Huffpost Religion

Advent 2012: A Season Of Waiting For The Coming Of Christ (PHOTOS, REFLECTIONS)

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ADVENT 2012
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Editor's note: Dear reader, may you have a blessed Advent! HuffPost Religion invites you to share your Advent reflections and experiences with us. What does the season of Advent mean to you? What spiritual exercises and meditations do you practice during Advent? Whether you're observing Advent for the first time, or you've observed Advent your entire life, we want to hear from you. Send your personal reflections (300-500 words) and photos to religion@huffingtonpost.com. We are excited to embark on this journey with you.

[Scroll down to see our Advent journal.]

Advent (from the Latin adventus meaning "coming") is a liturgical season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. Advent marks the beginning of the Western liturgical year and begins on Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, Dec. 25. For Christians, the season of Advent serves as a reminder both of the original waiting by Israelites for the birth of the Messiah, and the waiting by Christians for the return of Christ. The most famous hymn of Advent is "O Come Emmanuel." Its lyrics, based on the Prophet Isaiah, articulate the hopeful anticipation of the Advent season:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Originally observed as a time of fasting and penitence, the emphasis of the season of Advent is one of expectation and anticipation for the coming Messiah. The season of Advent starts out in a sombre tone and for the first two weeks, purple and blue are the primary colors used in church. On the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (gaudete means rejoice) pink or rose are the primary colors used. This shift in color symbolizes change in emphasis from expectation to celebration.

In 2012, the Advent season begins on Dec. 2, 2012 and ends on Dec. 24, 2012. The Eastern Churches' equivalent of Advent, Nativity Fast, is 40 days long and began on Nov. 15, 2012.

The themes of the Advent season are Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Lighting of candles, especially the circular Advent wreath with five candles is an important tradition of the Advent season. Each Sunday of Advent, one of four candles is lit -- with the final candle, the Christ Candle, being lit on Christmas Eve.

Images Of Advent Darkness to Light procession:

Advent: Darkness to Light
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O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining, / It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth. / Long lay the world in sin and error pining. / Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth. / A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, / For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. / Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! / O night divine, the night when Christ was born; / O night, O Holy Night , O night divine! / O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming, / With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand. / O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming, / Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land. / The King of kings lay thus lowly manger; / In all our trials born to be our friends. / He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger, / Behold your King! Before him lowly bend! / Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another, / His law is love and His gospel is peace. / Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. / And in his name all oppression shall cease. / Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, / With all our hearts we praise His holy name. / Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we, / His power and glory ever more proclaim! / His power and glory ever more proclaim!

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Christmas Eve is fast approaching here in Vermont. The sun is already getting lower in the sky, and the candles are out at the church, ready to go. As for me, I'm getting there. A few more things to do, and I'll be ready too.

But, really, I'd love just one more day. One more day to wrap presents. One more day to build that gingerbread house we bought. One more day to write the sermon I want to preach tonight. The reality, though, is whether I'm ready or not, Christmas is coming.

That's true spiritually as well. Our spiritual life may be something that we put on a shelf and say "I'll get to it soon...when I have everything else done...when I'm ready." But, ready or not, God comes and breaks into our life when we least expect it.

The story of Jesus' birth is a story of an unexpected arrival. Mary wasn't expecting to become pregnant. The inn wasn't expecting for the parents of God incarnate to come knocking on the door. And they weren't expecting to be turned away and given just a barn and a manger.

The world wasn't ready either. They weren't ready for a savior who came in the form of a powerless baby. They weren't ready for the person he grew up to become. And they weren't ready for the things he preached. Things like peace, and justice, and loving each other as much as we love ourselves.

The world is still not ready for this. And that's why we need it more than ever.

Tonight, ready or not, open your heart up to the one who has come to change everything. Open your heart up not just to the child in the story we read, but to the living Christ who wants to enter into our hearts. Open your heart up to what is about to happen next, if you only follow that Christ with your whole life. Because, ready or not, something wonderful is waiting.

May Christ's love bless you this Christmas, and always.

-- Rev. Emily Heath (@calledoutrev) from West Dover, VT

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Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has cast out your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear evil no more.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: "Do not fear, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.

The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:14-17)

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O come, O come, Emmanuel / And ransom captive Israel / That mourns in lonely exile here / Until the Son of God appear / Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free / Thine own from Satan's tyranny / From depths of Hell Thy people save / And give them victory o'er the grave / Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer / Our spirits by Thine advent here / Disperse the gloomy clouds of night / And death's dark shadows put to flight. / Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come, / And open wide our heavenly home; / Make safe the way that leads on high, / And close the path to misery. / Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, / Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height, / In ancient times did'st give the Law, / In cloud, and majesty and awe. / Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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church of the nativity

A picture shows the Grotto where Christians believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ in the Church of the Nativity, in the West Bank biblical town of Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus as preparations for Christmas celebrations get underway on December 23, 2012. AFP PHOTO/MUSA AL SHAER

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christmas carol service

The choir perform from within the Dome sanctuary of St Paul's Cathedral in central London during the Christmas carol service on 23 December, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Leon Neal

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@ Casslangton : Jesus// became poor that we might become rich, became a refugee so that we may find home, became man so that we may know God // Emmanuel

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@ calebgrimm : Praying for those who are feeling lonely this season... Christmas is a reminder that we're NOT alone...not the other way around. #emmanuel

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LATIN: O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

ENGLISH: O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

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O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

And it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.” (Isaiah 8:8)

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel." (Matthew 1:23)

And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:7)

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@ kathrynlopez : O come, Divine Messiah, the world in silence waits the day When hope shall sing its triumph, And sadness flee away. #Advent #Christmas

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@ kathrynlopez : Dear Savior, haste! Come, come to earth. Dispel the night & show your face, and bid us hail the dawn of grace. #Advent #Christmas

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The Advent wreath with four unlit candles slowly descends from the apex of a gothic arch where it is suspended from a pulley by a rough hempen rope. A girl dressed in white holds the end of the rope in her hands. She lowers the wreath slowly. It accelerates, stops, sways gently back and forth, and descends to its resting place three feet from the floor beneath the crossing tower.

From the shadows of the darkened church a boy approaches the wreath with a lighted taper in the shape of a shepherd’s crook. It is taller than he is and it’s heavy, with a polished mahogany handle attached to a burnished brass bell-shaped snuffer that glows in the waning light. The illuminated wick sends out a lambent flame. He lights each of the four candles.

The church is silent, reverent -– the only sounds being stifled coughs, the tips of impatient children’s shoes kicking the stuffed kneelers beneath the darkly varnished pews on which they sit. One boy’s striped pajamas protrude just below the cuffs of his scratchy navy blue wool pants that his mother made him wear, against his will. Amidst the creaking of pews and smell of wet wool is the eager anticipation of something coming, something mysterious.

All four candles on the wreath are lit. The crown of evergreen levitates into air, its light illuminating shadows. The organ begins playing softly, voices join in –- “Creator of the Stars of Night,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist Cries.” Then “Once in Royal David’s City:”

Once in Royal David’s City / Stood a lowly cattle shed, / Where a mother laid her baby / In a manger for his bed; / Mary was that mother mild, / Jesus Christ her little child.

The last notes of the anthem reverberate and vanish among the ceiling vaults. From the back of the nave, a little child sings at the top of his voice –

Happy Birthday to you.

Happy Birthday to you.

Happy Birthday, Dear Dicky,

Happy Birthday to you.

-- John H. MIller

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Sunday afternoons are for football in my house. After church I come home, change into jeans and a sweatshirt, and wait for the games. It's one of the few times in the week where I relax and do nothing other than watch TV.

But, really, I don't actually relax much. Not this year, at least. You see, I'm a Washington Redskins fan. I have been my whole life. My family has cheered for them since they moved to my father's hometown in 1937. And while I love them, the past twenty years or so have not been their finest. We haven't won the Super Bowl since 1992. We haven't even been in the playoffs since 2007.

But this year is different. We have a quarterback who connects, a team that works together, and momentum. Last week we moved into first place in the NFC East. My dad and I excitedly text and call each other throughout the games, holding out for a win. And then at the end of each Sunday, I can't wait for the next one. I can't wait to see if we are going to go all the way this year. Because, goodness knows, we've waited long enough.

Being a Washington football fan has taught me about waiting. And that's good practice for Advent. Because Advent is all about waiting. It's about waiting for Christmas eve, and the celebration of Christ's birth. It's about waiting for the world to be transformed by God's love. It's all about holy waiting and watching and preparing.

There's a difference between football and Advent, though.

Try as I might, I can't do anything to make my team win from my living room in Vermont. I can't block. I can't pass. I can't sack the opposing team's quarterback. Even as I hold my breath and wait for a completion, I can't will the ball into the hands of the guy in the end zone.

But Advent is different. We aren't watching Advent play out on TV. We aren't even just sitting in the stadium. In Advent, we're actually players on the field. We might not be Jesus, but we are preparing our world for Jesus. We are actively involved in transforming the world from a place of violence and hatred and pain to one of hope and joy and love and peace.

We cheer on Sundays for teams to advance a ball down a field in a game that, while fun to watch, doesn't really change the world. But do we give the same amount of energy and excitement to something that can change the world? Do we do the work of peacemaking and the pursuit of justice the same level of attention and importance? Do we take the Advent message so seriously that, while maybe we aren't donning jerseys and face paint, everyone who sees us will know who we really worship?

Advent is about perspective. It's about looking at our lives and seeing what matters most. This afternoon I'll watch the game. But tomorrow I hope that I cheer just as hard for something I can actually a part of. And then, I hope I suit up, and get out on that field. At its best, Advent can be a time when we make a choice to join the team, and to change the world. We don't have to wait on the sidelines anymore.

-- Rev. Emily C. Heath (@calledoutrev) from West Dover, VT

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There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And 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. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1-10)

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LATIN: O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

ENGLISH: O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

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O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

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And they sing the song of Moses, the servant[a] of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!" (Revelation 15:3)

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. (Psalm 118:22)

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid[a] as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ (Isaiah 28:16)

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (Matthew 21:42)

Have you not read this Scripture: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Mark 12:10)

But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? (Luke 20:17)

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. (Acts 4:11)

Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20)

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6)

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I was pregnant over Advent in 2004 with my first child, a son, and I remember thinking, so this is what it was like for Mary. But, now, with two kids under 10, a status quo of chaos, pet-care, and little plastic toys the pointy ends of which are always pointing up, I feel more like Job. The scab I pick at is our savings account.

Out of necessity I have started a daily practice of meditation. I'm in to Zen koans. What is the sound of one hand clapping? Answer: Motherhood. If I don't do the laundry in the forest will anyone hear it? Answer: Yes. Everyone.

I've taken to meditating in front of the Christmas tree, in the morning, in its Pagan fairyland glow. In my childhood this spruce season, Advent, was marked by mystery, high church Episcopalian bells and smells, purple candles. The best carols. Medieval polyphony, minor chords about ransoming captives, myrrh, and the terrible question, What if what we're waiting for does not come?

Advent then was a period of intense (almost itchy) hope. There was just cause to be optimistic (Christmas always came) but I, like those medieval carols, had chilly frisson of what ifs for a seven-year-old: What if the reindeer don't manage to be magical? What if Santa gets sick?

I greeted Christmas morning with delight and relief. The abundant haul of presents under the tree, interesting beaded billfolds sent from aunts from abroad, model horses, marzipan, dolls, books, and at the toe of my stocking, a tangerine.

Like pregnancy, Advent is a pause. It invites an inward gaze because it is an in-between time, fleeting, and dream-like. Soon a son will be born. Soon you will be changed from maiden to mother. Soon, but not yet, there are still quiet thrilling moments to imagine what might be before the kids fly out of their rooms yelling, gleeful, happy as pigs, booster-rocketed by their anticipation for this very day, and throwing wrapping paper in to the air.

-- Elizabeth Bastos

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@ natewig : God brings down rulers from thrones but lifts up the humble. God fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty #Advent

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This time of year many of us are feeling two things: overjoyed and overwhelmed. There is so much about the Christmas season that is wonderful. But at the same time there is so much on our to-do lists, that we might not give ourselves much time to feel that joy.

This is often especially true for clergy. Tomorrow at my church we have the children's Christmas pageant. Tomorrow afternoon my wife leads a Lessons and Carols service at another church. And Christmas eve we are back at my church for two services. That means that this weekend is being spent writing sermons, recruiting ushers, and making sure that all the details are taken care of.

But at the same time, this year I've been consciously trying to devote more time to actually sitting back and enjoying this season. I've spent evenings sitting by the tree, helping to bake cookies, and writing Christmas cards. Sometimes I've thought to myself, "but there's so much else that I should be doing...how can I take a break and do these things?" I've been talking back to that voice this year. I've been reminding myself that God wants us to feel joy, and what better joy than that which is spent celebrating the season of Christ's birth?

We are in the last days of Advent. Two nights from now we enter the season of Christmas joyously. But today you may be feeling like another obligation is the last thing on your list. A Christmas eve service might feel like another "to do" item on your list. A luxury you can't take the time for amidst cooking, wrapping presents, and entertaining guests.

Do it anyway. Mostly because worship is never a waste of time, but also because you deserve this time to feel the joy of the Christmas season. You need this time to remember what everything else going on around you is really all about. And your soul thirsts for this chance to feast on the goodness that is God's love. Nothing puts a joyful season in better perspective than celebrating Christ's birth. Bring your families. Bring your house guests. And bring your joy. There's more than enough room for everyone in this inn.

-- Rev. Emily Heath (@calledoutrev) from West Dover, VT

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In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiber'i-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae'a and Trachoni'tis, and Lysa'ni-as tetrarch of Abile'ne, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca'iaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechari'ah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3:1-6)

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gero cross

The Gero Cross displayed at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

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LATIN: O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.

ENGLISH: O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

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O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

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"Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us[a] from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:2)

Learn more about the antiphon here.

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Advent is that time when we wait in anxious anticipation of the birth of Christ. In Advent of 2012, our wait seems in vain. How can we celebrate the birth of a child when the lives of 20 children have so cruelly been taken? How can we reconcile the birth of a Savior 2000 years ago with the presence of such terrible evil in the world today? How can any God worth believing in allow such a nightmare to take place?

And yet, perhaps Advent is the time when we are best able to confront this horror. Advent, after all, is not really about waiting for the birth of a child. That child was born a long time ago. Advent is about waiting for the second coming of Christ.

The second coming of Christ refers to the next manifestation of the Word Eternal, the light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5). If there was ever a time when we need this light, it is now.

The light will reveal the Kingdom of Heaven, when we will “beat our swords into plowshares and our swords into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4).” When “the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6).

How long will God make us wait for the unveiling of this Kingdom? That isn't up to God. It is up to us. As Jesus told us, “the kingdom of God is among you.” In other words, God’s part is done. Our part is what awaits completion.

God does not promise us a life without evil. The Bible is filled with stories of terrible evil being visited upon the most holy of innocents. What God promises us is the ability to transform even the worst evil into the greatest good. That evil that unfolded on Dec. 14 will not be transformed into good by Christmas morning 2012. But it will be transformed, if we have the collective will to make it so.

This is the promise of Advent.

-- Roger Sessions

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@ OccupyAdvent : May we pay particular attention to the least, the poor, the hungry, ones who have to make impossible choices. #occupyadvent #eveningprayer

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pagan advent

Counter-intuitive as it may be for those of a particularly rigid faith, I marvel at the way ancient, pagan traditions can bring unexpected and quietly powerful meaning into the celebration of many Christian rituals.

And it makes sense that this is so. Pre-dating most of today’s Christian holidays, early pagan practices are actually at the root of many of today’s Christian traditions, including the season of Advent.

Long before the time of Christ, pagan communities, worldwide, set aside the weeks before the Winter Solstice as a time to honor the coming of the light.

(The date of Christmas was officially designated during the fourth century as Dec. 25th – the date Romans celebrated the Solstice).

Before I had any real awareness this Advent/pagan connection, the Advent season had been for me simply the designated four-week, headlong rush to Christmas that it is for many people today -– a crazy-busy season of fitting in the additional to-do lists of buying/wrapping/sending gifts, decorating the house, sending cards, on and on.

In those days, the beauty of the month of December was completely lost on me. In fact, the only natural sense of “December” I experienced back then was that it became so ridiculously and incongruently dark outside, earlier every day, which felt annoyingly disconcerting –- I mean, Christmas was supposed to be joyful, right?

So I made sure to keep the intrusive distraction of December darkness at arm’s length, just out of reach, lest a foreboding, quiet emptiness creep in with it and jeopardize the utter but inevitable mayhem and frivolity of my Christmas preparations.

But when I began to study the ancient Celtic tradition, and learned of its keen awareness of humanity’s deep, inner connections with the rhythms of the natural world, I began to realize how beautifully aligned the symbolism of the Advent season is to the imagery of the natural season leading to the Winter Solstice –- the play of light and dark, the waiting, even a kind of deep and prophetic longing.

On her luminous blog, A Design So Vast, Lindsey Mead speaks to the nascent light of her own inner longing as Solstice approaches, and offers a meditation by author Meg Casey that captures the hushed beauty of December:

“December is a holy month. Maybe it is the dark, silky silence that descends so early that speaks to me of reverence. Maybe it is the promise that December holds -– that no matter how dark, how cold, how empty it can get, the light is coming back. Something always shifts in me when December arrives -– I embrace the darkness, and am eager for the coming solstice when the whole world is still and holds its breath, waiting to be reborn again.”

Before I integrated a more organic, more pagan, gnosis into my experience of the Advent season, I hadn’t thought of December’s darkness as a holy, “silky silence that descends so early.” I’d been asleep to the movement of the whole world toward stillness and turning. I’d been dismissing as irrelevant and bothersome any complexities or tensions this in-between time might offer.

But the pagans and their inner congruence with the natural order shook me awake -– awake, and tumbling into a dark and holy Advent, full of paradox and promise for all of us.

For the word “advent” literally means “the coming,” and in this sense, these weeks in December are indeed a time of “advent” for all of us -– whether we consider ourselves religious or not. The light is coming. And all of Creation -– and we -– wait together for that coming.

What a not-to-be-missed treasure the natural season of Advent can be then, when the “nascent light” inside each of us can turn to, and answer, the promises of light surrounding us everywhere in the December dark –- the whisper of candlelight from darkened windows, the blue-black light of dusk against the silhouetted trees of winter.

This is Advent -– when, as sleepers, we awaken to our own light of love, deep within us, waiting to be reborn again in the dark stables of our own souls.

-- Carolina Oakes (@CarolineOakes) from Bucks County, PA

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This morning my church joined churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques across the country and tolled its bell once for each life lost last Friday in Newtown. Each ring of the bell signaled a life with so much potential now cut too short. As the bell stopped ringing I thought about those lives lost in Newtown, and about the bells. And, as much as I believe that we as a country needed to stop and mourn and ring out our pain and sorrow, I also believe that it is not nearly enough.

Now is the time that people of faith everywhere need to start the hard work. We need to do something to transform our culture of violence into one of peace. And for those of us who are Christians, this Advent, as we prepare for the Prince of Peace, that work takes on special importance.

There's a church in Syracuse, New York that is doing the work of peacemaking. All Saints' Church, a Roman Catholic parish, is asking parents to bring in Christmas gifts that promote violence, such as video games and guns. If they come with a receipt, the church will return them and donate all the money to Newtown. Not only will a community in mourning benefit, but stores and manufacturers will receive the message that we are no longer going to buy into violence. I think it's a brilliant idea.

And I think there are lots of other brilliant responses to violence out there as well. And so here's my challenge to Christians this Advent: what one thing can you do between now and Christmas to transform our culture of violence? What one way can you witness to the Prince of Peace whose birth we will celebrate in four days? Will it be refusing to buy a violent toy? Will it be volunteering with a worthy cause? Will it be speaking up when we as a country start to debate what to do next?

The peace of Christ is already inside us. And it can be all around us. In this Advent season, we have a special imperative to share it by our words and our actions. In these final days before Christmas, preach a Gospel of peace with your lives, and pray that we will never have to toll a bell for lost children and their teachers again.

-- Rev. Emily C. Heath (@calledoutrev) from West Dover, VT

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As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Silo'am" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:1-7)

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