There is perhaps no busier time of year than the 30ish days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Stores become busier and lines become longer. Traffic picks up. Parties and celebrations become scheduled throughout the week and weekend. End of year reports are due. Finals are rapidly approaching as fall semesters come to an end. Our church calendar becomes filled with an array of activities and meetings and events. It is so easy to become swept away in the hustle and bustle around us, and it is when the “busyness” culture is at its highest. You know busyness culture—it’s when someone asks, “How are you doing?” and the typical response is, “Good. Busy, but good,” or “I’m fine. Life is busy per usual as you know.
Our need to be busy and always respond with our ongoing list of events and activities going on have made this into a cultural phenomenon, which means that finding time and energy to slow down is not only becoming harder but pushing against the busyness-norm that has come to be many of our realities.
The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus” which means “coming” or “arrival.” In fact, it is the beginning of the church liturgical calendar and so, in a sense, it is our “new year.”
So, what is the first thing we do in our new church liturgical year?
No trying new weight loss programs or make new gym memberships.
No space or room within a week to a month to break those resolutions and fall back into old habits that really aren’t that bad anyways.
Nope, all that Advent asks of us is to wait. And in this waiting, we are given the room to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ by marking time with the lighting of the Advent candles of hope, peace, joy, and love. As we mark time, we also reflect on what these words mean, and how they play a role in preparing us for the coming of Christ and the inbreaking of God’s love in the world.
It seems like such a stark contrast, that both the busiest time of year is also the time of year in which we are being called to slow down, prepare ourselves, and wait. Making this mental shift is difficult, if not impossible most of the time. We slow ourselves down for worship, but then as soon as we walk out, it’s back to the to-do list for the day.
So what would it look like, beloved, to be fully immersed in the emotions and experience of Advent, rather than just moving through the motions of the season? What would it look like to intentionally pause, to wait in anticipation with hope, peace, joy, and love by your side preparing you?
This Friday, Williamsburg Presbyterian Church along with other community members of Williamsburg will be hosting our Service of Lessons and Carols. I’ve spoken of this service throughout these blog posts because, ultimately, it has become my ability to carry on my gratitude from Thanksgiving into Christmastide. Lessons & Carols provide this sacred space where there are no expectations of my time or energy, where all I do is soak in the words of scripture and song, reflecting on the heritage that has been gifted to us in this majestic and holy narrative, and the invitation that God has extended to the world to be part of the story. Lessons & Carols invites you to reflect and see how this story is so much larger than you or me, but is the enveloping of community, and witnessing how the light of Christ has spread forth to the world. There are 9 Lessons read by community members from children to adults, and our Carols will be sung through hymns by everyone gathered together, as well as beauty of the William and Mary Women’s Chorus, the purity of William and Mary’s Common Ground all-women’s acapella group, and the joy of the Westminster Ringer handbell choir of William & Mary students.
I hope that you will join us, that you will come for a moment to pause, to prepare, to reflect, to be reminded of the astounding heritage that has been gifted to us and that we are called to participate in and move forward in as a community of love and light.
Thanksgiving is by far my most favorite of all the holidays. I fly home to Texas every year I can manage for Thanksgiving because there is no one I want to be with more than my family and enjoying our traditions. From enjoying cinnamon rolls while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade where my very musical family delights in every Broadway show and missed lip-syncing cues by musical artists on floats, to watching every football game and enjoying an afternoon nap, to mom and dad performing the perfected dance of making Thanksgiving dinner, to washing copious amounts of dishes with my two siblings, and ending with playing a game as a family, you can see why I love and adore this day and am willing to pay whatever necessary for a flight home.
Gratitude is one of my favorite spiritual practices, and with a name like “Thanksgiving,” gratitude is practically built into the holiday. One of my favorite gratitude practices is the one of Examen, where you look back over the day and ask yourself, “What am I most grateful for today, and why? And what am I least grateful for today and why?” By reflecting on your day, you are reminded of the various moments throughout the day—I oftentimes think of it in terms of sifting through my “snapshots” of the day and selecting the picture from one moment that I am most and least grateful for.
The most important part of this practice is not just naming what your favorite part of the day was, but also articulating why that moment in the day was your most grateful and least grateful moment. I am most grateful for the opportunity to go home for Thanksgiving because when I am with my family, I am reminded that I am loved for who I am, without expectations. (I am least grateful to be leaving my beloved 9-month-old kitten behind because I’m always afraid she’s going to forget how much she loves me when I return.)
We need these intentional moments in our days, but also throughout the year. We need these intention moments where we are given room to be reminded and reflect on why we do what we do. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to do this practice, especially in preparation for Advent and Christmas. I don’t know about you, but I already have my calendar filling up with dates and events to come. One of those events is Lessons and Carols, on November 30 at 7:00 p.m. at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, but this isn’t one of those events that expects something of or from me. It’s the one night where I have the space to pause and reflect on why this season is celebrated, and to be reminded that it is not about the commercialization, but instead is a time for internal and communal preparation together to celebrate the light and love of Christ that has come, is here, and will be coming into the world. A Service of Lessons and Carols provides this expectation-free space where all can gather to be reminded and reflect on the love of God throughout time and history and know that this love continues in our lives today.
I’ve been mulling over the word “heritage” for a few weeks now. I recently spent time at an evangelical conference in Montreat, NC called “Evolving Faith,” and found myself soaking in the words of each speaker and basking in every 15-20 minute prayer offered. I then travelled down to Conyers, GA to spend time with Trappist monks (associate with the Roman Catholic Church) at Monastery of the Holy Spirit, and reveled in the vow of silence I took, speaking and chanting the Psalms during the daily hours: Vigils (4:00 a.m.), Lauds (7:00 a.m.), Mid-day Prayer (12:15 p.m.), Vespers (5:20 p.m.), and Compline (7:30 p.m.). These two experiences speak to my heritage, of my mother who was raised in evangelical churches and my father who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. In both places, I felt at home, with freedom to disagree but still be part of these communities.
Heritage has continued to be a word I’ve heard used in our church and world. With the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue, our Head of Staff, John, spoke of our Christian heritage having Jewish roots. Similarly, in the celebration of Veterans Day and the remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, we see the heritage that began in World War I, with women in the workforce and being given the right to vote.
It is this heritage from World War I that the Service of Lessons and Carols comes about. Lessons and Carols was started as a service of healing at Kings’ College in England to mourn the young men who died in WWI. This tradition has carried on for the past 100 years, with 2018 being the 100th anniversary of this service being performed not only by Kings’ College, but around the world. The beauty of Lessons and Carols is that it chronicles the Christmas narrative from Genesis up through the New Testament using both scripture and music. Nine lessons are read, and music is interwoven with each lesson to help provide further interpretation and story telling of this narrative. These carols vary from instrumental music to vocals sung by all who are gathered together and by choirs.
Heritage reminds us of where we have come from, and of the cultural values and traditions that have brought us to where we are today. There is healing in shared communal heritage—in the midst of brokenness, wars that tears countries apart, acts of violence against innocents, we search for healing that can bring a community together to be grounded in something greater than suffering.
If you are looking for a place to be grounded in community and greater heritage that we can claim, I hope that you’ll join community members across Williamsburg for a Service of Lessons and Carols held on Friday, November 30 at 7:00 p.m. at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church. No matter how young or old, how joyful or sorrowful, grounded in love or searching for healing, we hope that you’ll join us.
Away in a manager, no crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay,
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care,
And fit us for heaven, to live with you there.
Picturing Jesus as a baby boy wrapped in a manger often reminds me often what unconditional love really means. We often think of the unconditional love of a mother or a father when we think of unconditional love from God, but maybe that unconditional love is more like that of an infant. A little sleeping child loves so unconditionally and wholly because thoughts of anger and hatred have never even been processed by a baby’s infant mind. This is the pure, unconditional love of Jesus Christ, the love that never fails, that always comforts, and that we receive through the grace of God.
Loving and merciful God,
Thank you for your unconditional love and forgiveness, brought to us in your son, Jesus Christ. Though we may have days when love seems so hard, you guide us through these dark days to the light which is Christ’s love in our world. Help us to surround your children with the loving light of Christ this advent season.
You’ll notice a lot of hearts on them, as the kids were not just sending food, but love as well.
We know that food is not enough, money is not enough. It takes a human touch to make a difference. It takes the spark of Love in each of us, the image of God in each of us to make a difference.
And yet it makes us wonder . . . what was the stable like that day and night before Mary and Joseph arrived. What was the world like before Love took on human form?
Were there hopeless? Were there those who knew no peace? Was there sorrow that drowned out joy? Most likely there was, because there still is.
Yet we know that Love has come, God is with us, and when we take on the yoke of Love and do Love’s work, the world can never be the same.