Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Advent - better late than never?

I had actually meant to post this before we had our Christmas Eve get-together, but my intentions fell short of my actual productivity. I, as I think many in our group did, found celebrating Advent to be an experience that was both traditional and new. I have personally never celebrated it before, but I think I will in the years to come. As we have been unlearning so many aspects of religion, there is comfort in relearning traditions, practices, beliefs that still represent the deep meaning and tradition of Christianity.

In trying to "prepare" something for discussion on Christmas Eve, I searched for more solid definitions of the abstract terms - hope, peace, love, joy - around which Advent centers. In doing so, I learned (much to the chagrin on my American, rationalist perspective) that the terms don't seem to be the point. No two churches or sites or people could give a liturgy of readings for each week, and the ones I did find were mainly shallow or bland. What I did find were several perspectives on what Advent means to individuals or church families. There were a couple of Advent "books" in which families of the church had written personal stories about each of the themes or defined what symbols of the holidays meant to them, which seemed to be the most appropriate fit for Advent. I did find some commentary on Advent by Dennis Bratcher, which I used for the Advent "booklets." I have included it below for those of you who were not able to come Christmas Eve.

An Explanation of Advent: A Season of Advent Anticipation and Hope

Advent. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.

The Colors of Advent
Historically, the primary sanctuary color of Advent is Purple. This is the color of penitence and fasting as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King. Purple is still used in Catholic churches. The purple of Advent is also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week. This points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death. The nativity, the Incarnation, cannot be separated from the crucifixion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the "Word made flesh" and dwelling among us, is to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection. To reflect this emphasis, originally Advent was a time of penitence and fasting, much as the Season of Lent and so shared the color of Lent.

In the four weeks of Advent the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for "rejoice"). The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday Advent candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season.

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live "between the times" and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s breaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."

So, we celebrate with gladness the great promise in the Advent, yet knowing that there is also a somber tone as the theme of threat is added to the theme of promise. This is reflected in some of the Scripture readings for Advent, in which there is a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment on sin. But this is also faithful to the role of the Coming King who comes to rule, save, and judge the world.

Evergreens and The Advent Wreath
The beginning of Advent is a time for the hanging of the green, decorating the church with evergreen wreaths, boughs, or trees that help to symbolize the new and everlasting life brought through Jesus the Christ. Some churches have a special weekday service, or the first Sunday evening of Advent, or even the first Sunday morning of Advent, in which the church is decorated and the Advent wreath put in place. This service is most often primarily of music, especially choir and hand bells, and Scripture reading, along with an explanation of the various symbols as they are placed in the sanctuary.

The Advent wreath is an increasingly popular symbol of the beginning of the Church year in many churches as well as homes. It is a circular evergreen wreath (real or artificial) with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. Since the wreath is symbolic and a vehicle to tell the Christmas story, there are various ways to understand the symbolism. The exact meaning given to the various aspects of the wreath is not as important as the story to which it invites us to listen, and participate.

The circle of the wreath reminds us of God Himself, His eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life. Candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son. The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.

The colors of the candles vary with different traditions, but there are usually three purple or blue candles, corresponding to the sanctuary colors of Advent, one pink or rose candle, and a larger white candle at the center of the wreath symbolizing Jesus – the light of the world! One of the purple candles is lighted the first Sunday of Advent, a Scripture is read, a short devotional or reading is given, and a prayer offered. On subsequent Sundays, previous candles are relighted with an additional one lighted. The pink candle is usually lighted on the third Sunday of Advent. However, different churches or traditions light the pink candle on different Sundays depending on the symbolism used (see above on Colors of Advent). In Churches that use a Service of the Nativity, it is often lighted on the fourth Sunday of Advent, the final Sunday before Christmas.
The light of the candles itself becomes an important symbol of the season. The light reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives to bring newness, life, and hope. It also reminds us that we are called to be a light to the world as we reflect the light of God's grace to others (Isa 42:6). The progression in the lighting of the candles symbolizes the various aspects of our waiting experience. As the candles are lighted over the four week period, it also symbolizes the darkness of fear and hopelessness receding and the shadows of sin falling away as more and more light is shed into the world. The flame of each new candle reminds the worshipers that something is happening, and that more is yet to come. Finally, the light that has come into the world is plainly visible as the Christ candle is lighted on Christmas Sunday, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Worshipers rejoice over the fact that the promise of long ago has been realized.

The first candle is traditionally the candle of Expectation or Hope (or in some traditions, Prophecy). This draws attention to the anticipation of the coming of a Messiah that weaves its way like a golden thread through Old Testament history. As God’s people were abused by power hungry kings, led astray by self-centered prophets, and lulled into apathy by half-hearted religious leaders, there arose a longing among some for God to raise up a new king who could show them how to be God’s people. They yearned for a return of God’s dynamic presence in their midst.

And so, God revealed to some of the prophets that indeed He would not leave His people without a true Shepherd. While they expected a new earthly king, their expectations fell far short of God’s revelation of Himself in Christ. And yet, the world is not yet fully redeemed. So, we again with expectation, with hope, await God’s new work in history, the second Advent, in which He will again reveal Himself to the world. And we profoundly understand that the best, the highest of our expectations will fall far short of what our Lord’s Second Advent will reveal.

The remaining three candles of Advent may be associated with different aspects of the Advent story in different churches, or even in different years. Usually they are organized around characters or themes as a way to unfold the story and direct attention to the celebrations and worship in the season. So, the sequence for the remaining three Sundays might be Bethlehem, Shepherds, Angels. Or Peace, Love, Joy. Or John the Baptist, Mary, the Magi. Or the Annunciation, Proclamation, Fulfillment. Whatever sequence is used, the Scripture readings, prayers, lighting of the candles, the participation of worshipers in the service, all are geared to telling the story of redemption through God’s grace in the Incarnation.

The third candle, usually for the Third Sunday of Advent, is traditionally Pink or Rose, and symbolizes Joy at the soon Advent of the Christ. Sometimes the colors of the sanctuary and vestments are also changed to Rose for this Sunday. However, as noted above, increasingly in many churches, the pink Advent candle is used on the fourth Sunday to mark the joy at the impending Nativity of Jesus.

Whatever sequence is adopted for these Sundays, the theme of Joy can still be the focus for the pink candle. For example, when using the third Sunday to commemorate the visit of the Magi the focus can be on the Joy of worshiping the new found King. Or the Shepherds as the symbol for the third Sunday brings to mind the joy of the proclamation made to them in the fields, and the adoration expressed as they knelt before the Child at the manager. If used on the fourth Sunday of Advent, it can symbolize the Joy in fulfilled hope.

The center candle is white and is called the Christ Candle. It is traditionally lighted on Christmas Eve or Day. However, since many Protestant churches do not have services on those days, many light it on the Sunday preceding Christmas, with all five candles continuing to be lighted in services through Epiphany (January 6). The central location of the Christ Candle reminds us that the incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the world.

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright ©, Dennis Bratcher - All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Just a heads up that there will NOT be an Emerging Desert gathering this Sunday, December 27th. Several people are still out of town or busy with other plans...and we are in need of a 'day of rest'! We look forward to seeing everyone again on Sunday January 3rd.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Eve Songs!

Are there any requests of songs to sing on Christmas Eve? Even if I can't play it, I'm sure we can fake our way through it. I was preparing songs and felt somewhat... domineering. Am I really just going to hold everyone in bondage to my silly, Sufjan Stevens inspired Christmas songs?

No. That's not us. We're a democracy, darn it.

Let me know if you have any requests! Here's what I have so far:

Amazing Grace
I Saw Three Ships
O come, O come Emmanuel
Come Thou Fount
We Three Kings

Oh, they don't necessarily have to be Christmas songs, I suppose. Or even Christmas related. A rousing rendition of Calexico's "Corona" or Death Cab for Cutie is fine too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Peace Recap


We missed the week before last, but thanks to our rockin' blog and Adam’s impressive electronic post-it skills, we got to see that you all spoke about being “beautifully angry”. The times in our life, like when we are beautifully angry, that we lack inner peace can be instructive and generative. We can use the feeling of “this isn’t right” to create, to find something new (like new expressions of faith), to help others, and to make our world a teensy bit better.

But what to do when “beautifully angry” just becomes…angry? This week we talked about how all of us have arrived to this point in our spiritual journeys because we have experienced internal turmoil at some point, telling us that something was not right, that we needed to push against the barriers holding us in. Pretty much all of us have gotten here because of a temporary, and necessary, lack of inner peace. Listening to that gut instinct has been helpful. The anger and the turmoil that led us here has been and will continue to be beneficial for all of us in different phases of life – but what happens when what is supposed to be a temporary state starts to settle in and become permanent? How do we locate the switch to turn OFF that inner anger and lack of peace, once it has helped us grow and evolve?

Our value as an agent of peace in the wider world starts with ourselves. We are the most genuine reflection of peacefulness when we are living it out within ourselves.

So, what are our strategies? Do we have any? Some of us (not Ron and I, ha!) are major planners. Do we have a plan to follow Jesus? What are the cluttered attics in our mind that we need to clean out in order to make room for peace? Do we have anything in our lives that we consistently work on to grow spiritually and achieve inner peace, or do we spend our time envying the spiritual lives of others or dreaming of a day when we, too, will get there – without actually “showing up for practice”?

We ended the discussion on Sunday by talking about some of the ways in which we've individually tried to create peaceful mindsets in our lives. We talked about fasting from things in your life that make you angry - the kind of things that are totally avoidable. Hide those intensely partisan folks from your Facebook news feed, don’t read the news (if anything stupendous happens like another 9/11 or Michael Jackson dying, trust me, you’ll find out), stop reading spiritual blogs that make you think too much of how others (or even yourself) are doing it wrong.

Whatever works for you – just fast from it for awhile.

Practice being someone who becomes beautifully angry, and not just angry. Peace isn’t something that’s natural in human beings, I think. It’s something that we work toward, not a goal we ever really achieve.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Eve Day EmDes Celebration Brunch!


Posted for Debbie Armer

A new tradition is about to unfold! Thursday, December 24th the EmDes Christmas Eve Day brunch begins at 10:30 A.M. at our home. We will conclude our observance of Advent by lighting the final Advent candle with the children. EmDes folk will also spend time eating, laughing, celebrating, and worshipping. Josh has offered to bring his guitar.

For those families with children, please bring along their favorite toys or games. (We have coloring books and markers on hand.) If you have family and friends in town for the holidays, please extend to them an invitation to join us in this new tradition of a Christmas Eve Day EmDes celebration brunch! Be prepared for indoor and outdoor seating and dress accordingly.

This is a brunch potluck so bring your favorite brunch food and drink. (Please come even if you are unable to bring anything, all are welcome!) We (Sheri and I) will supply an egg & hash brown casserole, a baked French toast dish, and Wassail. Additional food suggestions are fresh fruit, juices, muffins, Christmas cookies, sliced meats and cheeses, fresh veggies etc. Fruit cake not allowed!

If you have something you know you will bring, please post so we don’t have twelve varieties of Christmas cookies and nothing else. The kids don’t need to be sugared up quite that early in the morning!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent: Joy

Hey all,

I wanted to go ahead and get a digital version of our time together up on the blog for everybody to peruse. I have really enjoyed taking in each others' responses, and I hope you will too.

For those who weren't able to make it, we spent some time discussing various perspectives on what 'joy' might be. For many of us, the word itself feels sort of antiquated; it's not one that we toss around in everyday conversation very often. What does it mean that Jesus' coming to our world brought joy? It seems that in contrast to the fleeting nature of 'happiness', 'joy' inherently has an element of fulfillment... that when we experience joy we're communing with the core of who/what God created us to be and take in. It comes in myriad moments and forms. It seems to be independent of happiness, quite often. It can also be a mindset and/or discipline (see the previous post by Carrie).

We then shifted our discussion to Rob Bell's Jesus is Difficult: Beatifully Angry sermon. We spent some time recounting Rob's point about how identifying the things in the world that make us beautifully angry can often give us insight into how God wired us individually and what he wants us to address in this world. Ultimately it seems that when we identify and address the things that make us angry, we end up finding another way to create and experience joy/fulfillment for ourselves and the people around us.

We wrapped up the evening with an "ideation session." The session progressed through three questions, the results of which are reproduced in the images below. [click to enlarge]

1. How have you/do you experience joy?

2. What makes you [beautifully] angry?

3. What are you going to do with your beautiful anger to find/create joy?

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I'm thinking about joy today and what it might mean. I'm looking forward to all of your thoughts this afternoon and what Adam has to share with us. I did want to share a couple links that I thought were interesting and give some new ways to think about joy and practice it in our lives:

This one is from Richard Rohr's book, The Naked Now. He talks about what a joyful mind might look like:

And this one was interesting to me because I've always thought of joy as a virtue or a trait, but never really as a spiritual practice:

Looking forward to seeing you all soon!