Advent Wreath! Advent Wreath! Advent Wreath!

advent wreath

“Advent Wreath! Advent Wreath! Advent Wreath!”

This is the mantra my 2-year-old son repeats as soon as bedtime routines begin–and sometimes before that.

Each night since the beginning of Advent, our family has observed Advent together by praying, reading a Bible passage, lighting a candle, and singing a verse and the chorus of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” There is perhaps nothing more heart-warming than hearing our two young boys sincerely belt out, “REJOICE! REJOICE!” each night around the Advent wreath. This will be a family tradition for years to come.

We made the wreath together as a family at our church before Advent. We use it to mark the time as we eagerly anticipate the celebration on Christmas of Christ’s first coming to earth, even as we await and long for his second coming. The waiting and yearning themes of Advent have been particularly appropriate given that we have yet again recently seen the evil we humans are capable of.

For those of you who plan worship services, or like to think deeply about them, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has a helpful Advent and Christmas Resource Guide. A reflection from that site says:

In Advent we hear the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming as addressed to us—people who wait for the second coming. In Advent we heighten our anticipation for the ultimate fulfillment of all Old Testament promises, when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, death will be swallowed up, and every tear will be wiped away.

There is something for me to learn from my two-year-old’s persistence as we gather each night. The anticipation with which he comes to our time of prayer (often clapping his hands) is what I want to offer God in this time of waiting.

Jesus weeps, we weep

Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee, via Associated Press
Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee, via Associated Press

Jesus wept, and he weeps again today, with the horrible news of another school shooting in Newton, CT. From the New York Times:

A gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them children between the ages of 5 and 10, in a shooting on Friday morning at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., about 65 miles northeast of New York City, the authorities said.

The gunman, who was believed to be in his 20s, walked into a classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School where his mother was a teacher. He shot and killed her and then shot 20 students, most in the same classroom. He also shot five other adults, and then killed himself inside the school.

This evil deed is so heinous that even naming and describing it feels bad. May God have mercy on the souls of those poor children, and the grieving families they leave behind.

Christians have a rich Biblical tradition of lament that we can employ in times like this. This summer after the Colorado shooting, I posted this prayer, which was an aid to me in processing the grief, anger, and bewilderment I felt after hearing such awful news.

Prayer of Lament

O God, you are our help and strength,
our refuge in the time of trouble.
In you our ancestors trusted;
They trusted and you delivered them.
When we do not know how to pray as we ought,
your very Spirit intercedes for us
with sighs too deep for words.
We plead for the intercession now, Gracious One.

For desolation and destruction are in our streets,
and terror dances before us.
Our hearts faint; our knees tremble;
our bodies quake; all faces grow pale.
Our eyes are spent from weeping
and our stomachs churn.

How long, O Lord, how long
must we endure this devastation?
How long will destruction lay waste at noonday?
Why does violence flourish
while peace is taken prisoner?
Rouse yourself! Do not cast us off in times of trouble.
Come to our help;
redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

For you are a gracious God
abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

By the power of the cross,
through which you redeemed the world,
bring to an end hostility
and establish justice in the gate.
For you will gather together your people into that place
where mourning and crying and pain
will be no more,
and tears will be wiped from every eye.
Hasten the day, O God for our salvation.
Accomplish it quickly! Amen.

**From Let the Whole Church Say Amen! A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public, by Laurence Hull Stookey, pp 94-95 (Copyright 2001 by Abingdon Press). Reproduced by permission. Formatted print-friendly pdf of prayer here.

The Scriptures that the above prayer draws on are: Psalm 124:8, Psalm 37:39, Psalm 22:4, Romans 8:26, Isaiah 59:7, Job 41:22, Nahum 2:10, Lamentations 2:11, Isaiah 6:11, Psalm 91:6, Psalm 44:23, Psalm 44:26, Exodus 34:6, 1 Corinthians 1:17, Ephesians 2:14, Amos 5:15, Revelation 21:4, Isaiah 60:22.

Leslie C. Allen’s Liturgy of Grief for under $5 (ebook)

Leslie C. Allen’s Liturgy of Grief is under $5 this month in ebook form. It’s here on Amazon ($4.99) and here on CBD ($3.99). It’s a good deal for a great “pastoral commentary” on Lamentations.

I reviewed the book this summer, as well as interviewed the author.

“Thinking Through the Benefits and Necessity of Liturgy”

Amanda MacInnis blogs wonderfully about the “benefits and necessity of liturgy.” On this Worship Leading Wednesday, I refer you to her. She has good things to say.

The money quote:

And so, even those who chafe at the thought of liturgy in Church, who balk at the use of liturgical texts on a weekly basis, are being profoundly shaped by the liturgy of being anti-liturgy.

Read the article in full here.

“Bringing our Pain to God” (Michael Card)

We’re afraid of other people’s pain. Like Job’s friends, we’re afraid when we don’t have answers. Job doesn’t get any answers for his sufferings, but he gets God.

–Michael Card, from this great article on Biblical lament in worship.

He’s got an album called The Hidden Face of God, which you can hear at Grooveshark for free (or click on the album image to the left). It kicks off with a great Gospel-flavored track called, “Come Lift Up Your Sorrows.”