The locks on the church van were frozen shut on Sunday morning, and we could see our breath as we unloaded. Cold is deepening, daylight is waning, darkness is encroaching — Advent is upon us.
Advent begins the church year anew in preparation for Jesus' birth and second coming, and as Fleming Rutledge has said, "Advent begins in the dark." Jesus begins his earthly life in the darkness of Mary's womb, and we begin Advent in the darkness of our world.*
Traditionally, the church has not shied away from this darkness in Advent, but faced it head-on. Advent intensifies our awareness of the condition of our world, a world awash in human greed, violence, sorrow, sickness, and death. The appointed scriptures for Advent are not cozy manger scenes (we don't get those till Christmas), but jarring apocalyptic visions and prophetic warnings and words of lament. And traditionally, the church preached on what we call the "Four Last Things" during the four Sundays of Advent: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell.
This year, we are continuing this age-old practice and preaching on the Four Last Things. We've all witnessed a staggering amount of death, from the past few years of the pandemic to the recent mass shootings in Charlottesville, Colorado Springs, and Chesapeake. Questions about last things are unavoidable, and I hope these sermons will create a safe space in which to ask them and discover fresh clarity and hope. I also hope they will help us resist the pull of a commercialized and sentimentalized Christmas and jolt us awake, opening our eyes to our dire need for Christ's inbreaking light.
All of our Advent offerings are listed on our website here, but I'd like to highlight just a few and encourage your participation:
Advent outreach opportunities: We have two opportunities to love our local and global neighbors this Advent season. Local: We're collecting coats for Randolph Elementary again. Sign up here and bring coats to drop off on Sundays, Nov 27 and Dec 4. Global: We're collecting a special offering for the work of Partners Relief and Development, serving children in the Al Hol containment camp in Syria. These are the children of ISIS fighters, growing up in one of the most violent and hopeless places on earth; your gifts support a pediatric clinic and the only child-friendly space in the camp, where children can heal, learn, create, and play. Give here!
Advent Prayer Stations: Each week before church, we'll have contemplative Advent prayer stations available from 9:30-10am in the Art Room, 102. We hope you'll take advantage of this quiet space to prepare yourself for worship in this season. The room will also include a station to pray for the children of Al Hol.
Feast of Saint Nicholas: On Sunday, Dec 4, we'll have our final visit from Bishop John before his retirement, and we'll bid him a jolly farewell with a full morning:
Saint Nicholas Visit, 9:30-10am: Everyone is invited (not just kids!) before church to make pomanders and hear the story of Saint Nicholas, the 4th century Bishop of Myra, Turkey.
Confirmations, 10am: Bishop John will confirm people during the service on Dec 4. Confirmation is an opportunity to make a mature profession of faith and receive prayer for an increase in the Holy Spirit for one's vocation in the world. Learn more.
Advent Potluck and Nativity Share, 11:30am: Bring a favorite Christmas dish to share for an after-service potluck and farewell feast with Bishop John on Sunday, Dec 4. And bring a favorite nativity to display — we love seeing each other's nativities every year from all over the world!
"This Weary World" Advent Mini-Retreat: The past few years have left us all a little weary, so this mini-retreat will provide space for rest and reflection. The Rev. Erin Bair will guide us through a morning exploring change, loss, lament, and hope. Friends, I am REALLY looking forward to this time; I've seen Erin present this material and it's so, so good. I hope you can make it! Saturday, Dec 10, 9:30am-12pm at the Sungs' house. Come at 9:30am for warm drinks and conversation; content begins at 10am. Signup here to RSVP and receive details.
Christmas Services: Meeting in a school means getting creative with holiday services so the custodians get a break! I hope you'll join us and bring a friend:
Christmas Eve, 3:30pm @ Greenbrier Baptist. A welcoming Christmas Eve service followed by warm beverages around the fire.
Christmas Day, 9am Pajama Church on Zoom. We're continuing our Christmas Day Zoom tradition — start the day with a short, joyful celebration of our newborn King before unwrapping presents!
New Year's Day, 3:30pm @ Greenbrier Baptist. Join us for an afternoon Eucharist as we celebrate the first Sunday of Christmastide. Yes, it's an odd time slot, and yes, we may hear the Spanish-speaking Pentecostal church in the basement while we worship — can't wait!
Advent begins in the dark. And yet in that darkness, Advent also invites us to a defiant hope that Christ will come and set things right. We act out this hope in small ways throughout the season — lighting small flames on the Advent wreath each week, singing and praying our longings, showing up hungry and hands-open to the communion table. I'm so looking forward to our first Advent worshiping at Randolph, and my first as your rector. It's such a gift to be your pastor as we wait and hope together.