Advent is right around the corner, that wonderfully rich time during which we wait and prepare for Jesus to coming among us-to be born within us. It is always a countercultural time, with some stores having already rolled out Christmas immediately after Halloween. For us liturgical folk, we may put up our tree (no, you won’t be hurt if you do), but we also take time to wonder, to prepare, to take time to ask ourselves important questions about what this year held for us-and what we hope for the next year.
The First Sunday of Advent is the first day of the church’s liturgical year. On November 29, we’ll move to Lectionary Year C, the year that has us focusing on St. Luke’s writings. The circle begins again, as it were, with us preparing for Jesus to be born immediately after we celebrate the reign of Christ the King and the completion of all things. I encourage you to delve fully into Advent this year!
You may remember a line I had in my sermon from last Sunday: When we look over the horizon, we see the baby Jesus coming. But not yet. First, we have to prepare ourselves. We have to make room, and sometimes that means letting go of things we have been clinging to-or shaking off things that have been clinging to us!
That line hooks me again this morning as I sit to write this reflection to you. This practice of letting go is difficult, for many reasons, but we shouldn’t avoid the richness that comes from leaning into this practice of preparation.
I have shared so many rich conversations with you over these two years, listening to stories, sharing tears, laughter, hopes, fears, and dreams. We have an amazing community of folks who are willing-and ready-to step even more fully into a practice of faith that fosters compassion, maturity, prayer, and spiritual growth. Even while we look to step into this space, we all, of course, still struggle with these things that cling. What would it be like to engage mindfully with these parts of our lives? What would it look like to liturgically embody this practice of letting go? What would it mean to have a space to share deeply of ourselves and reach toward the ever-present promise of new life and growth in Christ?
We are liturgical people, so we pray best when we have an embodied practice to hold our intentions. We need ritual and the common prayer that we share to help us make sense of life-especially in times of pain and fear. To that end, we are offering a special Advent Evening Prayer service on Sunday evening, November 29 at 6:00 PM. On that evening, we will gather for prayer to begin our new year in a spirit of mindfulness and refreshment. To help us practice this letting go, the service will contain a few important opportunities.
Beginning right now, I invite you to make a list of those things we have been clinging to and those things that have been clinging us. Maybe it is a struggle with family, with a job, with a child. Maybe it is a struggle you have had for a while with Grace Church. Maybe another spiritual community. Maybe it’s something deeply personal within you, a struggle with an addiction, with a fear, with a resentment or suspicion that just won’t go away. Maybe it’s something completely different, a feeling or anger that has festered for so long. Whatever it is, I wonder what it would mean to become more aware of it. I encourage you to spend a bit of time cultivating this awareness-and writing it down. We’re not going to share these with each other. These are personal-between us and God. As you enter into this mindfulness, should you need to talk with one of us, please do call me, Cynthia, or Alan. We are always available to you.
That evening, at 6:00 PM, we will gather on the front porch in front of the narthex. We will have a cauldron lit there. Each person is encouraged to bring their list, their notes, that they have written. After we share a prayer together, we will all toss these into the fire. We will ritually embody this process of kenosis-of letting go. And, we will light the Paschal Candle off this fire-this powerful symbol of our life in Christ and Christ’s victory over death. We will process into the nave, lighting our individual candles off the Paschal Candle and share this service of Evening Prayer. In that way, we will begin the new year refreshed and, maybe, a little lighter.
Advent is such a special time, because it encourages us to share in spaces like this. It calls us to a practice of mindfulness as we watch and wait for Christ to come among us-to “be born in us today.” In hopes of a Spirit-filled year together, I offer this Collect from the Fourth Sunday of Advent:
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 212).
My prayers, always,