The First Day of Advent

There is something very rich and meaningful about Christmas with its ties to traditions, even more so in my opinion, when they strengthen our connection to the Church. We’ve only been celebrating and marking Advent for about five years now and I am surprised each year at how much it means to me and how deeper my joy in this season has become.

Each year Rob and I set up the Advent arrangement at church. I really enjoy the reactions the first Sunday it is all decorated, especially from the children. The decorations vary somewhat each time as we are finding things we do and don’t like about what we’ve done previously. Last year we loved using larger pillar candles but couldn’t find them unscented this year so we went back to taper candles.

Because of the layout of the platform the arrangement pretty much has the same place every year. From one angle there is the most beautiful juxtaposition of the Advent candles and the cross on our wall. It’s truly one of my most favorites sights to see each year.

We have a prayer we say all together each week after we have been called to worship. Whether you celebrate Advent or not may these words find room in your heart and mind. And may they enrich your joy in this season as you worship the One that stepped into time and became flesh.

Almighty God,
Unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hid:
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love You
and worthily magnify Your glorious name,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Premeditated Generosity

Several years ago our family, following the leading of our church, began to orient our lives and seasons by the Church calendar. We began to recognize and mark time according to seasons and life of Christ.  It has been a wonderful way to very purposefully create opportunities to reflect and engage in various parts of our faith and the things we confess as believers.

Today, we move into a new season of our liturgical year. For many in our evangelical circles, Lent is mostly viewed as a very high churchy, old fashioned thing done by catholics. It comes on the heels of Fat Tuesday and is a time of some kind of penitence.

But really Lent is a time of preparation for Easter as Advent is for Christmas.  This journey of darkness, this time of reflecting upon our staggering need for grace, for salvation makes our celebration of Easter fuller and more robust. We confront our own lack, our own need, for something more than we can do for ourselves. We cry out knowing that we need a generosity of grace that comes from somewhere else, somewhere outside of ourselves.

For many it becomes a time of giving something up, a time of sacrifice and while this is not necessarily bad the danger is that it can become a morbid introspection with the focus on self. As a church, and within our family, we have never observed Lent as a time to fast. Rob has taught neither against it or for it.

But this year he has issued a challenge of sorts to us all. Basically, over the next forty days we are encouraged to do at least one act of generosity towards someone. Writing a note, preparing a meal, some act of kindness given to someone else, friend or stranger. It’s in doing some thing that requires something from us for the benefit of someone else that we, in a very small inadequate way, are mindful that we needed Someone to do for us something we were and are unable to do for ourselves.

Self denial, whether the giving up of something one enjoys or giving of something for the good of another, is not meant to be an end to itself. It is meant to drive us closer to Christ, to know our own need deeper. It is recognize how big the separation was between God and man, and what He did to bring us into fellowship with His Son.

Pastor Steve Wilkins puts the purpose of Lent this way,

Lent is the “winter-time” of preparation before the “spring-time” of the resurrection. Just as death leads to life, so the cross leads to glory. Lent helps us learn this lesson. It deepens our joy and love for the Savior who has given us eternal life by His willingness to die in our place. And reminds us that when we follow Him, losing our lives for His sake, we will end in joy and blessedness with Him. So here’s the goal of Lent: to see afresh the deep, deep love of Jesus, and by the Spirit to be transformed into His image so that we can follow Him and live to the glory of the Father.