Monday, November 30, 2015

The First Sunday in Advent

Updated from the Archives...

A year ago at Pine Valley Community Church, you could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. Our interim pastor, Pastor Jim, started informing our church about Advent, and the topic of his sermons up until Christmas would be the significance of the four candles in the Advent wreath: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace, plus the central white candle, the Christ candle. This is a different set of meanings from the sobering Anglican tradition (Death, Judgment, Heaven [thus the lightening of the penitential purple candles to a rose-colored one], and Hell) as well as the evangelical tradition we observed at Lake Murray (Prophecy Candle, Bethlehem Candle, Shepherd Candle, Angel Candle).

As regular readers of this blog will know, celebrating the Christian Year is one of my passions, and Advent has been central to our family's devotional life since the kids were small. So I was thrilled beyond belief to have Advent being preached from the pulpit; I somehow managed to restrain myself from standing up and applauding mid-sermon. ;) 

The term "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival" and refers to the first Incarnation of Christ as well as the expected second coming of Christ. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest to the Feast of Saint Andrew (November 30), and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.

Advent also marks the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition.

We've been celebrating Advent since 2001 in our household. Keith made us the tabletop Advent wreath above, and through the years we have celebrated Advent with different materials. We read through the adventure books Jotham's Journey and Tabitha's Travels which tell an adventure story that ends on December 24th at the manger and the birth of the Christ Child. We've also used a little book called Christ in the Carols, a devotional with the lyrics to and the background of each carol with a closing meditation and prayer. We've used the Scripture readings from Focus on the Family or the Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer. As the kids grow up, each year we do something slightly different.

Each family member has his/her turn to light the Advent candle(s) in the wreath and to read the Scripture from the Advent calendar wall hanging Keith's sister made for us the year we moved to Pine Valley with 25 hand-embroidered pockets for candy/gifts and a laminated Scripture verse attached to each one:

This year, with three of our "kids" grown (but thankfully still living at home), gathering everyone each evening for a celebration of Advent seems far less than possible. So we decided to celebrate Advent as a family just on Sundays. But of course, Elizabeth had a work event last night, so we've postponed our first Advent celebration until tonight, Monday night. 

I also found a wonderful FREE Advent devotional that can be read only on Sundays or can be spread out over the course of each week of Advent. It's from one of my favorite Christian resources, The High Calling, and here's the link: 2015 Advent Devotional

The Book of Common Prayer 2011 has the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent which is to be prayed during the Advent season until Christmas Day:


ALMIGHTY God, give us grace to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now during this present life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, so that at the last day when he will come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to eternal life; Through him who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (References: Romans 13.12; 2 Timothy 4.1; Philippians 2.5-8; 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17)

Advent is richly symbolic. The light of the candles reminds us that Jesus is “the light of the world” and that we are also called to “walk in the light, as He is in the light.” The purple of the candles symbolizes the royalty of Christ, the Almighty who “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” The rose candle reminds us that hope and peace are near, available only through God. The white candle, the Christ candle, recalls Christ’s holiness, purity – He who was without sin who died for the sins of all. The greenery, symbolizing abundant life, surrounds a circular wreath – never ending, eternal life. The red of the holly berries reminds us of His blood to be shed on the cross for us.

The origins of the Advent wreath are found in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who, during the cold December darkness of Eastern Europe, gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light. Christians kept these popular traditions alive, and by the 16th century Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols to celebrate their Advent hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. From Germany the use of the Advent wreath spread to other parts of the Christian world. Traditionally, the wreath is made of four candles in a circle of evergreens. Three candles are violet and the fourth is rose. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent.

Historically, the primary sanctuary color of Advent is purple, the color of penitence and fasting as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King. The purple of Advent is also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week which points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death: The Nativity, the Incarnation, cannot be separated from the Crucifixion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the "Word made flesh" and dwelling among us, is not only to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection.

To reflect this emphasis, originally Advent was a time of penitence and fasting, much as the Season of Lent and so shared the purple color of Lent. In the four weeks of Advent, the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called "Gaudete Sunday," from the Latin word for "rejoice"). The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday Advent candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season. 

The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history; it is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. This is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture readings for Advent reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment of sin, and the hope of eternal life in this double-focus on past and future. 

Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power and glory. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live "between the times" and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s in-breaking into history in the Incarnation and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."

The primary focus of Advent is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as we wait together to celebrate His birth, death, and glorious resurrection. 

My favorite Advent devotional is Watching for the Light, and from it I have jotted down some wonderful quotations, including the one for this week:
"Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent--that is, a time of waiting for the Ultimate."
--Dietrich Bonhoeffer
So enjoy your family or church celebrations of the Advent season. I'm so glad I started the Advent tradition when our kids were fairly small so that it has become an important part of their childhood memories and their walk in faith. 

Wishing you a blessed and holy Advent,

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Perspective from The High Calling

There are hundreds, nay thousands, of Christian daily devotionals at our fingertips, thanks to web sites, traditional books, e-books, etc. It's all too easy to become overwhelmed by all the choices before us, or to get wrapped up in reading so many that little of God's Truth truly sinks into our minds and hearts.

While I have four traditional book devotionals I use at home, I've narrowed my online daily devotionals to only two: Saint of the Day from because I love learning about God has worked through the ordinary lives of Christians through the centuries, and Daily Reflections from The High Calling

With Advent just around the corner, I have been praying and debating over which materials to use for Advent this year (this Sunday is indeed the First Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new Christian Year!). And as I played catch-up with my inbox after grading research papers all day yesterday, I was thrilled that Monday's Daily Reflection from The High Calling included a link to a FREE Advent devotional! Yay!! Here's the link for those of you who would like a copy. It's a PDF which I promptly e-mailed to my Kindle, so I'm all set for the season now: Free Advent Devotional.

So with Advent coming up this Sunday, this past Sunday was the Sunday Before Advent, also known as the Feast of Christ the King. Here's the Collect from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:


ALMIGHTY and eternal God, who restores all things in your Son, the King of kings and the Lord of lords; Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, so that we may abundantly produce the fruit of good works and be abundantly rewarded in your eternal kingdom; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Revelation 19.16; Psalm 110.3; Philippians 2.13; Galatians 6.9; 2 Corinthians 9.6)

Jeremiah 23.5-8; John 6.5-14; Psalm 85; Hebrews 7.1-7

And here is the Daily Reflection from The High Calling for Monday, November 23 which I found both inspiring and convicting. We all need the gift of perspective, especially if we're going through a particular rough patch. A Godly perspective makes all the difference in our hearts and minds despite the troubling circumstances swirling around us.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Retreat and the Need for Prayer

Embassy Suites, Temecula Wine Country, California

I spent this past weekend with thirty amazing women from our "new" church at our women's retreat. At our former church of twenty years, we spent every retreat at the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center in the town where we moved fourteen years ago; I attended nearly every women's retreat during our long tenure there. But when J joined the worship team at Pine Valley Community Church (PVCC) and we could walk to church rather than drive 40 miles to church (and 40 miles back up the mountain), we decided to switch to our local church. An outreach of Village Missions which helps to provide pastors in rural areas that could not support a full-time pastor on their own, PVCC is truly an amazing place.

So instead of bunking in mountain cabin-like dorms a couple of miles across town, the women of PVCC trekked up to the Embassy Suites hotel in Temecula. And were we ever spoiled! The theme of the weekend was a daisy. Remember the old tradition of pulling off daisy petals to discover if our latest crush actually loved us? We'd tug and discard petal after petal, murmuring "He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me, He loves me not. He loves me...."

Well, this daisy was to remind each of us: "He loves me. He loves me. He loves me. He loves me. He loves ME."

We spent time in prayer, in fellowship, in weeping and laughing with one another, in His Word, in worship, in solitude. It was truly a lovely weekend. And praying for one another was truly a blessing, one that I will not forget anytime soon.

Last month as I prayed through my devotional The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime, I came across a prayer that spoke to me deeply. It was a Concluding Prayer of the Church for the Midday Office dated Wednesday Nearest to October 19:

O Lord my God, to You and Your service I devote myself, body, soul, and spirit. Fill my memory with the record of Your mighty works; enlighten my understanding with the light of Your Holy Spirit; and may all the desires of my heart and will center in what You would have me do. 

Make me an instrument of Your salvation for the people entrusted to my care, and let me by my life and speaking set forth Your true and living Word. Be always with me in carrying out the duties of my salvation; in praises heighten my love and gratitude; in speaking of You give me readiness of thought and expression; and grant that, by the clearness and brightness of Your Holy Word, all the world may be drawn to Your blessed kingdom. All this I ask for the sake of Your Son my Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

So may the power of Christ's divine love enlighten our days, dissipating our fears with the Truth of His Word and the brightness of His glory. His promises are true, and His will is perfection, even when we cannot see our lives as reflections of His.

He promises to never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13.5) 

He promises that ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8.28)

So we may rest in His loving arms, lifting one another up in prayer and gratitude, as we return from this time of retreat and pick up the stressful burdens of our daily lives. May His promises ring in our minds and quiet our hearts so that our focus lifts from our circumstances to His Face, the Face we will clearly see when we enter His Kingdom at long last.

He loves us. He loves us. He loves us. He loves us.

With love and trust,


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