Tag Archive for Advent

The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

Christians today (especially those who follow the liturgical calendar) observe the season of Advent as a time of expectation, preparation and celebration leading up to Christmas or Christmastide. Many may be surprised to know that the original observance of the Advent season had nothing to do with Christmas!

The word Advent means “coming” and is derived from the Latin word adventus, a translation of the Greek word parousia. In the fourth and fifth centuries Advent was a season of preparation — not for Christmas but for baptisms that would take place at Epiphany. It was a season (40 days) of fasting, prayer and penance. Roman Christians in the sixth century began to tie the season of Advent to the second coming of Christ. It was not until the Middle Ages that Advent was celebrated in anticipation of Christmas.

In the modern-church era, Advent is a memorial of Christ’s first coming and an anticipation of the kingdom to come. In fact, the first two Sundays of Advent point to the return of Christ in judgment while the last two Sundays remember his first coming into the world.

Advent is intended to be a time of reflection, penance, fasting and praying. Ironically, the weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with parties, food and shopping. The secular commercialism of Christmas, which begins right after Halloween, can distract the faithful from taking time to reflect during this holy season.

Amid the activities of the season, reflect on the Scriptures for each week in Advent. Also, reflect each day of the week on the themes for each Sunday: hope, peace, joy and love.

Reflection often prompts one to action, and many wonderful gifts of kindness and compassion are expressed during the season of Advent. This is a story of kindness shown by complete strangers.

As is evident in most coffee shops, baristas are trained to offer polite conversation and care to customers while they simultaneously maintain a steady focus on their primary task of preparing and serving drinks. Yet, when baristas Pierce Dunn and Evan Freeman of Vancouver, BC, noticed a grieving woman pull up to the drive-through window of their coffee shop, they did something bold.

They stopped what they were doing and listened to the woman tell them about her recently deceased husband. Then, together, they reached out the window to hold her hand and to pray for her. Unbeknownst to the baristas, the driver of another car also waiting in line snapped a picture of them praying for the woman.

The image ultimately went viral, and the crew’s story was featured across Canada and the United States. When asked about why he chose to pray for the woman, Dunn concluded that “if you can bring yourself to understand what someone else is going through, you can show them kindness and make an impact on the world.”

From a Christian perspective, this story is striking and startling because such a small act of kindness has been viewed by the world as a rare and special moment. Yet, in today’s world, we often find ourselves substituting a “nice” gesture for a “kind” action. A polite habit can even be used as a cop-out or excuse for avoiding deeper conversations and bolder actions. And while our intentions may be good, our nice habits are often void of value and substance, and the power of our Christian faith is subsequently held at bay.

The message and character of Jesus was rooted in kindness and care for others. He never allowed rules, reputation or risk to hold him back from serving those in need. He was and is the perfect example of kindness: one who puts others’ needs before his or her own. His disciples were and still today are called to the same task.

After all, during the first Advent, God gifted the world with a Savior and Jesus gifted the world with salvation. The second Advent promises eternity with Christ for those who receive his gift of salvation.

The Blessings of Advent

For many people, the Christmas season has already begun. Black Friday means stores kick off their official Christmas sales and hordes of shoppers flock to malls, and shopping centres festooned with Yuletide decorations. Television Christmas specials, school Christmas concerts, work-related Christmas parties and more Christmas events fill calendars for the next several weeks.

Yet in the midst of the rush, Advent beckons us to remember the blessings of this often overlooked season. While the blessings of Advent are numerous, especially: patience, perspective, hope, service and opportunity.

Patience
Advent is a season of waiting. We gradually light the candles of the Advent wreath, adding a new candle each week until all four candles are lit. If your family has an Advent calendar, you mark the slow, daily progress of the season. All this symbolic waiting has roots in the theological significance of Advent.

In Advent, we remember Jesus’ first coming as a baby born in Bethlehem. Old Testament prophets who proclaimed that God would fulfill the promise: the coming of the Prince of Peace, the righteous branch of David’s line, the Messiah. Later, an angelic visitor will tell Mary and Joseph of Jesus’ coming.

At this time, we also remember that Jesus promised to come again in the future. We live in this time of waiting, when we’re between the inauguration of the kingdom of God and its culmination, between the “already” of Jesus’ first coming and the “not yet” of his return. During Advent, we also remember we don’t know exactly how long the wait will be. We’ve been waiting for the Kingdom to come in its fullness for nearly 2,000 years; the wait may be over soon — or it may be thousands of years from now.

The blessing of Advent patience teaches us to let go of anxiety. We can’t make Jesus’ return come any sooner. What we can do is live by the values of the Kingdom in the here and now.

Perspective
We can easily get caught up in the jolly frenzy of the world around us. We can be seduced into believing we have to make this the best Christmas ever for ourselves and our loved ones. We may get caught up in the quest to buy the perfect gift or in the desire to receive the thing we most crave. We may become outraged over people who say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Advent is a reminder of what’s really important. We are to live by the values of the Kingdom. The prophet Isaiah uses the image of the mountain of the Lord’s house becoming the highest of the mountains. In that time, we’ll pray to learn God’s ways, to walk in God’s paths. We’ll beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, turning implements of war into tools for caring for the earth and nurturing life. Nations will no longer wage war. While we wait for that promised future to come in fullness, we’ll walk in the light of the Lord (Isaiah 2:1-5). Advent reminds us of the Christian perspective that walking that path, loving God and loving our neighbour, is where our focus should be.

Hope
We’re entering into the darkest time of the year, with the sun gradually setting earlier and rising later each day until the winter equinox next month. All the world’s focus on spending time with family and friends during this season can be depressing for those who are alone. The news is often filled with bad news around the world and closer to home. All these factors and more can lead us to believe that things are hopeless.

Yet during Advent, we remember the hope we have in God. We remember the prophets who lived in much more challenging times than ours, times when their nations were on the brink of extinction, when many wondered if God still loved them. Yet Jeremiah, Isaiah, Malachi, Zephaniah, Micah, and others remind us that nothing is impossible with God. The light of God continues to shine, even in the deepest darkness. And as a people of hope, our mission is to reflect that light so others can hope.

Service
This time of year provides numerous opportunities to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ with our actions. Many nonprofit organizations have seasonal service projects that individuals and church groups can join. Or you or your group can plan a short-term project: go carolling at a hospital or a retirement community. Host a party for family, friends, or neighbours, and ask each guest to bring a nonperishable food item for the local food pantry. Check with an agency that works with people who are homeless to learn about how you can help during this season. You may find your service becomes the start of an ongoing commitment.

Opportunity
The end of the year provides opportunity to share God’s love with others. While the Christmas frenzy surrounding us can be overwhelming, it can also open doors. Even a person who rarely thinks about attending worship, engaging in Bible study, or praying understands that this season is at heart a celebration of God’s love. The weeks of Advent can provide the perfect opportunity for you to extend the blessings of the season to other people.

You may find that your friends, co-workers, neighbours, and family members who aren’t part of a church family may be open to an invitation to join you for worship, either on a Sunday morning during Advent or on Christmas Eve.

Advent offers many blessings. When we worship during this season, sing Advent hymns, read the lectionary texts, light the candles of the Advent wreath, slowly reveal the days of the Advent calendar, serve others, and take the opportunity to share God’s good news, we receive the blessings of Advent and offer those blessings to others.

World AIDS Day – Into the Light

December 1 marks World AIDS Day and the start of this year’s Advent season. “Comfort, yes, comfort my people, says your God,” (Isaiah 40:1).

In the most neglected regions of the world where the HIV epidemic has raged for over 30 years, the reality of this epidemic is evident with its disproportionate impact on children. The number of children affected by the HIV epidemic increases each year almost as if the numbers are simply meant to convey what we already know — that not much is being done to care for those who are orphaned or to slow one of the most neglected complications of the HIV epidemic.

As one looks into the faces of the orphaned children, one wonders what they are thinking as they struggle each day to survive. What is it like, to get up as the sun rises and realize that it is unlikely there will be enough food for the day, or that you will again stand and watch all the other children go to school with their books and uniforms while you remain still and staring. When they look at any visitor, do they see an individual who might, just might, change their daily lives and their future. Or maybe they have gotten so used to visitors from foreign lands who come, look, listen and then never return, that their hopes never reach the level that creates disappointment. These orphans are frequently the most impoverished, and yet, somehow, they manage a smile that breaks through their obvious poverty. It’s moving to see so many orphans in need and to watch individual children jockeying to the front to get a space where they will be more visible to the visitors. It reminds one of the scene in the movie Cider House Rules adapted from the 1985 novel by John Irving, where the orphan children line up waiting to be adopted and shout out to the potential parents, “Look at me, look at me.” Today the HIV orphan epidemic needs to be made visible and needs to be seen as individual children who deserve the love and care that all children long for.

On this year’s World AIDS Day we continue to worry more than ever about the HIV orphan epidemic. Perhaps we shouldn’t. Maybe some big international organization or some large non-government organization or a benevolent government will take up the cause. But in reality there are too many orphans and so someone’s got to worry, and in fact, a lot more people need to be moved to worry. We all need to recognize that there is an entire generation of children orphaned by the HIV epidemic that are in desperate need of being rescued. Just as Jesus recognized the potential of the children who sat at his feet and refused to send them away as his disciples urged, we need to acknowledge that orphans are also welcomed inhabitants into the kingdom of heaven.

In 2013 the orphan crisis looms large. So large, in fact, that many will turn their eyes away, overwhelmed by the enormity of the need. Currently it is estimated that there are over 16 million orphans worldwide, with 6 million added to that number each year. Fewer than 20% of the orphans are infected with HIV. The majority have escaped HIV infection but not orphanhood. In two to three years there will be more orphans as a result of the HIV epidemic than there are adults living with HIV.

Every life is important, but over the last decades the priorities for the HIV epidemic have been to provide education to adults to help them to protect themselves from getting HIV infection, or if they are already infected, to provide them with drugs to control their infection so that they will have a normal life expectancy. All this is extremely important. But the orphan crisis is a direct consequence of placing their needs at an unacceptably low priority. Children do not choose to become orphans of the epidemic, nor is there a magic medicine that will erase their orphan status.

Worrying is the beginning. There’s a lot that we can and should do. Women need to be protected from unwanted HIV infection that destroys their lives and that of their family. If infected, they need access to life-saving medicines to keep them healthy so that they can provide for their children and prevent them from becoming orphans in the first place. Pregnant women can also be given medicines to keep the virus from being transmitted to their infants. Advocacy is required to protect women from physical violence, the major source of unwanted HIV infection. Donations will help provide medicines to keep mothers healthy and prevent children from becoming infected. Donations can also purchase food to provide severely malnourished children with nutrition so that the medicines work. This can be done for one orphan, or for two, or for five, or for 10, or even for 100 children, providing orphans with the comfort that there are individuals who believe that they have a responsibility to care for the widows and the orphans of this world.

The severity of the orphan crisis may not be on the radar screen of all of the big organizations or for that matter most Christians. Orphans need advocates because they cannot advocate for themselves. Any new direction will not come from inside the political process. Politicians love to make speeches about families and children, but when they get back to Ottawa and budget battles, kids are the last to cross their minds. Kids don’t vote. And political leaders respond to three things: threats to their re-election, potential embarrassment in the media, and the promise of campaign contributions. Children don’t make campaign contributions, and many of their parents are too busy struggling to make ends meet to get involved in campaigns. If change is to come, it will happen because people like you respond in an aggressive, sustained, and even outraged way.

We are in good company when we advocate for orphans. We join with God, the prophets and Jesus in urging the Christian community to care for the widows and the orphans of this present world. It will be a tragedy if the Christian community looks back years from now and says that more should been done to rescue the oppressed.

In Isaiah chapter 40:11 we read, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” In the flock I see not just individuals, couples and families. I also see widows and orphans. God has given us the privilege of gathering them together and bringing them close to his heart. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27.

  

ABOUT THE LIGHT

It’s always been about the light with you,

hasn’t it, Jesus?

Magi, braving distance and desert to find you,

and bewildered shepherds, compelled by an angel’s invitation,

allowed light to be their guide,

And it is still the light that calls us to you;

the light of beauty that whispers its truth

in surprising ways and places;

the light of compassion that kneels,

and washes road-soiled, life-battered feet;

the light of joy that glows

even in the darkness of grief and suffering;

the light that seeks to shine within us,

and through us into the dark corners of our world.

It’s always been about the light with you, Jesus;

and its always about the light for us.

Please lead us, now and always, out of darkness

and into your marvellous light.

                  … John van de Laar