What is Advent?

People who specialize in a belief or practice tend to develop “code language.” The specialized vocabulary of medical professionals and the law are two common examples, but the same is true for construction workers, baseball players and those who cook. Likewise, Christianity has developed specialized words which serve as shortcuts for those who understand their meaning- grace, liturgy, eschatology, justification, Trinity, redemption… words which are helpful, but aren’t a normal part of our everyday vocabulary.

Advent is one of those fancy church words. What is it? I am thankful for this faithful and clear definition by Susan Briehl author of Come, Lord Jesus: Devotions for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany. – Lisa <><

Advent means “to come.” During this season we prepare for three advents. The first is the coming of Jesus two thousand years ago. We remember the faithful people who waited and watched for God’s promised Messiah: Abraham and Sarah, moses, Miriam, and Aaron, David the king, Isaiah the prophet, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Simeon, Anna, and many more. They lived by faith, holding fast to God’s promise.

The second advent is the coming of Christ among us now. Every day is an advent because Jesus is Emmanuel, God-always-with-us. Christ comes to us in the waters of baptism, with the bread and wine of his holy meal, through the word of God, and in the community of faith. Christ surprises us by coming at the times, in the places, and through the people we least expect, startling us with grace and bringing us new life.

The third and final advent is yet to come. No one knows the day or the hour. Christ will come at the end of time, gathering God’s beloved people into one embrace and mending with mercy what sin has torn apart. As with the coming of Christmas Day, we cannot make it happen sooner because we are eager, nor can we delay it because we are not ready. However, we can be awake and alert, standing on tiptoe, wide-eyed and watchful, ready to receive him whenever he comes.

The Advent Door Reading Plan: Preparing for Christmas 2011


I’m looking for a different Christmas experience this year- one with Christ at its center and space for reflection. I’ve been worshipping Christ for years; it’s the space for reflection part that eludes me. I knew I would need help pursuing this quest and my friend Jan Richardson stepped right up without even knowing it. She just published a new e-book entitled Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas [Kindle Edition]. It’s structured in the style of a classic Advent calendar, with twenty five scripture reflections, each with an original piece of art.

My goal is to set aside a few moments to read and reflect every day between now and Christmas. I’ll be reading the entire book this year, but only blogging the first half of the readings. (The pressure of posting can hamper reflection.) Next year, the plan is to read it again and blog the last half. (Yes, you will want to read it again. It’s that good.) This is a book to savor, not just the words but also the art. Consider this your invitation to join me and Jan on this journey. – Lisa <><

PS- You might be asking, where did these readings come from? Mary and company don’t appear until Door 19.

First, it’s important to understand what Advent is. Advent is a deep season of preparation which helps us keep Christmas in the right perspective. (Click here to learn more about Advent. For a Christmas Reading Plan, click here)

For her book, Jan uses the classic Advent readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary is a three year cycle of weekly Bible readings. Each weekly reading contains four Scripture readings: one from the Old Testament, one from the Book of Psalms, one from the Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament), and one from the Epistles (basically the rest of the New Testament).

Door 1: Christ Will Come Again
Matthew 24:36-44

Door 2: New Creation
Mark 13:24-37

Door 3: Strength to Stand
Luke 21:25-36

Door 4: Yearning and Resistance
Isaiah 64:1-9

Door 5: Let Your Face Shine
Psalm 80:1-7; 17-19

Door 6: Extending Blessing
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Door 7: Threshold
Mark 1:1-8

Door 8: Reversal and Repentance
Luke 3:1-6

Door 9: Rubbernecking or Responding
Matthew 3:1-12

Door 10: The One Who Carries Us
Isaiah 40:1-11

Door 11: The Covenant Continues
Luke 1:68-79

Door 12: Two Simple Prayers
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Door 13
1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Door 14
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Door 15
Luke 3:7-18

Door 16
Matthew 11:2-11

Door 17
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

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

Door 19
Luke 1:26-38

Door 20
Luke 1:39-56

Door 21
Isaiah 9:2-7

Door 22
Luke 2:1-20

Door 23
Luke 2:1-20

Door 24
John 1:1-14

Door 25
John 1:1-14

Solitude and the Spiritual Life

Solitude by Serhat Demiroglu

Mark 6:31a (NRSV)
Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Solitude is the place of purification.
-Martin Buber

There is a physical desert, inhabited by a few exceptional men and women who are called to live there; but more importantly, there is an inner desert, into which each one of us must one day venture. It is a voice; an empty space for solitude and testing. –Frere Ivan

The “prayer of quiet” is a most simple and universal path. Of all the religious rituals and practices I know of, nothing will lead us to that place of nakedness and vulnerability more than regular experiences of solitude and silence, where our ego identity falls away, where our explanations don’t mean anything, where our superiority doesn’t matter and we have to sit there in our naked “who-ness.” If God wants to get through to us, and the Trinitarian Flow wants to come alive in us, that’s when God has the best chance. – Richard Rohr

An extended quote from Creating a Life with God by Daniel Wolpert
If you desire to seek the presence of God in your life, be silent and rest in prayer. Only through this interior quiet can you truly listen for Jesus.

Why is silence necessary for listening, and what happens when we enter into the silence of solitary prayer? We begin to let go of ourselves, which allows us to hear God.

God is very gracious and patient. God does not usually interrupt us or push rudely into our affairs. If we choose to ignore God, God allows that. Such is the humility of a God who died on a cross.

Therefore if we wish to pray – and by this I mean open ourselves up to the possibility that God will speak to us, teach us, transform us – we must allow space in the busy world we have created. Like the ones who went into the desert, we must go to a place where the world does not overwhelm us.

Master of the Universe
Grant me the ability to be alone.
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day
among the trees and grasses,
among all growing things
and there may I be alone,
and enter into prayer
to talk with the one
that I belong to.
-Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that He is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching, and guiding—we need to set aside a time and space to give Him our undivided attention. Jesus says, “Go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place.” (Matthew 6:6) – Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New

He [John the Baptist] is in the wilderness. Obviously because he finds these surroundings appropriate to his life- the parched solitude, the endless spaces, where no one can feel at home. Inevitably we keep discovering that we too are in the wilderness, the wilderness of a great city, the wilderness of isolation, a wilderness that seems to have no center, a wilderness we cannot feel at home in. -Karl Rahner

Deprivation is neither the focus nor the final word of the wilderness. As the honey-eating John knew, the desert offers its own delights. What the wilderness gives us is a path that helps us perceive where our true treasure lies. And does not merely give us a path: empties us enough so that a path is made within us. Through us. Of us. A road for the holy to enter the world. A way for the Christ who comes.
Jan L. Richardson, Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas

A solitude is the audience-chamber of God. –Walter Savage Landor

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. – John Muir

Loneliness is not something from which we must flee
but the place from where we can cry out to God,
where God will find us and we can find God.
-Jean Vanier, The Broken Body

Quotes from The Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen

  • Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.
  • We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.

 

Thanksgiving Reflection

2011 Thanksgiving altar table display by Kim Evans for Community United Methodist Church in Debary, FL.

For centuries, Christians have been reading scripture, followed by a time of reflection and prayer. This year, I found the following scripture especially poignant for Thanksgiving Day. I pray it will draw you into a deep time with our Lord, the One who so faithfully provides. Happy Thanksgiving! – Lisa <><

Deuteronomy 8:7-10 (NRSV)
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.

Take a moment to name God’s blessing and provision in your life.

Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-18a (NRSV)
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God…

When have you neglected to thank God or give God credit?
What steps will you take to correct this?

Close with a prayer of confession and thanksgiving.

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For more thoughts on gratitude, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Prayer Vigil: Preparing for Visioning

Before his ascension, Jesus instructs the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1) The disciples prayed for nine days and on the tenth day received the Spirit’s empowerment, boldness and wisdom for the next chapter in God’s mighty acts of salvation. (Acts 2) Down through the ages, Christians have followed this same pattern of intense prayer and preparation before entering their next chapter with God.

Below you will find a prayer and scripture schedule for the nine days leading up to a decision making meeting or retreat. This prayer vigil was originally designed for congregations entering into a time of visioning, but can be used at other times as well.  Whatever your need, I pray it is useful to you as you seek God with the others in your congregation.

May the Kingdom come in us and through us, as it is in heaven! – Lisa <><

Day 1
Scripture: Matthew 5:6
Include in your prayers:
• Revival of God’s people hungering and thirsting for God
• Those who are hungering for God but have not found a church home
• That all will be filled with the Holy Spirit

Day 2
Scripture: Matthew 16:13-19
Include in your prayers:
• That we would trust Christ to build the church and not try to do it in our own strength

Day 3
Scripture: Acts 2:36-47
Include in your prayers:
• That thousands would follow Jesus in life transforming ways
• That God’s church would be effective and faithful

Day 4
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Include in your prayers:
• What is God calling us to do and what is God calling us to stop doing?

Day 5
Scripture: Colossians 1:9-12
Include in your prayers:
• That we would lead lives worthy of the Lord and pleasing to the Lord
• That we would be made strong in the Lord so we might persevere in faith and good works
• That we would be a thankful people

Day 6
Scripture: Psalm 92:12-15
Include in your prayers:
• That God’s people of every age would flourish and be fruitful

Day 7
Scripture: Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20
Include in your prayers:
• Where is God calling us to go?
• Who is God calling us to serve?

Day 8
Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-16
Include in your prayers:
• The unity and maturity of God’s people
• That people would know and serve out of their spiritual gifts

Day 9
Scripture: Proverbs 3:1-8
Include in your prayers:
• That we would hear and follow God’s leading
• Those who will be leading the meeting

Day 10
Day of the Meeting or Retreat

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© 2011 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in your setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this compilation in any form. For more information on the art used in this work, please refer to the copyright information page.