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Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category

Advent Litany

In joyful expectation let us pray to our Savior and Redeemer saying, “Lord Jesus, come soon!”

O Wisdom, from the mouth of the Most High, you reign over all things to the ends of the earth: come and teach us how to live.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Lord, and head of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and you  gave the law on Sinai: come with outstretched arm and ransom us.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Branch of Jesse, standing as a sign among the nations, all kings will keep silence before you and all peoples will summon you to their aid: come, set us free and delay no more.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Key of David and sceptre of the house of Israel, you open and none can shut; you shut and none can open: come and free the captives from prison.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Morning Star, splendour of the light eternal and bright Sun of righteousness: come and enlighten all who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O King of the nations, you alone can fulfil their desires: Cornerstone, you make opposing nations one: come and save the creature you fashioned from clay.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Emmanuel, hope of the nations and their Saviour: come and save us, Lord our God.
Lord Jesus, come soon!

Hasten, O Father, the coming of your kingdom; and grant that we your servants, who now live by faith, may with joy behold your Son at his coming in glorious majesty; even Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

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Originally posted on Jesus Creed:

Adam McHugh, author of the fine book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, has written for Patheos a reflection on Advent that deserves reading by the introverts and the extroverts, who will see Advent from a different angle.

For some people, the Advent season on the church calendar is one of the most anticipated times of the year. For some, there is no other time in which their love of God is stronger, there is no other time in which they are more aware of God’s mercy in their lives and in the world, there is no other time in which their hearts go out to others with such affection, and there is no other time in which their joy is more profound.

I am not one of those people.

For me this time of year has always been a spiritually dry time. There is a line in a Counting Crows song that says “You can see a million miles tonight, but you can’t get very far.” That is my experience during this season. Every year I anticipate it with everyone else, hoping that this year will be different. Maybe this year the earth-shattering experience of God will take place, and I’ll be able to take in the seismic joy that should result from the knowledge that God entered the course of human history to reclaim it as his own. But by December 26th, I’m left with disappointment, another year of not getting very far.

I experience a deep division within myself during Advent. My inner world stirs with longings for deep experiences of grace, for moments of pregnant silence, for times of candlelit reflections on the fullness of deity wrapped in a child. But my outer world is harassed by the rampant activity, the hurried crowds, and the consumeristic clutter of the season.

I think my personal division reflects a broader cultural division. I’m willing to suspend my cultural cynicism for a moment and speculate that at the root of American consumer Christmas is a deep-seated desire for meaning. I may be way off on this, but I suspect the decorations, the music, the saturated social calendars, the capitalistic flurry, and the caloric overload are attempts at finding something true, something significant. Hopes for discovering community and transcendence. There is a neighborhood near my own that puts on an unbelievable show of lights, music, and decorations for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Cars line up for blocks to meander through the illuminated streets and residents sit in their driveways around firepits and chat with the passersby. Aside from laying a carbon footprint likely visible from outer space, it is a powerful display of community spirit.

The problem, I think, is that our culture doesn’t know how to truly celebrate. Overconsumption and overstimulation are the only ways we know how to mark a special occasion. Even though most of us implicitly know it doesn’t work and that we’re going to wake up with a hangover, it’s all we know how to do. When there is a significant event, we commemorate it by scurrying around, spending absurd amounts of money, gathering a crowd, and turning up the volume. If we’re not weighed down by anxiety and insomnia, then it must not be a very important occasion. Our holiday “celebrations” therefore seem destined to only get bigger and bigger, because we have built up such a tolerance.

Many of us in the church live in the tension of this religious and cultural ambivalence. Our Christmas Eves are often a confusing recipe of ingredients like these: the onslaught of relatives, massive food preparation, stressful and boisterous dinners, hurrying everyone into the car, attending a hot, packed Christmas Eve worship service in which we light candles, and sing lyrics like:

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Then we rush home, hustle the kids into bed so we can finish wrapping gifts and stuffing stockings, because they’ll be up in five hours. Sleep in heavenly peace indeed.

I was originally asked to write about this topic because I have written a book about Christian introverts, those in the church who prefer a quieter, slower, more contemplative lifestyle and who, for those reasons, often find themselves on the fringes both of the culture and of Christian community. I saw a blog post recently that called January 2nd “Happy Introverts Day” because of the notorious nature of the holiday season for those of us who find social interaction tiring and sometimes stressful. But the truth is that the need for a quieter, less cluttered, more reflective Advent season is not restricted to introverts. The clatter of the holidays has caused people of all temperaments to turn from the inner places of our souls, contributing to the superficiality of our spiritual practice during this season. We need to find a new way to celebrate.

In the early centuries of the Church, celebrating Christmas was a counter-cultural activity. It’s unclear whether the church fathers chose December 25th to co-opt the already entrenched pagan festival of the Unconquered Sun, or whether the pagan holiday was established to rival the Church’s celebration of the birth of Christ. What is clear is that Christmas was a subversive event, providing an alternative to the mainstream culture’s celebration.

In our world, quiet is counter-cultural. I’m not only referring to quiet on the outside, but also quiet on the inside. In fact, it may be easier to shut out the external voices than it is to silence the internal noise. It’s often those inner voices, especially the unacknowledged ones, that compel us to fill our lives with movement and agendas and spending and eating. Our behaviors and hurry are echoes of our inner doubts about our worth. Sadly, in many ways the nature of our holiday celebrations reveal how incompletely we have embraced the actual message of Christmas.

In contrast to the dizzying nature of our cultural celebrations, the biblical narratives about Jesus’ birth speak in hushed tones about simple, unsophisticated scenes. The baby of prophecy, the King of kings, is born in a quiet town in an inconsequential region to unremarkable people and placed in a trough in a barn. Yet by the grace of God this spot becomes the center of the universe, the matrix of hope and redemption and salvation. The quiet, ordinary place becomes the beginning of the dramatic climax of the great Story. The birth of Jesus incarnates the promise that we are not alone and that we are loved beyond measure, recipients of a love that brings peace and stillness to our souls.

The birth of a child is both a time of poignant gratitude and a time of quiet anticipation. I remember how friends of mine described the day they brought their first child home from the hospital. They placed him in his crib, in the room they had been preparing for months, and watched him sleep. For hours they sat in contented silence. My friend said, “It was unlike any other moment in my life. It was the greatest moment of love we’d ever experienced, more intimate than even our wedding night. There was nothing else in the world we needed that day — we had everything.” Yet he also said that as he looked into his son’s eyes, he was full of anticipation. Who will my son be? What will he do in his life? Who will he marry? What will be his gifts, his calling? Like Mary the mother of Jesus, my friends stored up these things in their hearts and silently wondered who their child would become.

Advent is not only a season of reflection on events past. It is a season of quiet hope, as we await the second advent of our Lord Jesus, who will come and complete his reclamation project. Our celebration during this time of year is necessarily incomplete. In this season we must prepare small, quiet places in our individual souls and in our communities, still longing and waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus’ work and the rebirth of creation.

I’m still struggling with Advent, still reaching for something that I haven’t found yet. I do know that if there is any chance for deep experiences of God’s grace and love in this season, we need to open spaces for hope and attentiveness in our hearts. We can’t compel God to move, but we can clear away what distracts us from hearing his gentle voice. We can reduce the external clutter of the season by simplifying our celebration. We can slowly savor the biblical prophecies of the coming of the Messiah and the narratives about Jesus’ birth. We can devote time to silence and solitude as well as to corporate celebration. We can learn to say “no” when we find ourselves spinning from all the invitations and seasonal stimuli. We can listen to the voices of people who are not often heard over the cultural shouting — the poor, the hungry, the suffering around the world. We can prepare a quiet place for God to renew his love and rebirth his hope in us.

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Cardinal John Henry Newman was an incredible man. He was an evangelical, an academic, an Anglican priest in the Oxford Movement before converting to Roman Catholicism. He is currently being considered for beatification by Rome. Here is a great quote on watching with Christ.


Let us consider this most serious question – What is it to watch with Christ?  I consider this word watching a remarkable word; remarkable because the idea is not so obvious as might appear at first sight, and next because our Lord and his disciples inculcate it.  We are not simply to believe, but to watch; not simply to love, but to watch; not simply to obey, but to watch; to watch for what?  For that great event, Christ’s coming…

Now what is watching?

I conceive it may be explained as follows: Do you know the feeling in matters of this life, of expecting a friend, expecting him to come, and he delays?  Do you know what it is to be in unpleasant company, and to wish for the time to pass away, and the hour strike when you may be at liberty?  Do you know what it is to be in anxiety lest something should happen which may happen or not, or to be in suspense about some important event, which makes your heart beat when you are reminded of it, and of which you think the first thing in the morning?  Do you know what it is to have a friend in a distant country, to expect news of him, to wonder from day to day what he is now doing, and whether he is well?  Do you know what it is so to live upon a person who is present with you, that your eyes follow his, that you read his soul, that you see all its changes in his countenance, that you anticipate his wishes, that you smile his smile, and are sad in his sadness, and are downcast when he is vexed, and rejoice in his successes?  To watch for Christ is a feeling such as these; as far as feelings of this world are fit to shadow out those of another.

He watches with Christ, who, while he looks on to the future, looks back on the past, and does not so contemplate what his Saviour has purchased for him, as to forget what he has suffered for him.  He watches with Christ, who ever commemorates and renews in his own person Christ’s cross and agony, and gladly takes up that mantle of affliction which Christ  wore here, and left behind him when he ascended.  And hence in the Epistles, as often as the inspired writers show their desire for his second coming, so often do they show their memory of his first, and never lose sight of his crucifixion and in his resurrection.

From John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, 19th century

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The Indiculus was composed in the course of the controversy over the Semi-Pelagians, probably by Prosper of Aquitaine. (This group, led by the monastic scholar Cassian, held that all men receive an equal measure of grace from God and differences in their reception of it depend on their own response.) The teaching of the Indiculus received the support of the Church very widely in later centuries and was based on papal pronouncements, the decree of African Councils and the doctrine implied in the liturgy. It stresses the helplessness of men and women as a result of the original sin of Adam, the consequences of which all have inherited.

 

In Adam’s sin all men lost their natural power for good and their innocence. No one can of his own free will rise out of the depth of this Fall if he is not lifted up by the grace of the merciful God. This is the pronouncement of Pope Innocent of blessed memory in his letter to the Council of Carthage: ‘He [Adam] acted of his own free will when he used his gifts thoughtlessly; he fell into the abyss of sin and sank and found no means to rise again. Betrayed by his freedom for ever, he would have remained weighed down by his fall had not the advent of Christ later raised him up by his grace when through the cleansing of a new regeneration he washed away all previous guilt in the bath of baptism’.

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Great stuff happening through the work of my friend Robert Crow and the folks at Land of 1,000 Hills Coffee. We just received a new shipment of coffee from them just in time for the holidays. Be on the lookout for fresh roasted coffee starting this Sunday in the narthex.

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Advent is Coming

The first Sunday of Advent is drawing near. I am hungry for it! There’s good feeding of the soul there in the preparation for Christmas. I need Advent – its songs, its looking back and looking forward, its sobering cry, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

I’ve long loved this quote from John Stackhouse:

Carols stir us. Holy words inspire us. The golden glow from the manger warms us. A little religion at Christmas is fine. But that glow in the manger comes from the Light of the world. It exposes evil and either redeems it or destroys it. The babe in the manger is far more than an object for sentimental sighs. He is the Son of God who must be accepted as ruler – or confronted as rival.

Amen.

As the holidays approach, let us be attentive to the reality and power of the incarnation.

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Remove the Stones

In Hank Tartlon’s Advent devotional for today, he quotes Chromatius of Aquileia:

“Hence John prepared these ways of mercy and truth, faith and justice. Concerning them, Jeremiah also declared, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it.” Because the heavenly kingdom is found along these ways, not without good reason John adds, “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” So do you want the kingdom of heaven to also be near for you? Prepare these ways in you heart, in your senses and in your soul. Pave within you the way of chastity, the way of faith and the way of holiness. Build roads of justice. Remove every scandal of offense from your heart. For it is written: “Remove the stones from the road.” And then, indeed, through the thoughts of your heart and the very movements of your soul, Christ the King will enter along certain paths.” – Tractate on Matthew 8.1

I am reminded anew of how many stones there are in my heart that impeded the way of the Christ in my life. Lord, have mercy. My heart is full of the hard stones of anger, bitterness, and disappointment. Father, heal those things in me which lead me to walk down bad ways. Come, Lord Jesus come.

Amen.

“Hence John prepared these ways of mercy and truth, faith and justice. Concerning them, Jeremiah
also declared, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good
Psalm 148, 149, 150 + 114, 115 • Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:1-11 • Luke 3:1-6
Sunday, December 6
Praise the Lord from the heavens
praise him in the heights
16
“An Advent Gathering of Thistle Birds”
by Phaedra Jean Taylor
Encaustic collage: beeswax, found paper, colored pencil, ink, oil pastel
11×14
2009
way is, and walk in it.” Because the heavenly kingdom is found along these ways, not without
good reason John adds, “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” So do you want the kingdom of heaven
to also be near for you? Prepare these ways in you heart, in your senses and in your soul. Pave
within you the way of chastity, the way of faith and the way of holiness. Build roads of justice.
Remove every scandal of offense from your heart. For it is written: “Remove the stones from
the road.” And then, indeed, through the thoughts of your heart and the very movements of your
soul, Christ the King will enter along certain paths.” – Tractate on Matthew 8.1.

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