Tag Archives: Advent

An Advent Prayer

by Chris Nickels, Pastor of Spring Mount Mennonite Church

(Originally posted at MennoniteRoad.com; reposted with permission)

Each year my congregation (along with a number of local churches and non-profit organizations) participates in a local witness called the Witting Tree. On a tree in front of the meetinghouse we solemnly hang dog tags to remember and raise awareness that 20+ veterans commit suicide each day. And we recommit to being a compassionate presence for our veteran neighbors and their families, in light of the often unseen burdens of moral injury, traumatic stress, and return from war.

We put the tags up on Veterans Day, and it dawned on me this year that we take them down as the season of Advent begins. The temperature was cold with a slight wind, and each time I removed a metal tag there was a chiming sound as it gently touched the nearest branch. I heard twenty-two chimes as I worked, once again reminding me of twenty-two servicemembers and neighbors who may be struggling.

So I decided to pray through the themes of Advent while I was out at the tree. Hope, peace, joy, and love seemed an appropriate request, as these are longings I have heard as I listened to my veteran friends over the past few years.

If you like, pray with me…

I pray for hope…for those who have lost faith in the promises made to them, and for those who wonder what the next day will bring.

I pray for peace…for a journey home that leads to welcome and healing, and for our nation to break the cycle of endless war.

I pray for moments of joy within the dark nights of the soul. And for friendship and community to share in joyful moments with.

I pray for love…that each one would know that they are loved, both by their Creator and their neighbor, and that we would embody this love in meaningful ways.

Amen.

Rachel’s God-Moment

An Advent monologue written for use in worship at Methacton Mennonite Church by Marty Kolb-Wykoff.  Members of the congregation have been taking turns sharing their “God-moments” during Sunday worship.  This monologue imagines a special moment many years ago when one woman encountered God in a truly remarkable way.

My God-moment happened a very long time ago.  And while you may not be very familiar with me, you certainly know of my daughter, who figures prominently in my story.  My daughter’s name was Mary, the Mary who gave birth to Jesus.  Yes, that Mary.

It happened when Mary was just a young girl.  Mary was not like lots of other girls; yes, she had friends and she enjoyed playing with them when she wasn’t helping me.  But she also liked to be by herself.  She loved to watch the birds and was good at recognizing them by their songs.  She was also fascinated by flowers, especially wild flowers.  She would go for walks and come home with beautiful bouquets of wild flowers.

It was one afternoon after she had been gone for awhile on one of her walks that she came back pensive and thoughtful.  She said very little during the evening meal.  I could tell she was thinking about something.

After the meal was cleaned up, she asked if I could go outside by her favorite tree; she wanted to tell me what happened that afternoon.

We sat down and the first thing she said was that she had seen and talked with an angel.   I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t, for I could tell this was all very serious to her.  So, I said nothing.

She went on to tell me how she was sitting under a tree, watching a bird build a nest, when she heard a voice say, “You are highly favored; the Lord is with you.”

Mary told me how startled, troubled, and even fearful she felt by this sudden intrusion into her afternoon.  But he assured her that he was an angel from God and she had nothing to fear.

But that was just the beginning; he told her that she would have a baby who would be called the Son of God.  It was to happen through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The story is still not over.  The angel gave Mary a sign; he told her that our relative Elizabeth, an old lady who lives in Judea with her husband Zechariah, is six months pregnant.  He ended the conversation by assuring Mary that with God nothing is impossible.

I had no idea how to respond.  What was one to make of this?  We are just simple folks from Nazareth.  Finally, I said, “Let’s go to bed and we can talk tomorrow.”

In the middle of the night I awoke with a start.  I realized I, too, had just had an angel visitation.  He said to me as clearly as I am talking to you:  With God nothing is impossible.

At that moment I knew in the depths of my being that Mary’s imagination had not gotten the best of her.  What I didn’t know was how our lives were about to be forever changed.

A Warm and Fixed Hallelujah

By Jenifer Eriksen Morales

Over and over again throughout this season of advent, I find myself looking at our Crèche (a model representing the scene of Jesus Christ’s birth), longing to place the Little One in the empty manger early — a symbol of hope. This has been a tumultuous year for many in our congregations, communities, nation and world.  Some of us struggle with illness, finances, and relationships, while others are mourning the loss of a loved one.  As a church, we long to belong and we long to get along.  Just 15 minutes of the morning news highlights clips about political corruption, racism, assassinations, suicide bombings and other forms of violence in homes and neighborhoods.  A quick scroll through Facebook reveals posts of sexual abuse, injustice, commercialism and a war in Syria that has left so many homeless and taken so many innocent lives, especially in the city of Aleppo.

Needless to say, it doesn’t surprise me that this advent season the typical advent and Christmas songs are not running through my head.  Instead it is the song, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, a Jewish song writer, singer, and poet who passed away in November. There are many verses and versions to this song, but In “Hallelujah,” Cohen writes:

…Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

Maybe there’s a god above
All I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry you can hear at night
Not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Amidst the cold and broken hallelujahs of this advent season comes my six-year-old with a painting she made.  She asks to hang it behind the crèche — a symbol of hope.  I am touched by her awareness, heart and imagination as she describes her art.

“This is a flower and this is Leonard Connan (Cohen).  He is holding hands with a little girl from Aleppo.  They are in heaven and they are singing ‘Hallelujah!’  But Mommy, their Hallelujah isn’t cold and broken anymore.  It is warm and fixed!”

I hug her tight and whisper a prayer, “May it be so Little One.  May it be so… ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’.”

Waiting and working and hoping

Steve Krissby Stephen Kriss, director of leadership cultivation

The Spanish words meaning “to wait” (esperar) and “hope” (esperanza) suggest that there’s a ready connection between the two.   We wait for something that we expect to happen.   We don’t wait for things that we don’t anticipate will actually occur.

There are places designed for waiting (train stations, hospital waiting rooms, airports, the checkout line) and there are places where we unexpectedly end up waiting, where it’s less comfortable or hasn’t been prepared for the necessities of waiting (traffic tie ups, outside buildings).   The places of unprepared waiting tend to create more agitation and desperation.  After living in New York City for a few years, I’ve learned to prepare for unexpected waiting by carrying a book.  Nowadays, with my iPhone, I’m always ready to work (or at least surf the web) while waiting.

Waiting with hope means that we expect something to happen.  In Advent, we wait in anticipation of the arrival of Immanuel, God with us.  I’d say that I anticipate God’s arrival most days, hope for it, spend a lot of my waking hours anticipating the Spirit’s arrival and incarnation in time and space.   Sometimes I’m able to notice steps toward the fulfillment of God’s intention; other times I’m surprised by the sudden inbreaking and transformation.    With the story of the birth of Christ, we have generations of preparation and months of incubation, but on one surprisingly normal and joyous night, “the anointed one” comes into flesh, bone, blood.

While I know that God is with us in all time, in all space, and in all spaces, there is something special that we wait for in Advent, some holy moment that we expect to see, feel, taste, maybe even touch.   While Jesus warned us not to chase those moments, the sheep-tenders and the learned ones were provoked to come and bear witness to the Incarnation, to drop their work for a moment or to focus their skills for awhile toward the manger in Bethlehem, to witness, to be present, to offer gifts in worship.

I find waiting to be pretty annoying.  But hoping can seem even more ridiculous.   Believing that God is going to do something, to enter and transform what seems ordinary can be both difficult and at times unwelcome.

What we know about resiliency, however, is that to lose hope is to lose purpose.   I’m not “a glass half empty” kind of guy, but I notice too often places where Christ’s presence is not quite yet: in the gaps between the privileged and the poor; in the spaces between loneliness and community; in the struggles for healing and wholeness; in the overwhelming sense of busyness that permeates privilege; in the spectrum from tradition to transformation.   I see glimpses and sometimes full incarnations of the path of Immanuel too: in working across culture, language, and human boundaries to share resources with Mennonite partners in Allentown, Philadelphia and Norristown; in work with veterans; in seasonal congregational initiatives to share and worship with neighbors; in our learning to love all of the places and people that God loves.

Early Mennonite settlers in southeastern Pennsylvania often used the catch-phrase “work and hope” as they faced the struggles of persecution, migrating into the unknown, and finding their home in a new world.   In our working (doing), I believe we’re waiting, too.   In our working, we’re hoping and believing (some days more than others) that Christ came two millennia ago into crushing politics, often misguided religiosity, and hard economics, and that the Spirit of Christ might come again, through us, in us, to us, for us as much as for the whole world.   With anticipation, we wait, we work, we hope.

Waiting for transformation

Jen's koalaby Jenifer Eriksen Morales, LEADership Minister

In an instant, my resin flocked Koala bear figurine was transformed: accidently knocked off my dresser and crushed beneath my cousin’s feet while we played.

Tearfully, I scooped up the pieces and brought them to my Pop Pop.  He gave me a hug.  “I can’t fix this, Jen.  The pieces are too small.  Look—some have turned to dust.”

I cried louder.  Pop took pity. “I’ll fix it.”

Comforted, I waited expectantly for the return of my Koala…at first.  But in typical kid-manner, before long I forgot about it.

A month or so later, my grandparents came to visit and I was surprised when Pop Pop handed me my transformed Koala.  The poor Koala was in one piece but it most definitely was not the figurine it used to be:  it was patched together and disfigured, the hardened and lumpy putty patching my grandfather made was not a perfect color match, and there was no velvety flocking where the patches were.  I pray my disappointment did not show in my face as I politely said, “thank you,” and took the Koala to my room.

Later that day I overheard my grandma talking to my mom. “He stayed up for nights sweating bullets over that crazy bear,” she said.  I was instantly both humbled and excited to realize that Pop Pop would sweat and lose sleep just for me.

The Koala was once again transformed into one of my most beloved possessions.  I was transformed too.  My Pop Pop’s sweat worked like streams in the desert of my life.  He kept his promise and did his best for me, even when I didn’t really care.  I knew that I was loved.

Jen's pop pop
Jenifer with her husband Victor and her Pop Pop on his 100th birthday.

I love the season of advent when we look forward to Christmas, celebrating Christ’s first coming and reminding ourselves that Christ is coming again—indeed He comes to us continually.  With Isaiah, I am filled with vision and hope as I anticipate the blooming of the desert, the strengthening of the weak, and the everlasting joy and gladness that will come to God’s people as they travel on “The Holy Way” (chapter 35).  Oh, what transformation the people of Israel hoped for and oh, what transformation is to come!

At the same time, we live in a world experiencing constant transformation.  Sometimes transformation is expected and welcomed.  We watch it unfold like spring or healing after a long illness: the blooming of the desert.  Other times we watch with horror as transformation comes, like when hurricane Haiyan stormed through the Philippines.   In the aftermath of such tragedy or injustice, there are times when we, like Nelson Mandela, are challenged to notice and work toward transformation.  I once heard someone say, “It’s wonderful to watch a miracle unfold, but it’s even better to help a miracle unfold.”

Mary and Elizabeth helped their miracles unfold. As I live in the “already and not yet” of this advent season, I am inspired by the gospel of Luke’s portrayal of these miracle-bearing cousins.  Though I am sure their lives were not easy, the courage and faith of Mary and Elizabeth remind me that I am humbled and called and blessed to participate in the already and not yet plan of God.  With Isaiah, Mary, and Elizabeth, I look forward to the transformation promised in fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord.  I also wonder how God might be calling me and others in Franconia Conference to participate in the miracle of transformation in our relationships, community, or world.

I pray I will not get so caught up in the busy-ness of life that I forget to keep my baptismal promise as Christ’s disciple to convey the life and love of Jesus—Immanuel, God with us. May I, like my Pop Pop, help the miracle of transformation unfold by sharing God’s love in simple and practical ways with hearts that may not even be fully aware they are waiting.

Waiting for the day of Jesus

John M Stoltzfusby John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

I am confident of this: that the one who began a good work in you
will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

As a parent, I often impatiently wait for the next stage in my children’s lives. As in, I can’t wait until they are peeing in a potty rather than on the carpet or I can’t wait until they move beyond the thrashing-on-the-floor-tantrum stage!  In other words, I can’t wait until they grow up. Parents of older children tell me to cherish every stage. I sometimes wonder if their memories are faulty!

The season of Advent is filled with exhortations to wait. We remember the waiting for the coming day of the promised Messiah. We practice the discipline of waiting for the day of Jesus Christ. We seek to live into the holy rhythms of Kairos time, waiting for the right time of God’s appearing, rather than Chronos time, a calendar of our own agenda.

The Advent text of Isaiah 40:3-5 repeated by John the Baptist speaks of “preparing the way of the Lord” and “making straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Our journey of transformation into mature Christian adults sometimes feels like a never ending highway construction project.  We all know the joy of waiting through road projects: first there is anticipation as road signs appear, indicating that one can expect traffic delays beginning on a certain date. Then lanes are diverted, flashing lights are hung, rough pavement develops, and we endure months and months of traffic jams, bumpy roads, and alternate routes. It is a laborious process frequently overrunning the initial deadline, costing many resources and much patience.

What if we were to view our own lives and our life as a faith community as a continual road construction project? I sometimes wonder if all of our churches should have a large yellow sign at the entrance reading: Caution: Never Ending Reconstruction Work Ahead. This holy mess is church. Writer Ed Cyzewski recently tweeted: “That’s church. Just gotta pick which HOT MESS is your favorite.”

I confess that I get impatient with the never-ending work of transformation in the church; I tire of waiting for more of Christ to be revealed in us.  Everywhere I look, I see places that have yet to experience the salvation and peace of God: divisions in the body yet to be reconciled; relationships yet to be mended; forgiveness yet to be released; welcome yet to be extended; brokenness yet to be healed; addictions yet to be kicked.

Sometimes I fear that God will lose patience with me. I am prone to wander. I am prone to doubt. I am prone to move forward without acknowledging God’s presence. I am like that road rebuilding project which has a completion date that keeps on getting delayed. Yet we are to regard God’s patience with us as our saving grace. Yes, the work is slow, but we are invited to continue to imagine a different future.

The writer of Philippians imagined with a long-term view: “I am confident of this: that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  This involves a patient and faithful waiting. In view of God’s grand salvation story, we have the courage to embark on the long road of repentance and change where we tear up the old and lay down the new. At the same time, knowledge of the tender mercies of our God gives us the grace to cherish and accept each other today, even in our unfinished state.

In this time of waiting and anticipation, we do know what is required of us: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God and one another. If we say that we can wait with one another today, then can we wait with one another tomorrow, and the day after, and the next? And, if this is so, can we wait with one another until the day of Jesus?

As we wait together, this is my hope and prayer:

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79