Advent Blessings

by Pastor Heath Howe

"Everything looks different now. Why?" I was asked this question recently by a four-year-old. She explained that she had noticed how decorations are displayed not only at home but all over town. She ended, "We get ready for Christmas this way." How true.

Preparing for the birth of Jesus is no different than preparing for the birth of any child or even the birth of any new beginning. It takes time. When a new baby is on the way we prepare by bringing new items, such as cribs, bottles, and strollers into our homes. Sometimes even rooms get converted. What was once dad's study (hideout?) is now the nursery. When we are preparing for a new beginning, such as moving out of our family home into a smaller place, we let go of possessions, even treasures, we no longer need. We pass them along. We downsize. No matter what sort of new beginning life brings us, even in the midst of duty, there is a time of preparation, a time of waiting for what is next, and a time of stillness for the unknown. Before any new birth there is an advent.

As Christians we prepare for the birth of Jesus with our own season, the one called Advent. It is the first season of our church year, and with it come our own traditions, symbols, and signs of what is to come. It always starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25th, the birthday of Christ. At Holy Comforter and in many Episcopal (and Anglican) Churches the liturgical color of Advent is Sarum blue in honor of Mary. In some places purple is used as a sign of both royalty, the coming of the Kingdom of God, and penitence. Either way, the familiar green altar cloths we have seen all summer and fall are out and a new color is in its place. During this time we no longer decorate with flowers. Instead we adorn the sanctuary with evergreen as a reminder of the undying love of God. An evergreen wreath holds particular focus this season as its shape reminds us that God's love has no end. The four candles on the wreath represent four themes we recognize during Advent. We begin the first week of Advent by lighting one blue candle, and we think about Hope. Week two, a second blue candle is lit along with the first and we consider Peace.
On the third Sunday we light the pink candle, along with the two blue ones, in honor of Mary as we reflect on Joy. On the Sunday closest to Christmas, the fourth Sunday of Advent, we light all four candles and think of Love. The attention to detail, the long years of practice behind these traditions, and the simple beauty these symbols hold have the power to stop us in our tracks. Thank God.

Advent is after all a time of waiting: waiting for Christ to be born once again in our hearts and waiting for his coming again with power and great glory. How appropriate that among the shopping, the caroling, and the baking we stop and think about God's never ending and undying love. What a gift Advent is as we pause and really wonder with the eyes, minds, and hearts of a child about the difference between Hope and wishing, about the royal power of Peace over
anxiety, about the spiritual impact of Joy when infused into our very veins, about the real intimacy of Love when we are willing to receive it freely and unearned. No wonder we need to wait and listen to all God has to teach us in this time of year and the kingdom to come.

What is different within and around you this time of year? What do you see? What is new? How will you prepare this year for the birth of Christ and all the new beginnings his arrival will bring into your life? What needs to be removed or replaced in your heart so that a bed built with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love may hold the Christ child?

If you don't know how to prepare, are too tired to try, or have forgotten what to do, no worries. God is happy to guide you, and you are not alone. All of us at Holy Comforter gather weekly to stop, listen, notice, wonder, and in so doing, to prepare. And thank God that we do! It is in our regular gathering that we find a community of fellow seekers who, just like us, have met a Savior. He is the one whose birth causes us to stop, look around, and see that for the rest of our lives, because of him, "everything looks different now."

Advent Blessings, Heath