I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy

 
Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

The second most popular Advent question asked in the United Methodist Churches I’ve served is “Why is there one pink candle on the Advent wreath?” (THE most popular question has of course been “When can we start singing Christmas carols?”)

The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent because since the 10th century, that day has been recognized by the catholic church as Gaudete, or Joy, Sunday. (See one history here.) As early as the fifth century, Christians prepared for Christmas with a forty-day fast. The weeks prior to Christmas were a season of penitence, much in the way that Lent functions in relation to Easter. One can see how the lectionary texts in the first couple weeks of Advent issue calls to reflection and penitence: “The Kingdom is at hand! Know how to read the signs! Repent!” My Greek Orthodox friends observe two fasts prior to and during Advent, increasing in severity and restriction, as a way of preparing for the coming of Christ. They understand that preparation for the coming of Christ entails self-examination and sacrifice. Read more

Hope

When I was in the fourth grade my teacher, Mr. VanNostran, asked us to write our own definition of the word “hope.” I don’t remember the occasion or the context for the assignment; I don’t even remember what I wrote. But I do remember that a few days later, Mr. Van (as we called him) read aloud another student’s definition. The boy, whose name was Paul, was absent that day, and Mr. Van took the opportunity, I think, to teach the rest of us something about ourselves, something about the world, and something about the word “hope.” Read more

Revolution Now!

photograph of cross on an outside wallFourth Sunday of Advent: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89 (Luke 1:46-55); Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

The excitement, celebration, and anticipatory hope for change attending the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States has in recent weeks been replaced in the public eye by another image – that of bankers, brokers, and corporate executives sitting before members of Congress and the mass media warning us in language reminiscent of Revelation 6 that the world is on the verge of collapse and that unless the American people, via our faithful servants in Congress, give them hundreds of billions of dollars, we face the imminent specter of horsemen bearing war, famine, pestilence, and death. Read more

Camel Hair and the Christ Child

Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 61:1-4, 9-11; Psalm 126; I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8; 19-28

Sometimes the contrasts are jarring: sweet-faced children singing about cradles and crèches on the same Sunday that we hear about leather belts, locusts and wild honey. It’s early December and we’re already at the manger (the tidy Christmas card version)—in our heads and in our worship. We come to church decked out in our holiday finest and John the Baptizer greets us, sporting animal-skin outerwear and going on and on about baptism and repentance and sandal thongs.

Many churches give lip service to Advent—lighting the candles on the wreath, reading the appointed texts—but don’t seem prepared to go all the way with it. Why is that? Is there any concern about the mixed messages being sent when the camel hair and the Christ child fight for top billing on the same Sunday? Read more

The End is our Beginning

picture of a country road with the word start written on itIsaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8

Everyone knows that Advent is about beginnings. The season marks the start of a new Christian year. It heralds the beginning of the “good news” of Jesus Christ, and it points to the origin of the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus. Every year in Advent we begin the preparations for Jesus’ coming only to do it all again the next year. Advent is the time to begin again. Not everyone understands, however, that Advent is also about endings. The season of Advent begins with the end, with an account of Jesus’ final coming at the end of time. Read more