Tag Archives: Advent Reflections

Observing Advent can help set the tone for a wholesome Christmas – 11/29/14

I’ve blogged about Advent in Anchorage for many years. Many pastors have shared their reflections about Advent on my blog, for which I am truly grateful. Last year’s theme was “Does celebrating Advent really make a difference?”

For example, recently retired Pastor Martin Dasler of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church offered, “If you long for a better world, a better government, a better self, Advent speaks to you. Advent is filled with redemptive desires and hopes. In a world filled with too much disillusionment and disappointment, Advent speaks to the profound desires of young idealists as well as to the lost hopes of crusty cynics.”

Rick Benjamin, former pastor of Abbott Loop Community Church and self-confessed “non-Adventer,” shared that “I really appreciate the logic and sequence of Advent: hope, love, joy and peace. Hope came from the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Love was the motivation for God sending his son. Joy happened at the birth event of Jesus. Peace is the result of his coming. I suppose this logic and sequence fits my linear way of thinking.”

Advent can be a time of great joy, infusing the church year with much goodness. With many religions it also signals the start of the church year. Advent, for centuries, has been observed as a time of watchful waiting, as Christians re-imagine the period of time prefiguring the birth of Jesus. In some traditions it was, and still is, accompanied by a period of fasting. Many traditions surround the observance of Advent with wreaths and candles of significance. Church historians generally date Advent’s observance to around the fourth century. More than half of Christian religions in America today celebrate Advent, with more joining every year. Advent seems to provide a helpful balance against the American penchant for observing Christmas as a commercial giving holiday that is generally directed more toward each other than toward humanity in general.

In Advent-observing churches, it is progressively celebrated for the four Sundays preceding Christmas with a theme, an Advent wreath and a candle of significance for that theme. On Christmas Eve, an additional candle, the Christ Candle, is lit celebrating Christ’s centrality to Advent. Advent tradition precludes carol singing until the Christmas Eve service. Instead, Christian hymns of watchful waiting are used. A good example of this is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Advent can be a wonderful time for contemplation, hope and blessing, as worshipers consider the true meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ for the world. Church attendance is not enough to reap the benefits of Advent. Many find that personal preparation, prayer and fasting help keep the mind clear and focused on the true meaning of Advent. Some Christians object to the observance of Advent because it is not mentioned in Scripture. Neither is the observance of Christmas, Lent or Easter, but that does not keep people from observing some or all of these Christian occasions. The venerable “altar call” so prevalent in some religions is not mentioned in Scripture either, but it is practiced every Sunday in many churches.

I’m captivated by a fascinating antidote to the crass consumerism of Christmas. Emerging in the past eight years, it is called the Advent Conspiracy. Created by five pastors, it imagines a better way of celebrating Christmas in communities. Embracing four tenets — worship fully, spend less, give more and love all — this marvelous idea helps reposition Christmas in extremely positive ways. The Advent Conspiracy is not a funnel for money. Rather, organizers direct individuals to work through their churches, using various suggested resources to support efforts to combat significant water and justice issues during the Christmas season.

Advent Conspiracy’s  well-designed website offers a few startling statistics.

29.8 million = Estimated people held in slavery today

$601 billion = Total U.S. holiday retail sales

$25 = the amount to needed provide a family of five access to safe water for a year

Many other ways exist to break the Christmas cycle of anxiety, spending, debt and hurt feelings, especially among the children. Personally, I admire Baxter Road Bible Church’s program of “It’s not your birthday, it’s Jesus’” for overall simplicity and focus.

Some families have adopted the practice of giving only gifts to family members and friends they have made themselves. The process is extremely enriching for the giver, especially as it simulates, to a degree, the gift that God gave us through his son Jesus. This is a practical way to model character-building behavior for your children.

As mentioned last week, most of our community nonprofit social service agencies desperately need funds at this time of year to continue their work. Don’t forget their needs as you plan your spending for this Christmas season. After reading that column, a friend shared that he and his wife were considering doing so this year, instead of pouring it into children and grandchildren.

Many churches will observe Advent starting this coming Sunday. A Google search turned up many congregations, and others will announce their services in Alaska Dispatch News’ “Matters of Faith” section in Saturday’s paper, usually just below this column. Most Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Moravian, Congregational and Orthodox churches offer Advent services. I recommend attending an Advent service if you’ve never done so before.  Please share your personal and observational thoughts about Advent services and their impact on you.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith.  You can find his blog at churchvisits.com.

Advent Reflection – Pastor Dan Bollerud

This Advent I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors, representing a variety of faith traditions, to submit a brief Advent Reflection under this year’s theme: “Does Celebrating Advent Really Make a Difference?”

The next featured Pastor is Dan Bollerud, Pastor of Christ Our Savior Lutheran in south Anchorage. Pastor Dan constantly challenges his parishioners and guests by involving them in fresh ways of worship and acts of reimagination. His words below are an example of his fresh thinking, a clear voice to contextually counter the sellout of Advent and Christmas.[img_assist|nid=163256|title=Pastor Dan Bollerud|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=350]

Does Celebrating Advent Really Make a Difference?

Advent is a time of preparation for the Christmas season, and therein lies the problem. In days of yore, when Christmas began on December 25th and extended for twelve days to the January 6th Epiphany, the liturgical time of Advent made sense. The days were dark and the nights darker as we moved toward winter solstice and the texts of the common lectionary reflected both the theology and the mood of the day. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) with its emphasis on thieves in the night and John the Baptist’s is a bit reminiscent of a Christmas song, but not one we sing in church. “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why, Jesus Christ is coming to town…. And he is a bit torqued off”. It is a theme however that is best left in a Dickens tale and time. As the church stubbornly holds onto its Advent traditions, some even to the point of not singing any Christmas carols until Christmas day, or in some flights of Gospel freedom, Christmas Eve, those in our pews and those who wouldn’t be caught dead in them, go off to embrace the theology of the local shopping mall or on-line store. In the process, the church in general, being painted with the broad brush strokes of some, is deemed quaint at best, and irrelevant to most. But there is something about that darkness.

The days, at least for a few more weeks are indeed getting shorter and the nights are getting darker. At the same time the quest for the false memory of the Hallmark Christmas past in the midst of an ever shrinking middle class and the constant beating of the news networks drums of fear, makes relevant, perhaps even more than in the time of Dickens, the need for a new Advent theology. But any good theology, in order to be heard, must also be contextual. We in the church must speak to the darkness in the midst of the cheap glitter of tinsel and this year’s ‘must have’ purchase. It is time to both shed and confront the false memory of the Hallmark Christmas as well as the “you better watch out” theology of Advent past.

In the Advent season in our world, Christmas carols connect with where people’s heads and lives are at. In our world today, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving. I know there are some stores who start on Thanksgiving Day, but they for the most part are representatives of the anti-Christ and are destined to burn in hell for all eternity anyway so I will just ignore them, as should you. Needless to say, our communities are bombarded with Santa theology from Black Friday on and while there heads are in that space, they need to hear a bit of ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. Failure to provide this simply hands the theology over to Santa and commercialism while we in the church bid our time until the 25th to present our Babe in Bethlehem theology to a world who is so “over it” they could care less.

I certainly do not claim to have the answer, but for the above mentioned reasons this is what I am trying to do. At Christ Our Savior Lutheran we use the Narrative Lectionary (NL) and start singing Christmas carols the beginning December. As mentioned before, Christmas Carols connect with where people’s heads and hearts are at and, at the very least, inject a bit of Babe in Bethlehem into the theme of spending on better and newer Christmas bells, sleigh rides and Xboxes. The Narrative Lectionary is a four year series of readings, which this year includes the fiery furnace, the valley of dry bones and the return from exile before landing on the word made flesh the Sunday before Christmas. These are stories of hope in the midst of darkness and despair. These are stories that remind us that even when the reality of Christmas is but a faint glimmer of that false Hallmark memory, we are not alone. The God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is with us in the midst of the heat, breathes life into those lifeless old bones and brings us home again to the grace, love and life of the word of God made flesh.

So I would ask you to confront the darkness, which is indeed darkness. But do so in a language and style that is where people are at, and where in the midst of that darkness, are able to hear and feel the love and the presence of God.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Advent Reflection – Pastor Bob Mather

This Advent I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors, representing a variety of faith traditions, to submit a brief Advent Reflection under this year’s theme: “Does Celebrating Advent Really Make a Difference?”

The next pastor to be featured is Bob Mather, Pastor of Baxter Road Bible Church. Bob also comes from a non-Advent celebrating tradition.[img_assist|nid=163924|title=Pastor Bob Mather|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=324]

Does Celebrating Advent Really Make a Difference?

It can make a difference if, in celebrating the arrival of our Lord Jesus to this world, we truly comprehend who He was and why He came to earth. When we understand that the only sacrifice, valuable enough to cover the sins of the world, is God Himself, we begin to understand what a wonderful thing it truly was that a member of the Trinity came to earth to make this sacrifice for us.

The prophecy made in Zechariah, the ninth chapter about Jesus coming to earth, was made 500 years before His birth and tells the people to “rejoice greatly” at this good news. So Advent is not only a time of sober reflection but is also a time of festivities and rejoicing. Most of us are good at the festive part, and celebrating Advent helps us remember the reason for the festivities and rejoicing.

Advent Reflection – Pastor Rick Benjamin

This Advent I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors, representing a variety of faith traditions, to submit a brief Advent Reflection under this year’s theme: “Does Celebrating Advent Really Make a Difference?”

The next pastor to be featured is Rick Benjamin, former Sr. Pastor of Abbott Loop Community Church. He is now is the Director of Organizational and Spiritual Wellness at Hope Community Resources.

An Advent Reflection from a “Non-Adventer”

Our church and my heritage are in the Protestant/evangelical/Pentecostal tradition of the Christian faith. We did not follow the liturgical calendar; we didn’t even have services on Good Friday. (We were somewhat religious about how non-religious we were!) So we did not follow the tradition of Advent. I knew the word “advent” meant “coming,” but that was usually applied to the Second Coming of Jesus. Of course we had our own church and family traditions for celebrating Christmas.

Along the way God has blessed me with many new friends and colleagues in the broader body of Christ. Through these relationships I became aware and intrigued by the liturgical calendar and I learned about Advent. A year ago I was guest speaking for a new church that followed Advent. To do those messages I learned about the four Sundays of Advent, the candles and the colors.

I really appreciate the logic and sequence of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Hope came from the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Love was the motivation for God sending his Son. Joy happened at the birth event of Jesus. Peace is the result of his coming. I suppose this logic and sequence fits my linear way of thinking.

I also appreciate the anticipation through the month, leading up to Christmas. I learned that Advent can even be a “mini-Lent,” a time of fasting and self-denial. One Advent expression I still don’t understand is “preparing ourselves for the coming of the Christ child.” He already came; I don’t need to prepare for his coming, but I do celebrate that he came. Maybe what is really meant is “preparing ourselves for that celebration?”

I have benefited from Advent, even though my understanding and observance are admittedly incomplete. And to all the other “non-Adventers” like me out there, I suggest you give Advent a try. But since it includes all four Sundays in December, you may have to wait till next year.

Advent Reflections Available as downloadable e-Book

Fourteen area pastors, rectors, and priests contributed a wonderful collection of Advent thoughts and reflections based on the theme, “Advent as an Antidote to Acquisitiveness or Consumerism”. Their thoughts were so powerful, individually and collectively, I want to share them with a wider audience. They have been collected in a PDF mini-book which is available for download below. They are presented in the same order as published on this blog.

I would like to express my extreme gratitude to each contributor for taking the time to proffer their thoughts on this theme in such a timely and complete fashion. While I did not receive responses from some of the pastors I approached, some returned their response almost instantly such as Rick Benjamin, former Abbott Loop Community Church pastor. Rick sent me his fine thoughts within minutes of my request.

Pastoral Advent Reflections – Download

 

Advent Reflection: Rector Michael Burke

I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors to comment upon Advent as an Antidote for Acquisitiveness or Consumerism. Our final pastoral contribution is from Michael Burke, rector of St Mary’s Episcopal Church.

On Second Advent Sunday, I spoke about the “irony, humor, and tragedy” of the fact that “Christmas” (meaning the commercial season stretching from Halloween to December 25th) has eclipsed not only Advent, but the celebration of Christmas as well.

We live in a culture that does not know what to do with Advent, as it seems to “be in the way of” this secular or commercial celebration of “Christmas.”

While Advent was originally practiced as a relatively austere time of “much space” for introspection and the preparation of one’s own heart for the coming of Christ, the busy-ness of the season has crowded that out.

So I wonder… Has the celebration of “Christmas” become the single biggest obstacle to the celebration of … … Christmas?

Attached* is some of what I shared with our congregation regarding how one family responded to this situation, and the different approach they took.

I have since had a couple families report back to me , that this is what they are choosing to do for this Advent / Christmas.

* See attached document available for download below.

[img_assist|nid=163107|title=Rector Michael Burke, St Mary’s Episcopal Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=462]

Advent Reflection: Pastor Stephen Vicaro

I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors to comment upon Advent as an Antidote for Acquisitiveness or Consumerism. Our next pastor featured is Stephen Vicaro, pastor of Hillside O’Malley Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Gift giving is a challenge. The perfect gift is one that is wanted, needed, and unexpected. Satisfying all three of these criteria is uncommon, but sure to bring excitement to both the giver and receiver.

When God gave His Son to Humanity, few people were excited about the Gift. Jesus was wanted by some, needed by all, but most were not expecting Him. This is not to say that those who called themselves followers of the Creator were not “expecting” a Messiah. Indeed, they were waiting for Him, though not exactly.

God’s people were expecting one who would redeem them from poverty, save them from their enemies, deliver them from the Roman authority that was over them, and give them their heart’s desire, along with many other expectations.

Yet the Father arranged that His Son would be born in an animal shelter, raised by peasants, self-employed as a skilled laborer, without any formal education, and with no military training. Jesus was certainly not what His proclaimed people were expecting. So when Christ came the first time, they missed out on the joy. But He was so much better than what they were expecting: love, forgiveness, righteousness, purity. Only shepherds and foreign travelers, along with a few others who were true in heart, knew when he arrived. God’s perfect gift was only appreciated by a few.

As we celebrate Christ’s first advent and await His second, let us not miss out on the blessing that God has already given to us. Simplicity rather than extravagance, the spiritual rather than the material, giving rather than getting: these are some of the lessons that God gave us through His Son.
[img_assist|nid=163105|title=Stephen Vicaro, Pastor – Hillside O’Malley SDA Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=350]

Advent Reflection: Pastor John Dodson

I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors to comment upon Advent as an Antidote for Acquisitiveness or Consumerism. Our next pastor featured is John Dodson, interim pastor of St John UMC (2009-2010). He is also a church consultant.

Advent is a time for preparation and expectancy. It is a good time to take stock, to reflect and consider what are the best things in life. Most people if pressed would not say that the latest fashion item or a plastic wrapped doll or space man were among the best things in life. Advent is about what is the best thing in life! Life is made up of small good things that result in a great life. Like kindness, friendship, family bonds, love between persons and respect for each other. If we took these as meaningful experiences in our lives, we might want to fashion our gift giving after those values.

Give the gift of yourself this Christmas. Think of ways you can give a gift that has deeper meaning. A fishing trip for your grandson, a treat to a ballet for your granddaughter, a picnic for the family in the spring time to a favorite place, an offer to give some baby sitting time to a young couple and perhaps you can begin to create some events that are unique to you. Why follow the depressive route of gifts soon discarded and the discouragement that often comes with over spending and feeling like you want to do something different? Now is your chance! Do something different this Christmas!

[img_assist|nid=163101|title=Pastor John Dodson, Interim Pastor St John UMC (2009-2010)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=276|height=490] <image coming as soon as possible – the editors>

Advent Reflection: Pastor Mark Goodman

I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors to comment upon Advent as an Antidote for Acquisitiveness or Consumerism. Our next pastor featured is Mark Goodman, Senior Pastor of Rabbit Creek Community Church.

He spoke in extremes. “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon”(Matthew 6:24). No wiggle room there! The Lord Jesus chose the Aramaic word “mammon” in reference to riches because the word’s root is associated with the act of trusting. His message is clear. Each person who would follow in the Jesus Way cannot simultaneously trust in God, the Provider, and riches, the stuff on earth. You and I, however, live in the world of Black Friday, zero % interest loans, endless credit card offers, and the American Dream. Considering that stores opened before the Thanksgiving turkey meal was digested, most of us find it difficult to count our blessings without doing the math to figure how soon we can buy and therefore count higher. It is time to trust in Who rather than What.

I delight in knowing that I will join with my church family on the 24th to sing praises to God for His gift of Jesus. I look forward to ripping wrapping paper and reaching into my gingerbread man-adorned stocking. I smile in anticipation of watching my daughter and sons bolt down the stairs on the 25th. I pray that my wife likes what I picked out. Eagerness for Christmas, however, should not overshadow Advent. The season of Advent helps us to avoid the trap of Mammon. It helps us focus on what really matters, to trust the only One worth serving.

December 2nd marked the first Sunday of a four-week observance of Advent (a coming). Christian believers look forward to that day that the Apostle Paul referred to as “the blessed hope – the glorious appearing” (Titus 2:13). On that day the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ will appear. While Christmas reminds us of Jesus’ first arrival, Advent declares the promise of His return, His second arrival. Christmas without Advent is a reflection on an historical event alone. Advent, while allowing time to look back, draws our attention forward so that we can look forward to God coming to set all things right. No matter how much we buy, even if everything in your shopping bag is 40% off, we will tire of the gifts sooner than we think. How many shoes do you really need? How many rifles does it really take to bag next year’s game? Do you really just have to have the newest iPhone? If you must, go ahead and buy it. But don’t count on any purchase to bring you happiness. I am no Grinch. I will buy and open as you do. Yet, I sure hope that I will remember to count my blessings before I do and not pout if the number, as it increases, does not include that certain “must have.” Join me, won’t you? [img_assist|nid=163082|title=Sr. Pastor Mark Goodman, Rabbit Creek Community Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=390]

Advent Reflection: Rector James Basinger

I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors to comment upon Advent as an Antidote for Acquisitiveness or Consumerism. Our next pastor featured is Reverend Jim Basinger, Rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church.

Advent means ‘coming’ – the coming of Jesus Christ in his incarnation and also in his triumphal return at the end of the age. And so, I wondered why on two Sundays out of four in Advent, we read about the ministry of John the Baptist? What does he have to do with the coming of the Lord? Just this: he came to prepare the way for the Lord. And how did he do it? By ‘proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’ The good news of Christmas concerns the coming of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, but John the Baptist reminds us that just as we prepare our homes for the celebration of Christmas, so too, in order to enjoy the new life of forgiveness of sins that Jesus brought, we need prepare our hearts by turning away from our idols – whatever they may be – and turning to God who in Christ offers us new and vital life. [img_assist|nid=163047|title=Rector Jim Basinger, All Saints’ Episcopal Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=406]