First Monday of Advent – What Are We Waiting For this Advent?

Advent has begun, and we have lit the first candle on our Advent wreath. As we move into this first week there are a number of thoughts I want to share as we ponder the question What Are We Waiting For This Advent Season? For those that have not yet started their Advent scripture readings you can check out various Advent reading options here.  Then spend some time meditating on the reflections below.

First listen to this beautiful reflection on Advent by Mathew Woodley condensed from the weekly meditations in the Mosaic Bible.

Our culture often fosters a complacent, blase, smug approach to Christianity.  In the words of C.S. Lewis, We are far too easily pleased, We’re happy to numb and freeze our restless ache for a better world.

Advent is the season of the church year that ignites that longing in our herats.  Before we rush into Happy Holidays, we pause and let longing rise up within us.  Throughout Advent we catch glimpses of a better world.

And as we catch glimpses of this Messiah-healed world, we long for its coming now.  All of the best Advent hymns capture this spirit of groaning and longing for messiah’s better world.  When we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,with its dark, unresolved melody, it cracks our hearts open with longing’s wounds.  And yet, we know Messiah has come, even as we wait for him to come again.  Advent is a deliciously painful mix of joy and anguish.

This Advent-like longing is at the heart of Christian spirituality…. C.S. Lewis claimed that in this life the Advent-like stab of longing serves as a spiritual homing device, placed deep in our heart by God to lead us back to him….

Advent trains us to  ache again.  Of all the seasons of the church year, Advent is the time to acknowledge, feel and even embrace the joyful anguish of longing for Messiah’s birth and the world’s rebirth.  So we sing our aching songs while we light candles and festoon the church wit h greenery.  This is Advent longing, and we couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Second here is the posts that I have received for the series What are we Waiting for this Advent Season? It comes from Lynne M. Baab the author of several books, including Reaching Out in a Networked WorldSabbath Keeping, and Fasting. She teaches pastoral theology at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

In a poem called “Reflection,” Irish/English poet Evangeline Paterson describes life after death using the metaphor of a party. The party is happening “somewhere else,” and the light and music escape “in snatches/to make the pulse beat.” Those glimpses of energy and joy at the party come to us briefly, and they are muted and faint because they come from so far away.

With my natural melancholic outlook on life, I’m all too aware of the brokenness of the world around me and the brokenness that dwells inside me. I have moments of utter joy when God’s goodness explodes into my heart. I have moments when I feel the peace that passes all understanding. I have moments when I feel deep gratitude for God’s grace and care, and prayers of thankfulness come naturally. Frankly, I don’t know if I could live without those moments.

But they are only moments. Very rarely does that deep joy, peace or gratitude last for an hour, and even more rarely for a whole day or week. All I get is glimpses, snatches of music and energy coming from the party that is happening somewhere else. I’m waiting for the time when I arrive at that party, when all tears will be wiped away, and God’s presence will be a light that shines so brightly it can’t be missed (Rev. 21:4, 23). I’m waiting for the day when I can know God fully as I am fully known (I Cor. 13:12).

Advent has always been a time of remembering that we wait for the fulfillment of what we have already experienced in snatches. I’ve always enjoyed pondering the notion that that the Holy Spirit is a deposit (or down payment, seal, or pledge) on the inheritance we will receive in Christ (Eph. 1:13, 14). It is the Holy Spirit who makes possible those glimpses of the party, those snatches of light and music. I’m so deeply grateful for the Spirit, this gift that God has given us.

One of my challenges as a naturally melancholy person is to do all I can to enjoy God’s gifts to me in the present. With the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit, I’ve trained myself to practice thankfulness, pay attention to the daily gifts in my life, and see the half-full glass as much as possible. Advent is a wonderful season for me, when waiting as a significant part of the Christian life is affirmed. In Advent, I can settle back into my natural posture of longing for the day when God’s promises will be fulfilled. The day that God’s presence – full of light and music – will surround me, and I won’t experience  it only in snatches.

The First Sunday of Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first day of the liturgical year when we begin that wonderful journey towards the celebration of the birth of Christ and that hoped for future world in which all of God’s creation will be reconciled, renew and made whole.

Tomorrow I will begin sharing the posts that I have received reflecting on What Are We Waiting for this Advent Season? but today I wanted to share the gospel reading for today from the daily readings in the Book of Common Prayer. I love the way it is worded here in the New Living Translation.  It seemed a very appropriate start to our Advent series.

Luke 21: 5 – 19

Jesus Foretells the Future

5 Some of his disciples began talking about the majestic stonework of the Temple and the memorial decorations on the walls. But Jesus said, 6 “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”

7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?”

8 He replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them. 9 And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” 10 Then he added, “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. 13 But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.14 So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, 15 for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! 16Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. 17 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.18 But not a hair of your head will perish! 19 By standing firm, you will win your souls.

Celebrating Advent with Kids

The first Sunday of Advent is almost here.  Some of us have dusted off our Advent wreaths, bought new candles and prepared to begin the celebration.  Many of us however are new to this celebration and arn’t sure what to do.  Especially if you are celebrating with children you may be a little uncertain what to do to make this a fun and instructive time without entering into the consumer frenzy which is the secular celebration.  I must confess that the advertisement last night celebrating the countdown to 25 days of Christmas (the 25 days before Christmas not the 12 days of Christmas of the liturgical calendar) really infuriated me which is probably what stimulated my recognition of the need to help kids refocus on the real meaning of Christmas.

There are loads of resources out there but here are some ideas from around the world that I would suggest will really help to make this a celebration of Christ who comes to all the people in our world.  And maybe it will enable you to establish new family traditions that will become memorable parts of your children’s celebrations for years to come.

GIFTS FOR JESUS

On the first Sunday of Advent, each child in the family receives an empty manger. An oatmeal box covered with bright paper will do as well. At bedtime, the children draw straws for each kind deed performed in honor of Baby Jesus as his birthday surprise. The straw are placed in the child’s manger or box daily. It is amazing how much love a child can put into Advent when s/he is preparing for his redeemer’s coming in grace.

On Christmas, each child finds an infant in his manger, placed on a small table or a chair beside his or her bed. Usually it is a tiny doll, beautifully dressed. This custom fills the child with a longing in Advent, and provides an image of the redeemer as the first happy glance in the morning and the last impression at night during the entire Christmas season.

CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD

Explore Christmas traditions from around the world with your kids and discuss the possibility of adapting some of these as part of your own celebration during the Advent and Christmas season.  Christmas Around the World has a wonderful description of traditions from a variety of countries that you might like to discuss.  The Worldwide Gourmet has a wonderful array of recipes associated with the Advent and Christmas season in many different parts of the world.  Just reading through some of these had my mouth watering.

CAFOD: Just One world has some great Advent liturgies available as well as a downloadable Advent calendar for kids.

Countdown Christmas Traditions has a fun kid friendly Advent calendar.  As you click on each day of Advent you read about traditions in different countries of the world,

If you are looking for some more traditional Advent devotions to go through with your children you might like to consider these downloadable files from Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Raleigh NC. You can even download the MP3s of most of the songs.

More resources for celebrating as a family here.

Another possibility is to work with your kids on alternative gifts that will go to those who are struggling in different parts of the world.  Lots of organizations now have alternative catalogues available.  Here are a few that I am aware of.

Heifer Project

World Concern

World Vision

This is not always easy to explain to your relatives however as the chair of our Board found out a few years ago when he tried to give 1/2 a goat to his parents for Christmas.  What am I going to do with half a goat his mother wondered?

If you have other ideas that you would like to share please add your comments to this post and have a blessed first Sunday of Advent

 

 

Daily Bible Readings For Advent

The beginning of Advent is only a few days away and I thought that it was a good time to post links to various forms of lectionary readings that you might like to read throughout Advent and Christmas.  The readings vary depending on our tradition but all of them are intended to prepare us for the coming of Christ.

If you are confused by the fact that the Sunday lectionary readings that you hear in church seem to be different from those listed below in the daily readings don’t despair.  There are in fact two types of lectionary readings – those that are meant to be used on a daily basis and sometimes called the daily office lectionary.  These vary in format from tradition to tradition, but in the Anglican tradition provide reading from the psalms for morning and evening prayer, as well as daily OT, NT and gospel readings.  This is arranged in a two year cycle beginning on the First Sunday of Advent each year.  The lectionary for Sundays is designed for use in public services.  It also begins on the First Sunday of Advent but is arranged in a three year cycle.   Anyhow I thought that you might like to explore a variety of readings, many of which can be subscribed to as email subscriptions…. and of course this is but a small sampling of what is available

Readings from the Book of Common Prayer

Presbyterian USA daily readings

Readings from the Worldwide Chapel of Ease

Northumbria Community Daily Offices

Daily Prayer with the Irish Jesuits

Daily Prayer from the Catholic Church in Australia

 

Thanksgiving – Coming Home to the Banquet Feast of God

Today is one of the busiest travel days of the year here in the U.S. as families move across the country and sometimes even around the world to be together for Thanksgiving.  Tom & I are heading up to Camano Island this afternoon and will be giving ourselves an extra hour for the trip because we are expecting a traffic jam on the way up.

Thanksgiving is a time for reunion and sometimes for reconciliation.  It is a time when families try to embrace all those who have felt excluded or rejected over the past year.  It is a time when everyone is invited to sit down together at table and forget or forgive their differences.

As I reflected on this early this morning I could not help but relate it to the Great Homecoming of God when we will all come together in God’s kingdom for that great Thanksgiving feast – the kingdom eucharistic feast that ushers in God’s eternal world.  And the prelude to the feast will be a great time of travel as people from every tribe and nation stream home to the mountain of God to celebrate together in an environment of peace and reconciliation.  ((Isaiah 2: 2 – 4).

This too will be a homecoming feast of magnificent proportions – with the richest of food and the finest of wine for everyone.  (Isaiah 25: 6 – 9) It will be a feast that welcomes those who have been excluded and rejected – the homeless, the poor, the disabled, those that look and think differently from us – and seats them in the places of honour.  (Matthew 14: 15 – 24).  And Jesus will be there turning water into wine, dancing with those who had been lame, laughing with those who were mourned and celebrating with all of us the joy of kingdom life.  But he will also be there as a servant – washing our feet and serving the banquet feast as he fills our plates with good things – just as he was at that last passover mean, the first eucharistic meal he shared together with his followers.

As we journey to join our families and share in the feasts that been prepared for Thanksgiving , I pray that we will all be reminded on the great thanksgiving feast of God that is to come.  Above all may we remember those who are still excluded from our feasting and feel excluded from our tables.

Giving Thanks When We Are Struggling

American Thanksgiving Day is on Thursday and many of my friends are preparing to get together with friends and family to celebrate and give thanks.  Some are struggling because they feel they have  very little to give thanks for this year – they have lost jobs and homes or loved ones.  Many more are fearful that they will lose jobs or homes before the recession is over.  The numbers coming to food banks are unprecedented and more people will spend this winter on the streets than has happened for many years.  Anxiety robs many of us of our sleep and snuffs out our joy.

How shall we give thanks this year? The Pilgrims would say that coming through their first fierce winter made them more aware of their blessings. Hard times often open our eyes to appreciate more deeply those relationships we have that are strengthened not weakened because of shared adversity. In the midst of struggle we see more clearly how much we need each other. People become more important than things, and life together becomes a source of joy that a lot of stuff can’t provide.

It seems that the more we have the less likely we are to appreciate the truly valuable things in our lives. Possessions often make us more focused on ourselves, our security and our comfort.  But does having less lead to more gratitude or to more enjoyment of life?  The research says no.  In fact no matter what we have, enough always seems just beyond the horizon.  But when we focus on relationships rather than possessions, on gratitude rather than discontent, our cups overflow with good things.

Tomorrow night Tom & I will give the homily for the Thanksgiving service at St Aidan’s Episcopal church on Camano Island.  We will take the Eucharist together, a very appropriate part of the thanksgiving celebration as Eucharist comes from a Greek word meaning “to give thanks.”  In fact Holy Communion is often referred to as “The Great Thanksgiving”.

But in the midst of taking communion I am reminded that I cannot fully enter into the great thanksgiving when people are without a place to live, nourishing food and adequate medical care.

In the midst of our own thanksgiving we should be doing all that we can to make sure that no one in our society or indeed in our world is hungry, cold or sick.   And of course many churches and faith communities do reach out at this season with meals for the homeless and the marginalized.  Unfortunately this is often only a transitory response, quickly forgotten as we focus on the hectic preparations for Christmas.

We will only be able truly to celebrate an American Thanksgiving when all the world’s people are able to share in the bounty of God’s world together not just for a day but for the rest of eternity.  Let me finish this morning with another beautiful quote from Danielle Shroyer’s The Boundary Breaking God

Injustice and violence happen when we limit our view of what is possible and resign ourselves to accept that the world”is what it is.”  They happen when our horizons get obscured, or when they cease to be God’s horizons… Utilizing our own powerful sense of hope, grounded in the very real promises of God, is to imagine and therefore bring into being a life of freedom.

Maybe what we should all be giving thanks for this Thanksgiving Day is the new found freedoms we have discovered in the midst of difficult times, freedoms which really do enable us to ground out lives more deeply in the eternal promises of God rather than in the transitory promises of this world.

Monasticism Remix: Traditional & Neo-Monastic Spirituality in the 21st Century

Monasticism Remix: Traditional & Neo-Monastic Spirituality in the 21st Century

Mustard Seed Associates invites you to an evening of prayers and explorations of Traditional & Neo-Monastic spirituality.

In this event neo-monastic practitioners and traditional monastic sisters and brothers will come together for a generative conversation about living monastic spirituality in the 21st century.

The evening will include a light meal, prayers, conversation, and a compline service at the end.

You are welcome (and we encourage you) to come to the 5:00 PM service at Church of the Apostles beforehand as well.

When? Dec. 13 – 7:00 PM

Where? Fremont Abbey Arts Center – 4272 Fremont Ave N, Seattle
We will gather in the downstairs cafe area of the Abbey. The worship service takes place in the Great Hall upstairs.

Suggested donation: $5-10; no one will be turned away for lack of money

Register Online

Feel free to contact us at mail@msainfo.org / 206-524-2112 with your questions.

We are looking for volunteers to help us set up and clean up afterward. Contact us if you are interested in volunteer.

This is event is hosted by Mustard Seed Associates in partnership with Church of the Apostlesand The Fremont Abbey Arts Center.

Boundary Breaking Books

Thanksgiving and Christmas are fast approaching and there is much to do & much that I want to say over this next week.  One thing I realized is that I have not blogged much about the books that I am reading at the moment, partly because there are so many that I get a little behind with writing them up.  However I realize that this is the time that most of us are putting together our Christmas lists (unless you are determined to make this a buy nothing Christmas)  so I thought I would give you my suggestions.

The approach of Christmas seems a good time however to reflect on some the boundary breaking books that I am reading – those books that push my thinking outside the boundaries of the usual ways I think about faith

Top of the list is The Boundary Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise, by Danielle Shroyer.  I think that this is a must read for all of us who are grappling with what it really means to be a follower of Christ in today’s world.  God’s people were always those being pushed to the margins – the outsiders who are moving towards an unknown yet hopeful future.  I love the way that Danielle stretches our thinking beyond the familiar ways of interpreting bible stories.

I love her telling of the story of the Magi – “these very un-Jewish, pagan astrologers” far from home yet acknowledging Christ as king.  Danielle’s comments seem very appropriate at this season.

“Though God’s activity in the world began with one family, Jesus’ kingship begins with one world.  Christ’s birth marks the beginning of the promised Kingdom of God on earth.  And that Kingdom as we see in Epiphany reaches far beyond Jerusalem.

From the very beginning of jesus life on earth, God makes it clear this Messiah is going to muddy the lines between who is in and who is out.  The story of the astrologers is the story of God’s expanding love from the viewpoint of the unexpected outsiders.

The second book I want to recommend is a new bible that arrived in the mail a few days ago.  It is called Mosaic and combines the New Living Translation with reflections for the seasons of the church year.  Tyndale has drawn together authors from a rich array of backgrounds and cultures to share reflections, poetry and art.  The trouble is that I wanted to read all the reflections on the first day.

I love the New Living Translation – it is very readable but as a translation not a paraphrase which is great.  I also love that proceeds from the bible go to support the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators.  So again this is a gift that I would heartily recommend – and with that feel good sense that you are doing something to spread the word of God into other cultures too.

The third book I want to recommend is one that I actually have not read as yet (I am expecting to receive a review copy in the next couple of days).  It is Samir Selmanovic’s: It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian. Even the title is enough to make my mouth water. I will probably blog more about this after I get into the book but here are some reviews that are definitely enticing me to want more.

His aim is to embrace the diversities and even the mutually exclusive mysteries of the three Abrahamic faiths and atheism to gain a new perspective that is not about ourselves but about God.  Read the entire review here

Through his personal stories and engagement with the stories of  Christians, Muslims, Pagans, Atheists and more, author Samir Selmanovic points the way to a life with God and each other that is bigger and better than most of us have ever dared to dream.  Read the entire review

A Thanksgiving Prayer

American Thanksgiving is less than a week away and we are all looking forward to what is fondly called Turkey Day.  It is my favourite American custom which I have embraced with great enthusiasm not just because I love good food and good fellowship but because I love the opportunity to think about what I am grateful for and what I have to thank God for.  It is a custom which is not celebrated in Australia but I am sure that it will be celebrated over and over in the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday evening Tom & I will be speaking at the Thanksgiving service at St Aidans Episcopal church on Camano Island.  A couple of days ago I received a request from a friend for a thanksgiving liturgy.  Last night we celebrated a pre-thanksgiving turkey meal with students at the Purple Door.  All of these opportunities have focused my attention on the coming of thanksgiving and the fact that I have so much to be grateful for – good, health, good marriage, good community, shelter, food, a job that I enjoy – the list goes on and on.  Most of all I am grateful for the gift of Christ and all that he has meant in my life.  That is the theme that I have used in this Thanksgiving liturgy.

God we gather to thank you for the many blessings in our lives,

And to praise you for your generous goodness which is new every day,

To you God we offer our praise and thanksgiving.

God to you who created the earth and the heavens,

To you who are always merciful and forgiving,

To you God we offer our praise and thanksgiving.

God to you who call us into relationship with yourself,

And give us the gift of family and friends,

To you God we offer our praise and thanksgiving.

(Pause to remind yourself of all you have to be thankful for)

For the universe immense and unknown

For the earth on which we live

For humankind made in your image

Thanks and praise to God our creator

For entering human history as one of us

For the sacrifice you made for all of us

For dying that we might live

Thanks and praise to Christ our redeemer

For the wonder of your indwelling presence

For the comfort of your guidance and direction

For drawing us together as one body

Thanks and praise to the Holy Spirit our enabler

Through your will we are made whole,

Through your love we are renewed in body, mind and spirit

Through you we become one community from every tribe and nation.

Thanks and praise to Father, Son and Spirit through all eternity.

Psalm 92 or Psalm 105

The Word of the Lord.     Thanks be to God.

1 Chronicles 16: 7 – 34

The Word of the Lord.     Thanks be to God.

Colossians 1: 3-6

The Word of the Lord.     Thanks be to God.

A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew.

Glory to you, O Lord.

Luke 10: 21 – 24

The Gospel of the Lord.   Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us pray together now in the words Jesus taught us.

Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed by your name.  Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory for ever and ever.  Amen

Gracious and generous God we give you thanks

For the gift of life for we are made in your image,

We think of all those in whom your divine image is still distorted

We pray for your mercy and love to rest upon them

God in your mercy be with them

caring and providing God we give you thanks

For our homes that shelter and protect us,

We think of those without shelter and water and protection today

We pray for your provision to be poured out upon them

God in your mercy be with them

Abundant and giving God we give you thanks

For our food that nourishes and strengthens us,

We thing of those without food and nourishment today

We pray that you will feed them with the bread of life

God in your mercy be with them

Loving and compassionate God we give you thanks

For our friends and family who love and comfort us in times of need

We think of those who are alone and feel abandoned

God comfort and surround them that they may sense your presence

God in your be with them

Gracious and generous God

We remember all the gifts you have given us,

We remember how lavishly you have provided,

We remember how lovingly you have cared,

We remember especially that greatest gift of all,

Jesus Christ our Saviour,

And we give you thanks.

Amen

Today was World Toilet Day

Did you know that today was World Toilet Day.  It sounds to most of us as though someone is cracking a joke, but the lack of toilets is no joke for the 2.5 billion people in our world who lack adequate sanitation

The World Toilet Organisation themselves are encouraging website visitors to head over to EndWaterPoverty.org and help improve sanitation and water quality where it’s needed most.  This leads to 1.8 million preventable deaths a year from diarrhea, dysentery, and other infections.

This means that diarrheal disease is even more of a contributor to child fatality rates in the developing world than the HIV/AIDS virus.

For areas of the world that do have a toilet system, the World Toilet Organisation campaigns for cleanliness of restrooms and water supply, parity of access for women, and the public availability of free toileting facilities.

For more information visit the World Toilet Day website

As I read this today I was reminded of one of the reflections that I wrote in my garden manual To Garden With God.

Water is the lifeblood of the garden and in fact of all creation.  Without water, not only would our gardens die but we would too.  Water is also the element of baptism.  It symbolizes our death, burial and resurrection with Christ and offers the possibility of rebirth and the hope of a renewed creation.  As Christians we commit ourselves through the water of baptism to resist evil and affirm our new life in Christ.  Vigen Guoian in his beautiful book Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening, suggests that each time we water the garden, we should recognize that “we tend not only the garden that we call nature but also the garden that is ourselves, insofar as we are constituted of water and are born anew of it.”

I wonder what difference it would make if each time we went outside on a dry and thirsty day to water we were reminded of our baptism and of the resurrection of Christ who is the water of life.  Perhaps it would make us more mindful of those in our world who are as thirsty as our plants.  Or perhaps, more profoundly, each act of watering would become a sacred act that connected us to the wonder of Christ’s life and the power of the resurrection.