Lit Candles

ADVENT DEVOTIONALS 2021
 

Enjoy these gifts of writing and reflection provided on Mondays each week during Advent. Many thanks to the writers for their participation.

ADVENT WEEK 4   Praise/Exultation

 

Ephesians 1:6 - "to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves".

 

5 - He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,

6 - to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Glorious Grace

Verse 6 in Ephesians takes us to an odd place in the middle of a run on sentence. I understand that in Paul’s original text written in Greek long, long sentences are common. To most of us taking this out of context is difficult. I find it easier to begin with verse 5 rather than beginning at a comma.

I then understand this gift is God’s Grace. This magnificent, perfect gift was in God’s plan, in the very foundation of God’s plan, for the world as his children through Jesus Christ.

I marvel at this Grace. In some dictionaries Grace is defined as a kindness. I like that. This Grace or kindness promises us the gift of eternal life in God’s perfect kingdom of heaven. For ever and ever. I don’t believe there is any greater gift.

 

As I look back to Christmas as a child it was pretty perfect with just a few snafus. Most involved the Christmas Tree! Somehow it was always too tall, discovered at the last minute, touched the ceiling. I think every year one of the three of us children knocked it over! Then my mother and father got smart and tied it to the heat duct return. Then there were the arguments of proper tinsel application. My brother David’s favorite was crumbling the metal tinsel and tossing it at the tree. It didn’t matter how it landed. Linda and I approved of a more delicate approach, neat and tidy. The three of us were born in just over 3 years so there was no tinsel victory just a bit of everything. Of course some broken balls were a given. I don’t recall where my parents were hiding during the ‘fun’ but certainly not in the living room. Every year the tree was just perfect and beautiful.

 

Then in 1965 on Christmas morning, very early, Daddy died after a very brief illness. I thought at 13 that when I had kids, Christmas would be perfect again. And it pretty much was. However, when Christy, Alexa and Lindsay grew up and moved out, Christmas was not so great. I’ve muddled with a sadness for a lot of years.

 

Pretty slowly I’ve returned to the magnificence of this Holy Day. Christ Church playing a not insignificant role. I have to see this as God’s Grace also, the joyful anticipation of Christmas again. And of recognizing God’s loving kindness for his children.

 -Reflection by Suzie Laborda

 

Advent, a time of waiting. We wait for the coming birth of Jesus. Young children await Christmas morning with great expectation of presents.

 

But why this waiting? Why is the memory of the birth of one man over two thousand years ago still so engrained in us? We begin preparing for the celebration of Jesus’ birth weeks before His birthday. Why? What is it that brings so many hearts together?

 

It is fitting to pair praise with exultation. To praise is to admire greatly. To exult is the act of rejoicing, jubilating, celebrating a triumph. We cannot exult the birth of Jesus without first praising God. Advent is our time to praise Jesus and, through Him, God. On Christmas day we exult over the birth of this babe that will grow into a singular person who’s shared connection with both humans and God continues to shape our world.

 

Mary, Jesus’ mother, sang her Magnificat beautifully. “My soul magnifies the Lord.” She praised God for the glory she was part of. God’s glory! Every year we too get to join in that praise. Our souls magnify the Lord as well. On Christmas we feel it. There is a connection we share with God and with each other on this day that we often miss at other times of our busy lives. Now, on this day, we stop and remember the peace that God grants, and we praise Him. We sing our praises with our voices and with our actions.

 

We exult in the glorious gift of Jesus that God shared with us. We remember and celebrate a man, Jesus. We remember and celebrate because He was more than a man; He bridged the divide between humans and God. He brought us together so that we can remember what we had forgotten. We are God’s children, therefore each of us has a piece of God within us. That realization, that remembering, is why we wait to once again exult the birth of this man, this Jesus.

-Reflection by Dan Mistichelli

 

ADVENT WEEK 3   Repentance

Acts 2:38 - "Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit".

 

When I’m expecting a “special guest”, I want to get my house in order and cleaned. When in Advent, to prepare, we need to get our house in order and cleaned.

 

To do so, we need to acknowledge our sins, feeling true remorse and then transformation.

In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist says “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. It’s not enough to repent, so much as having a spiritual transformation, a conscious effort to change, to bear fruit.

 

To repent without works or change, for me, is a futile exercise. To not attempt to be the person God wants us to be, is emptiness.

 

In my own personal experience, this accountability to God is on-going. I pray to God , not only to forgive my sins, but to keep me mindful of bearing “fruit” such as compassion and empathy for others. To be kind, thoughtful, less judgmental and love unconditionally.

As I prepare for Advent and await Jesus, I’ll put my house in order and strive for a fresh, clean start, in anticipation of this “special guest”, Jesus.

 

Luke 12:40 - "You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him".

-Reflection by Holly Cunningham

 

Modern Christmas is a flurry of shopping and decorating and baking and running around, trying to get everything right for the big day. We have lost the ancient view of advent as a time for reflection, thoughtfulness and prayer. We have turned it into a time when we start celebrating early. We don’t even take time to breathe, let alone reflect. 

Our Christmas will be more meaningful if we reserve time to think, examine our consciences, and identify areas where we have wronged others. We can ask God’s forgiveness and commit ourselves to doing better in the future than we have done in the past.

We can all find wrongs we have committed. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “...the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” If you are like me, you will find it difficult to face faults head-on. I can usually find excuses for whatever I’ve done that I regret. It’s so difficult to just sit with it, accept it, and offer it up to God for forgiveness and with prayer for the strength to do better next time.

My most favorite Biblical verse is Psalm 51, the Great Penitential Psalm. It was written when the prophet Nathan came to David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. To me, it is the ultimate example of God’s love and forgiveness in the face of repentance. If He can forgive David after such an egregious sin, and raise him up to become the ancestor of Jesus, then I can hope for forgiveness as well.

1- "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 - Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

As David did, I ask God for mercy and a clean start. I sit with my transgressions, allow myself to feel the regret, and then face the future with the hope of making better choices tomorrow.

Repenting, asking forgiveness, and moving forward – the best Christmas gift I can give to Baby Jesus, to myself and to the world. And the hope of forgiveness, is the gift I receive in return.

17 - "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, O God, will not turn away.”

-Reflection by Patti Davis

 

ADVENT WEEK 2   Preparation

 

Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

I read the following advice to professional athletes in a magazine article and it stayed with me: “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.” In other words, spring training is not the time to start to lose 20 pounds or work on hitting left-handed pitching if you spent the off season eating fast food and working on your tan.

So how can we be ready – when we don’t really know what we’re waiting for – without tying ourselves in theological knots and/or reacting with paralyzing anxiety? One way would be to create or strengthen our daily prayer life. If you’re a rookie at daily prayer, choose a practice that’s doable for you; if you’re a veteran, know that your daily prayers help sustain your Christian family.

Some suggestions for getting started or making a change to your current practice:

1.    Talk with Fr. Ernie.

2.    Read the Forward Day by Day booklet. It has the scripture citations and a brief meditation on one of the lessons.

or

Say the Lord’s Prayer and add your personal intercessions and thanksgivings.

or

Use the Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families on page 136 of the Book of Common Prayer.

or

Choose a few prayers from the Prayers and Thanksgivings starting on page 810 of the Book of Common Prayer

or

Pray a verse of a favorite hymn or learn a new one to use as a prayer

or

Spend a few minutes in silence. If you need a mental focus, you could say “Oh Lord your servant waits upon your word.”

The liturgical season of Advent leads us to Christmas joy; it can also lead us to a stronger prayer life so we can “stay ready,” not only for the coming of the Son of Man, but for all the blessings and challenges of daily life.

 -Reflection by Carol Smith

 

In my academic life, work life or athletic life, I always felt it was necessary to prepare for what I was about to encounter. I wanted to be ready.

 

In academics I would read and reread my notes from lectures, do practice problems and converse with classmates to get ready for exams.

 

Work required me to dive deeply into research and perform statistical analysis in order to make an informed decision on an investment recommendation. My clients deserved my best efforts. 

 

Many hours of practice on the soccer pitch were necessary to try to achieve a measure of success with my teams.

 

Where do I sit with my preparation for the coming of our Lord? What can I do to make myself ready? I pray. I listen. I seek to provide hope and help to those in need. I strive to take actions to make our community and our world more just and equitable.

 

I pray. I listen. I act. I want to be ready.

-Reflection by Kurt Brunner

In the Empowered group, Father Ernie has guided our reading and discussion of several rich and challenging works on faith-related subjects. One of those works, Richard Rohr’s “The Universal Christ,” is helping me to think about how to prepare spiritually for this year’s Christmas season. My thoughts are also shaped by some verses from Isaiah I studied when I attended Yom Kippur services on Zoom this fall.

 

When I read Rohr’s book, I was especially moved by his insights about God’s incarnation in all things, including the birth and life of Jesus. Rohr helped me more deeply understand the significance of the incarnation. As Jesus walked incarnate among us, the divine dwelt in the humble form of a marginalized, vulnerable human. Thus, the incarnation of Jesus was an expression of God’s deep and eternal love for, and connectedness with, humanity.

 

How can I prepare for observing and understanding the day on which we mark this incarnation?

 

In the Isaiah readings for Yom Kippur, chapters 57:14—58:14, we are exhorted to “build up, build up, prepare the way . . . .” God is “the high and lofty one/who inhabits eternity, whose/name is Holy.” Yet, God also dwells “with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,/to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” In other verses in this part of Isaiah, God promises healing, comfort, and peace. God will keep this promise from generation to generation, even as humanity falls short of what God asks—so long as we seek to build up and prepare the way.

 

Rohr helps me recognize that Isaiah was talking about an eternal relationship centered on loving connectedness with God and each other. As Isaiah instructed, we should conduct our part in this relationship in deeply meaningful ways. Isaiah tells us that pro forma rituals and prayers do not suffice. Instead, he tells us “to loose the bonds of injustice,/to undo the thongs of the yoke,/ to let the oppressed go free . . . share your bread with/the hungry,/ and bring the homeless poor into your house . . . .” The commentary in the High Holy Days prayer book noted: “This [text] poses the question of what it will take to create a world transformed.”

 

Rohr’s analysis of Mary’s Magnificat connects it to Isaiah’s transformational vision. Rohr characterizes her song as “the Great Yes that humanity forever needs for Christ to be born into the world.” When I consider Mary’s words, I see her awe that God offers abundance to all of humanity. She says: “He has . . . lifted up the lowly;/he has filled the hungry with good things.” How can God’s abundance be so fully realized? I think perhaps it can only be when we prepare the way as Isaiah instructed: by acting with loving kindness that recognizes the beloved humanity in everyone.

 

To prepare for the incarnation, I will try to discern how to meaningfully “say yes” in my daily life and in my work for Christ Church and my community. I can start by trying consistently to act with loving kindness, and then see where “yes” takes me from there.

-Reflection by Mary Ellen Maatman

ADVENT WEEK 1    Anticipation/Hope

 

1 Titus 2:13 - "While we wait for the Blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ".

 

It is just in my nature. I am a planner with a list for everything from groceries, “to do” items, goals, calendars, it just goes on and on. As Advent approaches, here I am, trying to arrange and control the world around me. But so much is not in my control. I do not get to decide the ultimate outcome. So here I am, waiting. Spending that quiet time in prayer, in thought, waiting. For me Advent is a reminder that Jesus promised to come back. When we think about His first coming, as man, as preached by John the Baptist. The anticipation of all that is to come in the Christmas season, and beyond. The life Jesus as man will play out on the way to our salvation. And now we wait for His coming again.

Waiting is about feeling and exploring those feelings knowing something better is coming. Taking the time to be mindful of those around us, of our relationship with God, and thinking through the tough issues we face. We know the time we spend in the weeks of Advent anticipating and preparing is of immense value. Knowing the world is not what it could be, that we are not what we could be. Creating disruption in our routine, to give real thought, look at the world around us and act with love, respect, tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness, anticipating, waiting…

"While we wait for the Blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ", give me grace to wait patiently, longingly, and ever ready for Your coming. AMEN!

-Reflection by Connie Davies

 

 "While we wait for the Blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” I have to admit, I am not waiting for the return of Jesus. First he arrived as a baby, then as a resurrected savior, and now we are waiting for …. what? I thought a lot about this the past week and have struggled with it. I compared hope to wishing, I thought about how Jesus would return, I wondered if I would be one of the people who got to go to heaven, and I am not sure what it means by “Blessed hope.” I was not looking forward to His coming until I read that He might come with “power.” Now, that is a good thing because I thought He would come and straighten things out and life on earth could be wonderful and blissful. Jesus could fix l the problems, the environment, the political parties, and eliminate all abuse of children.

 Wishing seems to be about something that you want immediately, not in the future. Hope is about believing in and wanting something big. Titus urged men, women, and slaves “… to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, ” He is telling us to be good people as we wait in hope for the return of our Savior. How does this relate to the season of Advent when we are waiting for the birth of the Christ child? Celebrating the birth of Jesus reminds us that we do not need to wish for a savior, we have hope in the savior that was born in Bethlehem, that our hope is in his coming again. Celebrating Christ’s birth reminds us to live good lives and do good to others while we wait for his return. I will still wish upon the stars on Christmas Eve because it fills my heart, but I know that there is “blessed hope” for our future because Jesus may come in all his glory one day, but he is always with us - every day.

 

May Hope and Love be yours this holiday season.

-Reflection by Jo Ann Townsend