Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Prophecy Candle

One of the many lovely things I inherited from previous school chaplains was the very intentional observance of Advent.  I already loved this season, even if just the idea of it - every year there seem to be new and compelling reasons why I can't be still or even slow down in the days before Christmas arrives.  Still, I am drawn to the images of Advent and make them my nest when I can, words and pictures and experiences into which I can settle, wonders wrapped all around.  In weary moments I wish for the nest to be a shelter from the so-many-shopping-days-left world, but in wakeful moments I come to understand that the nest is a space in which life is growing, a place from which I can see the whole world and the ways in which God is always already Emmanuel, God-with-us.

My work as a school chaplain obligates me to make Advent accessible and, God-willing, meaningful to the community I serve.  Unlike other clergy, I get to be with my community day in and day out, which means there are many opportunities to mark the days of this pregnant season.  I spent all of this afternoon editing, copying, folding and stapling the booklets that will accompany the Advent wreaths teachers will begin using tomorrow in their classrooms.  Every morning during Advent I will send the community an Advent reflection written by a faculty, staff, or board member.  Between now and the last day of school we will have ten chapel services, four of which will be services of lessons and carols.  I will teach lower school classes about prophets and angels and stars and stables.  There will be candles and songs and stories and prayers each and every day.  

I treasure times like right now, sitting still on the sofa with a cat by my side, filled with thoughts of Advent like visions of sugarplums, washed in the gently merry multi-colored glow of the lights on the tree.  But the nest is made also of times like tomorrow, attending to work, surrounded by children, aware of countless demands on my time and energy.  As I worry, though, about not being able to be still or even slow down, the children will be tucking a thread into Advent's nest as they gather in circles on the floor to light the first candle...

The First Week in Advent – Younger Children
One purple candle is lit – the Prophecy Candle

In the bible, we read about people called prophets.  Prophets were a lot like teachers, telling people about how God works in the world.  The stories they told were passed down from great-grandmothers to grandmothers, from grandmothers to mothers, from mothers to children, and so on…

A long time ago, long before Jesus was born, there was a prophet named Isaiah.  Can you say Isaiah?  Isaiah said many beautiful things about God.  One of those things was this:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Isaiah 9:2

You see, back then, the people who believed in God had very hard lives.  Can you make a sad face?  They were waiting and waiting for God to save them.  Isaiah’s words made them feel hopeful.

Christians feel hopeful when we hear Isaiah’s words, because sometimes we call Jesus “the light of the world.”  In the season of Advent, we are waiting for Jesus to be born, because we believe he will save us when we feel like our lives are hard.

It is hard to wait, isn’t it?  It is hard to be patient.  Imagine all those great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, those grandmothers and grandfathers, those mothers and fathers, and all those children who heard Isaiah’s words while they were waiting for God to save them.  They thought God would send a powerful king with horses and armies to save them.  They were going to call that king Emmanuel, which means God with us.  Can you say Emmanuel?

Instead, Emmanuel, the one who came to save us, was born as a little baby!  How surprised everyone must have been!

Let us pray. Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for shining your light into our world.  We who sit in darkness have seen a great light, the light of the Messiah, the Christ.  We give you thanks and praise for loving us so much.  Amen. 

Artwork: Our tree; "There Came a Light," by C. Robin Janning.

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