Rich in tradition, the festival of Christmas brings hope and joy to the shortest, coldest days (at least here in the northern hemisphere!) But more than that, Christmas celebrates the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is the beginning of God’s great work of healing and redemption, of reuniting Heaven and Earth, God with God’s Creation. The Incarnation shows us both the love and the humility of God. Join us around the virtual table as we talk about Christmas and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
How will you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? Please join the conversation! Add your reflections in the comments below or visit the Hope Canteen on Facebook and Instagram.
At dinner time every evening, my children fight over who gets to light the Advent candle. This is one of our favourite Advent traditions. The desire to light the candle has little to do with piety and much more to do with the novelty of playing with fire. Nevertheless, I believe the simple act of delighting in striking the match over time anchors the deeper meaning of Advent. I hope that it at will sink in over years of lighting hundreds of candles. This is part of why I believe that physical traditions of Advent and Christmas are so important. Lighting a candle, putting up a tree, hanging lights, listening to Christmas music, giving to charity, baking goodies, wrapping presents, and more.
Traditions that Accent the Gospel Message
None of these are the Gospel message, but they accent it. They give us a concrete way to express the joy and wonder we experience as we meditate on the birth of Christ. God made us flesh and blood, not just souls. Jesus Christ did not just come as a proclamation. He came as a baby that his mother could hold and caress and physically love. The church has always recognized that we need to express our faith in physical ways. We break bread together in Eucharist, we adorn our church in beautiful colours and fabrics, we sing together, process with a cross, light candles, and exchange the peace. All of this helps us to embody the Gospel in our lives in simple and beautiful ways.
What are your favourite Advent and Christmas traditions? This year, consider renewing your appreciation of what they mean. For instance, when you light the Advent candles, meditate on the fact that fire represents the light of Christ. Or ponder the meaning of what hope or peace or joy or love might mean to you this day. When you put the star on the top of tree, let it remind you of the star that brought the wise men to Jesus. But even if you are not able to enter deeper into these truths this year, just enjoy the physical action of the traditions. They speak nevertheless.
John the Baptist explodes onto the scene in all his dramatic fur-wearing, locust-eating glory in this week’s Gospel reading, Mark 1:1-8. His voice cuts across centuries to set the story of God’s redemption in motion. Join us around the virtual table as we talk about John the Baptist and the beginning of God’s Good News breaking into the world.
How do you prepare your heart for Christmas? Please join the conversation! Add your reflections in the comments below.
As we travel deeper into the season of Advent, it is worth noting what the word means. Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “Approach or Arrival or Coming.” But this is not an ordinary arrival; it describes the ceremonial entry of an emperor, the king, or some other high official. When we use this particular word, Advent, we remind ourselves that this is the season of waiting and preparation for the King of Kings.
Three Different Advent Arrivals
In Advent, we are waiting for three different arrivals, and these give the season its unique texture. First, we look back to the Old Testament hope for the coming of the Messiah. This is why we read the book of Isaiah during Advent. Isaiah, more than any other Old Testament prophet, describes this hope to us. From centuries before the birth of Christ, Isaiah’s words remind us for whom we are waiting:
A child is born to us! A son is given to us!
And he will be our ruler.
He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,”
“Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,” “Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 9:6 (Good News Translation)
The second arrival is the second coming of Christ at the end of time. This is why we read the poetic gospel vision of Christ coming in glory. We have images of the sun being darkened and the stars falling. This reminds us that in the great renewal, there will also be great upheaval.
The third coming is entirely personal. Christ is not just an historic person. He is the son of God who loves you, and is continually being born again in your heart. This heart preparation is the main spiritual work of Advent, calling us to be ready to receive the note of great joy and wonder that comes with the birth of Christ.
The paradox of the phrase ‘spiritual work’ is that it is not work at all in the normal sense. Rather, it is more the cultivation of a state of openness and trust in what God is doing. It is expectancy. To describe this expectancy, let me share with you a gift that was given to me by my friend Scott. He is the person in our Diocese (regional church) charged with Ecumenical and Interfaith conversations. He is always looking to build bridges with other groups and people. In this time of Covid, he mentioned that so much of his work slowed down. Those connections seem to be harder and harder to make. It can be discouraging. But he has found comfort in a song released back in 2017 called Your Labour is Not in Vain by The Porter’s Gate. The lyrics speak to this:
Your labor is not in vain
Though the ground underneath you is cursed and stained
Your planting and reaping are never the same
Your labor is not in vain
Your labor is not unknown
Though the rocks they cry out and the sea it may groan
The place of your toil may not seem like a home
But Your labor is not unknown
I am with you, I am with you
I am with you, I am with you
This song was a gift to me as well. Sometimes it seems like we are going nowhere, doing a lot of work for little growth. Do you ever feel that? And yet, Advent calls us to look bigger. The promise of the song and the season is that while there is struggle, it is not wasted. The seeds that we plant will bloom in the Kingdom of God. Learn to live in openness, trust and expectation. Advent gives us a profound message that Christ has already come, is going to come again, and is continually coming into your life day by day. Your labour is not in vain.
If you want to hear the song, you can find it here:
Welcome to the season of Advent, the time of preparation for the coming of the Christ child, the one who brings light and blessing. The message of Advent comes from the Gospel lesson we read last Sunday. Jesus says, “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:37) What does it mean to keep awake? There are different ways to answer this, but at the simplest level, keeping awake means listening to God and getting to know how God speaks.
What Being Blessed Really Means
Once, when Jesus was teaching (Luke 11:27-28), someone was deeply touched by his wisdom. She exclaimed how blessed Jesus’ mother must be for giving birth to such a child. I am guessing that the speaker was also a mother who wanted to express her gratitude. Normally, Jesus might have agreed that his mother was pretty special, but here he answers differently to make a point. He says, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it.” One of our most important tasks is to listen to the Word of God.
God is speaking to you constantly. Are you listening? This is the question that Jesus wants us to take seriously. God does not usually speak to us like we speak to one another. Because God uses a different kind of speaking, we have to develop a different kind of listening.
How God Speaks
First and foremost, God has spoken through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is why we call Jesus the Word of God (John 1:1-3). To understand what Jesus’ life says, we turn to the second most important way God has spoken: through the writings that tell the story of Jesus, that reflect on the meaning of his life, and that tell the story of his ancestors. These are the Scriptures. We listen to the Word by reading, praying and reflecting on them. God also speaks through history, including the events of your life and the people you know.
This way of listening may be unfamiliar to us, and so the meaning is not immediately obvious. For this reason, listening becomes what we call discernment: a considered, prayerful process of tuning our spiritual ears to God’s voice.
The Call of Advent
Advent is the promise that Christ is coming. He comes at Christmas, but he also comes every day. His grace and love is constantly active. Do we see it? Do we hear it? Are we a part of it?
This Advent, consider how you listen to God and how you discern God’s voice. God is speaking to you. Are you listening? Do you keep awake?
After a couple of weeks off recovering from Covid, we are back to celebrate the church’s new year with a conversation about everything Advent. Find out why this week’s reading, Mark 13:24-37, is not actually as strange as it seems for the Christmas season. Join us around the virtual table as we talk about the themes and symbols that converge on these very special four weeks of preparation for the birth of Jesus.
What do you love most about Advent? Please join the conversation! Add your reflections in the comments below.