Holy Cross.

 

As we have rehearsed since the moment of Christ’s Ascension, the way to remain on a firm and faithful footing amid all the craziness of human existence is to build our lives in the company of other faithful people, that together we may remain focused on Christ and healthy in our approach to life on earth.  For us, the secret is in a faithful balance—structuring our lives that all bases are covered, that all needs are met, allowing faith to form the foundation of our days.

 

Several years ago, Fr. Oehmig of the University of the South offered some helpful hints for discovering this balance in building a faithful life, one day at a time.  In ten simple steps we are connected with one another, able to “conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day.”

 

  1. “In a conscious, sincere way, daily turn your life over to the care and protection of God, asking for the empowerment to do what God has given you to do.”  Surrender, which lies at the heart of every prayer, recognizes that we are cradled in the arms of holy love every minute of even the most stressful days, leading us lean on one another for help and support.

 

  1. “Read something from Scripture daily, even if it is but one verse.  In a planned or unrehearsed way, it’s up to you.  And when God presents a chance to do so, share your insights or questions with another Christian or two.”

 

  1. “Go to church at least weekly.  Forget being the Church without going to church.  Has anybody ever come into a deep Christian commitment watching ‘Dateline’, [the Today Show], or slogging through the mud on a football field?”

 

  1. “Forgive whoever has offended you, regardless of the quality of his or her repentance.”  Resentment or unforgiveness blocks any possibility of finding joy in life.

 

  1. “Give more money than you think you can, with no thought of the way it is going to be spent or how you are going to be repaid.  Remember the root of [the word] ‘miserable’ is ‘miser.’”   It is only when we give of ourselves that we can know how abundantly blessed we truly are.

 

  1. “Tell someone you love that you love them.”  Don’t rationalize or assume that your words of love are unnecessary, even if you see them every day.  Stay connected.

 

  1. “Pray for someone you dislike to be blessed in abundance.  Very similar to forgiveness, praying for another is a good way to get unhooked from your favorite enemy and your favorite bad feeling.”

 

  1. At home, at the store, even at work, “Say ‘no’ to something you feel angry or depressed after doing, and ‘yes’ to something you feel happy about after doing.  Forget if it’s religious or not.”  Half the time, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, God’s joyous presence with us comes as a complete surprise.

 

  1. “Allow any portion of the day, however serious, to be interrupted by a joke.”  Even the armor of light needs a lift now and then.  And,

 

  1. “Discover at least seven ways to play that cost less than $5.00.  I know this will send MasterCard and the shopping malls into apoplexy [especially at this time of year], but it is possible—and necessary—to do.”

 

It’s all there, my friends—all that we need to keep our armor of light shining brightly.  And the people we need to help us stay ready are all here, here in the Body of Christ.  For it is in coming together, striving together to keep all things in balance, that we remain ready together—ready to ward off the forces that would pull us from the way of Christ, ready to welcome the Lord Jesus upon his glorious return.

 

Let us pray:

 

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which you Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Advent Spiritual Life Suggestions: Week Four

The following thoughts on Prayer come from the monks of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.

PRAYER

Time: Set time aside, every day, to spend with God. If time is tight, pray while doiing things that don’t demand your full attention (exercising, cooking, gardening, riding the subway, etc.).

Space: While prayer is portable, returning to a place set aside for prayer can help prepare us for prayer. Choose a corner of a room where God can be remembered and met, every day.

Focus: Use an icon or a candle to focus your time with God. Allow scripture or poetry to direct your thoughts. If you get distracted, simply set the thought aside and turn back to God.

Body: We’re embodied creatures, so it helps to let the body share in prayer. Give a stretch, kneel down, hold a ring of prayer beads, or simply focus on our breath, giving thanks for the gift of life it represents.

Repetition: Prayer is a relationship, our response to God’s continuous invitation. Like relationships, prayer deepens over time. Be real, and listen for the voice of God, who brought you there.

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Advent Spiritual Life Suggestions: Week Three

IMG_2401“Hope” is our focus for this third week on Advent. Faith (or trust), hope and love are known as the three theological virtues. That title can scare one off; it simply means that they aren’t “natural” virtues like patience or wisdom, but instead relate specifically to living in relation with God.

Hope is the virtue that characterizes the Christian’s stance towards the future. We watch or listen to the news and everything seems very bleak. Perhaps our own personal lives are also shadowed by darkness of one sort or another. It’s easy to give in to despair, which is the opposite of hope. But the story of God’s people as it unfolds in the Bible is one founded always on hope. Abraham leaves his home and journeys to a land of promise based on hope. Israel awaits its Messiah, living in hope. And we can think of the millions who lived in hope through the dark decades of repression behind the Iron Curtain, never letting go of the hope that their day of freedom would come.

What do you hope for? For the future of the world; for your own future and that of your family? This is a time, in your prayer and reflection, to focus on what you hope for. Where do you need to rekindle hope? One of the best ways to become a more hopeful person is to begin to celebrate small occasions of joy: the beauty of the world dusted with our first snow, a meal shared with a friend, a word of thanks or praise, that rare bit of news that actually shows people working together for good or something wonderful happening where the future seemed dark. Some of us fall into a habit of complaint and depression. Countering it with deliberate celebrations of little joys can be a step towards a greater sense of hope.

Advent 3 December 12, 2010

Isaiah 35:1-10                                                                      

James 5:7-10                                                                       

Matthew 11:2-11

These four beautiful banners hang against the east wall of our worship space during Advent: WATCH, WAIT, HOPE, PRAY they remind us. The mantra of this season of expectation, this season when we await the coming of Christ. And on the back of each of the banners is another word, the same word on each. It’s written in invisible ink, but it’s there. That word is FEAR. Continue reading ‘Advent 3 December 12, 2010’

Advent Spiritual Life Suggestions: Week Two

Waiting is one of the most difficult spiritual tasks most of us face. We want what we want when we want it. The earliest Christians faced a similar situation. They had expected Jesus to return in glory during their own lifetimes. When he didn’t, the Church had to consider what it meant to “wait on the Lord.”

IMG_2400Out of that experience came several learnings. First, while we wait it is important to tend to daily business in an orderly fashion: clean the house, earn our living, bring up our children, exercise civic responsibility. No lying around, waiting for Jesus as an excuse. Common sense! So Advent might be a time to consider our daily routines, tighten things up a bit, readjust and reorder. Second, the early Church stressed the value of mutual support and encouragement: people were urged to reach out to their sisters and brothers who might be discouraged or feel defeated. Again, this is something we can put into practice in our own daily lives. The secular “pre-Christmas” season tends to get focused on self, or on a generalized busyness. Maybe instead of a party for 50 of your best friends, you might have supper or just a cup of coffee with one person whom you sense could use your support and encouragement. (Support and encouragement don’t necessarily mean “advice”; just your loving presence is what’s needed, unless someone asks for more.)

But beyond these practical spiritual disciplines, this is a season to cultivate the deeper discipline of simply waiting — letting go of all our wantings and impatience. God has God’s own time; our contentment comes from slowing down and adjusting our pace to God’s. If you’ve ever spent retreat time in a monastic community, you will have experienced how time slows down and life simplifies. The result is not boredom (once you get used to it), but peace. Advent is a time to reach for that sense of peace that comes from simply learning to wait.

Advent 2 December 5, 2010

Isaiah 11:1-10                                                                      

Romans 15:4-13                                                                  

Matthew 3:1-12

Once a month I go down to Massachusetts to see my spiritual director. He’s one of the monks of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, a quiet, cheerful man who always exudes a great sense of centeredness and peace. We sit together for an hour or so while I talk about what’s on my soul. Br. James listens. When I have laid myself bare before him he is silent for a long time, and then he’ll come out with a question – a deceptively simple question usually, but one which unlocks a new door, gives a new insight, invites me to consider a new possibility.

This last week I went down to Emery House perplexed about a problem I faced, not knowing what I should do. It had me waking up in the middle of the night fretting about the alternatives, none of which seemed good. So I laid it out for Br. James and then there was the usual long silence, followed by the question: “Where do you feel free in this? And where do you feel unfree, bound?” See what I mean by a new perspective: I hadn’t thought at all about my dilemma in terms of feeling free. And that’s what I told him. In fact, I told him that his question made me realize that I felt very little freedom in my life. I felt as though I were constantly serving others, trying to fulfill their expectations, and usually coming up short. Continue reading ‘Advent 2 December 5, 2010’

Advent 1 November 28, 2010

Darkness and Light:

A Response to the Readings for Advent 1

 (This was one of our periodic intergenerational “Come With Joy” Sundays, which feature the use of drama and art, and participation by the congregation in the response to the Scripture readings.)

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

Presider

Imagine the unimaginable. Perhaps it will be helpful if you close your eyes for a few moments. Be with the silence, the darkness. Now imagine the unimaginable. Imagine that in these next four weeks, these weeks of Advent, you do not put up a Christmas tree or decorations; you do not make lists or shop for Christmas presents; you do not give or go to Christmas parties; you do not listen to Christmas songs; you do not busy yourself with errands and organizing; especially, imagine that you do not feel you have to be “jolly” or “in the mood” or “get with the holiday spirit.” Imagine that for these four weeks, you only watch and wait, hope and pray. In other words, imagine that you keep the holy season of Advent as it’s meant to be kept, free from the pre-Christmas pressures of the world around us.

In the darkness as you sit there, you begin to hear things:

 (Roll of drums)

(Readers come forth one by one and stand before the Altar. After they read their headline, they cover their faces with a newspaper and remain standing as others join them.)

First News Headline

Irish Debt Crisis Forces Collapse of Government: New Fears of Political Instability for Allies in Europe

(Roll of drums)

Second News Headline

Iraq’s Troubles Drive Out Refugees Who Came Back: Iraqis who fled the height of the war and then returned are leaving in a second exodus, fueled by violence and unemployment that show how far Iraq remains from stability and security

(Roll of drums)

Third News Headline

North Koreans Unveil New Plant for Nuclear Use: South Korea Strengthens Military Defenses

(Roll of drums)

Fourth News Headline

Front-Line City Starts Tackling Rise in the Sea: Global Warming Means Tough Decisions Ahead for Norfolk, Virginia

(Roll of drums)

Fifth News Headline

South Korea at Forefront of Worldwide Dementia Epidemic: Estimated 100 Million Cases by 2050 

(Roll of drums)

Sixth News Headline

South Africa Fears Millions More AIDS Infections: Health Crisis Threatens to Overwhelm Country’s Future

(Roll of drums)

Seventh News Headline

Consumer Risks Feared as Health Law Spurs Mergers: Consolidation May Drive Up Costs, Impair Care

(Roll of drums)

Eighth News Headline

NATO Sees Long-Term Role After Afghan Combat: Tens of Thousands of Troops to Remain After 2014

(The readers return to their seats.)

Presider

And on and on it goes. You’d like to distract yourself. Go shopping. Get something to eat, maybe have a drink. Listen to “Jingle Bells” or “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus.” Watch something light on television. Maybe browse the Internet. Why not? What would be the hurt? But you discipline yourself. This is Advent. You watch and wait, hope and pray. And now through the darkness comes another sort of sound:

(Sound of chimes)

This time, as the readers come forward they each bring a candle which they light and hold before them.

First Prophecy

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

(Sound of chimes)

Second Prophecy

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.

(Sound of chimes)

Third Prophecy

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.

(Sound of chimes)

Fourth Prophecy

But you, O Bethlehem, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days.

(Sound of chimes)

Fifth Prophecy

A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.

(Sound of chimes)

Sixth Prophecy

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

(Sound of chimes)

Seventh Prophecy

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

(Sound of chimes)

Eighth Prophecy

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

(The readers extinguish their candles and return to their seats.)

Presider

We live in a world where imagining Advent is difficult. The darkness part, the news headlines and the crises and struggles in our own lives, is easy enough. What’s hard is imagining that the prophetic voices have any power against the darkness. We’re used to trying to combat the darkness all through our own efforts. Things are going badly in Iraq or Afghanistan, for instance, and we throw more troops or more money at the problem. Banks collapse in Ireland or on Wall Street and we bail them out. And of course we do live in a different world from biblical times. We have more power over darkness than people did 2000 years ago – or at least we think we do.

We think we do, but there’s a limit to our power. So often the law of unintended consequences operates so that what we try to do only makes the darkness worse.  We take out a mortgage to buy a beautiful new home and we lose our job or the interest rate jumps; now the house is a problem, not a solution. We overthrow a dictator and end up plunging a nation into chaos and provoking terrorist reprisals on our own shores. The Advent prophets would have pointed out that we act without consulting God. We act with insufficient imagination about what could be possible in God’s coming Kingdom.

The Advent prophecies invite us to entertain a deeper level of faith and hope. The prophets who voiced them so long ago knew something that we forget: that the Lord is always there, working in history and in our own lives, even in the darkest moments. That we often cannot set things right by ourselves, but God is always there, offering a flame of hope, new light, an alternative  way forward, comfort and courage in the struggle. This God is not Santa Claus. He does not always give us what we want.  His word is not always a jolly “ho, ho, ho.” He was born in poverty and neglect in a stable. He died an apparent failure on a Cross. But that was not the end, for God is a greater God than we can imagine. The old dies, but the new is born. The chaos that we read as darkness may be the birth pangs of the Babe who is Messiah.

Advent is about watching, waiting, hoping, praying for the coming of this God, our Lord Jesus the Christ.

Advent Spiritual Life Suggestions: Week One

The theme of Advent is strongly counter to the pre-Christmas mood in the world around us. It centers on the coming of Christ at the End of Time, summoning us to take inventory of our lives and the world we live in, looking at them through the eyes of Christ our Savior. It’s important to set aside a time, even just a few minutes, for quiet and freedom from distractions. Choose a comfortable spot, light a candle (the votive from church if you’ve picked one up),and just be still — no background music or television.

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You may want this first week of Advent to meditate on the word from the first of our Advent banners. Watchfulness, wakefulness, anticipation, being prepared for Christ’s coming — these themes appear in the Advent readings for Scripture. You might want to choose one of these, reading it very slowly (preferably out loud), putting yourself in the scene, noting what calls out to you and where the reading leads you: The Necessity for Watchfulness (Matthew 24:36-44); The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13); The Coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:29-31).

The Buddhist tradition uses the term “mindfulness,” which may be a useful variation on watchfulness. Mindfulness means clearing our mind of the clutter of anxieties and arguments that runs pointlessly through it, and seeking a higher or deeper awareness: 1) of ourselves, how we really feel, what our situation really is, what choices we have; 2) of the world around us, what is going on in it, for good and for ill, how it affects it — and more importantly how we let it preoccupy and burden us to no avail (think of all the time we spend exposed to advertisements or the emotional manipulation of talk radio/television/blogs); of Jesus and how he stands as judge over against us and the world. Don’t try to fit all this into one meditation session! Take a bit at a time, those that are helpful to you. Maybe you have other suggestions. Share them by way of comment on this post.

Another source for reflection would be the prophecies that the Holy Cross children work with in their atriums. These can be found in the response to the readings that we gave during the Eucharist on Sunday, November 28.

 

Advent 4 December 20, 2009

Micah 5:2-5a                                                                      

Hebrews 10:5-10                                                                

Luke 1:39-45

I must confess to a dirty little secret: I don’t like Christmas trees very much. They’re fun when you have children, and the one we will put up this afternoon here at church will be beautiful, decorated very simply with little white lights. But mostly I’d like to leave them growing out in the forest. They’re expensive, work to put up, a mess and bother to take down, and often they seem to me symbols not of Christmas but of the excess of American consumerism. But that’s just my little grump for the holidays.

I do, however, really like Advent wreaths. I like the symbolism of the four candles, the turning of the wheel of the year, the victory of light over darkness in the coming of Jesus the Christ. And I especially like the hole in the middle of Advent wreaths. We notice it particularly with the wreath we have on the east wall behind the Altar here at Holy Cross. The hole in the middle, that empty space, is a kind of window or door opening out to the One Who Is to Come – to the mystery of God beyond us, coming to us, which this season is all about. Continue reading ‘Advent 4 December 20, 2009’