Friday, November 27, 2009

Celebrating Advent as Spiritual Practice and Formation

On the 29th of November, we will be entering into the season of Advent and a new year in the life of the Church!

Time to bring out our candles, crèche, treasured books.
Time to build a new Jesse Tree and find a new Advent coloring book.
Time to begin our prayers for God's leading for this fresh and new season.
Time to assess our commitments, looking for new ways to serve and give.
But time also to practice the disciplines of Advent.

I have so many happy memories of previous Advents: cold, dark winter mornings spent in the light of our Advent wreath candles, hanging our Jesse Tree Ornament of the Day and reading its companion Scripture, filling in the next illustration from a coloring book on the Nativity, pouring over a beautiful picture book, then praying together, and looking for ways to serve each other, our church, our community. And the music, I cannot wait to sing the O Antiphons!

Our Advent traditions at home started when we had just one little girl scribbling on the Christmas coloring page in her high chair. Most of the books were made of board and the nativity scene was made of little wooden figures easy for chubby hands to hold.  A basket filled with scarves, a dolly, and blankets, all that was needed for the story to be replayed again and again. And though the coloring has improved, the books are more complex, the prayers more thoughtful, and there are three children now, not much else will change this Advent.

I have found that young children have great capacity for the spiritual. They ask questions, they seek beauty, they have a sense of evil and good. We do our part by not hindering this path to God. Hindering by hurrying them and filling their life with too much--activities, toys, busyness, and even new traditions.

Yes, we want a life of abundance and fullness of God and these wonderful Advent traditions are a way of partipating in that fullness. But there is a difference between abundance and excess.

Each new Advent, I'm easily tempted to read more books and follow new links for new ideas and recipes, rather than quiet myself in preparation for His Coming. I'm tempted in my enthusiasm for the Church Year to seek new activities when the old ones have not proved themselves to be outgrown or even fully understood for children or mother. Spiritual practices like the church year, fasting, or solitude may fit best in certain periods of our lives, but they can never be exhausted. The mystery is always inviting us deeper into infinite presence.

This season holds much for us as the Advent Hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel reveals:

We learn to WAIT, wait for the day we remember our Lord's birth; wait for His future Return; and wait also in the now for Wisdom to teach us the way to go.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

We learn to HOPE, hope in the One who made all things new and brought victory over Satan and the grave.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

We learn to REJOICE, rejoice and find good cheer in the mystery of our faith: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will Come Again.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

We learn to PRAY, pray to the One who can close the path to misery and bring us to our heavenly home.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

We learn to WORSHIP, worship God, humbled as a babe in the manger, yet the same Old Testament Lord of Might and Majesty and Awe.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

We learn to PREPARE, prepare our hearts to receive Him afresh by calling for His Mercy again.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

We learn to WELCOME, welcome all, so that sad divisions cease and hearts are one:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

We have the opportunity to practice these Christian disciplines this season; may we carefully consider which of our traditions and activities will lead us into Emmanuel.

This post is part of the Advent Carnival hosted by Kerry at A Ten O'Clock Scholar; there are so many great entries this year!

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to click the links above to other posts I've written about our Advent Traditions. You may also be interested in my posts on the theme of my blogliving the church year, and our Tuesday Teas to celebrate the feast days of the church. Thank you so much for visiting! And a Blessed Advent!

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