Tag Archives: Advent

Anchorage Christmas 2020 Is Here – Be Covid Careful!

A quick Google search using the search phrase, “Christmas services Anchorage 2020” yields many choices. Many services show as live services which is worrying. Since early on during the Covid pandemic, churches have demonstrated live services often become super spreader events. Unfortunately, many have died as a result. During His ministry, Jesus, responding to a question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”, stated, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’ 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

I applaud those local churches who are streaming their services this Christmas, providing a safe haven for the celebration of Christmas. These are not times to be complacent. In a December 20, 2020 New Yorker article Michael Luo writes, “Many churches, particularly conservative ones, fought lockdown orders and rebuffed public-health warnings about large indoor gatherings. The virus has swept through houses of worship across the country. In the end, the lasting image of the Church in the pandemic may very well be that of an unmasked choir at First Baptist Church, in Dallas, led by the pastor Robert Jeffress, a staunch Trump supporter, singing in front of Vice-President Mike Pence at a “Freedom Sunday” service, as the county where the church is located reported a record high for covid-19 cases.”

In his most recent book, God and the Pandemic, noted theologian N.T. Wright, urges Christians to consider lament as an appropriate response to the pandemic.
He succinctly writes, “I have urged that we should embrace lament as the vital initial Christian response to this pandemic. Roughly one-third of the Psalms are lamenting that things are not as they should be. The words they use are words of complaint: of question, sorrow, anger and frustration and, often enough, bitterness.

They are all part of the prayer-book of Jesus himself, and the New Testament draws freely on them to express not only our own laments but the way of Jesus too. The Lord’s Prayer is our ‘norm’. Are we looking for sudden signs of the End? No: we pray every day, ‘Thy Kingdom Come on earth as in heaven’, and we know that prayer will be answered because of what we know about Jesus. Are we looking for fresh, sudden calls to repent? No: we pray every day, ‘Forgive us our Trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ We know that prayer will be answered, because of what we know about Jesus. Are we then looking for fresh reasons to leave our comfortable lifestyles and tell our neighbours the good news? Well, shame on us if it takes a pandemic to get us to that point. Why wasn’t Jesus’ command enough? ‘As the father sent me, so I’m sending you’; ‘Go and make all nations into disciples’. God and the Pandemic (p. 52). Zondervan.

I wish each of my readers wonderful days of celebration in honor of the Advent’s wonderful event, the coming of the King.

ct

New Service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Replaces “Blue Christmas” -Tonight, December 17, 2020 8:00-8:45 p.m. (UPDATED)

UPDATE:
I attended this online service and found it to be a great gathering! For online Zoom attendees, it was interesting to see each participant and attendee. In many respects this service seemed more personal than in previous years. St. Mary’s is commended to have presented this traditional service in an updated, and enlarged Advent form, while respecting Covid meetings concerns. I found it to be very assuring service for the Advent season.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, an active and vibrant congregation in Anchorage, is transitioning to a new and different format this year, enlarging their emphasis upon the traditional Blue Christmas service held in December.

“We have been been doing online services of Hope, Health, and Healing each month during the pandemic, and this is a continuation of that”, explains St. Mary’s Rector Michael Burke.  “The past year has brought us deep issues of grieving and loss, loss of our usual patterns of work and gathering, loss of loved ones, and loss of connection with one another.  This service gives us a place to come together in God’s holy presence.”

I’ve attended and written about several Blue Christmas services locally, such as https://www.churchvisits.com/2017/12/not-feeling-holiday-cheer-maybe-a-blue-christmas-or-longest-night-service-is-for-you/, but believe St. Mary’s, especially this year, is on the right track.

To attend this service virtually, just click here https://godsview.zoom.us/j/97258355536 to join this special service.

ct

An Advent Prayer for An Anxious Heart













Pandemic fears getting you down? Lack of joy this Christmas
season? Relax your mind and pray this prayer to ask for help at
this time.

A PRAYER
FOR AN ANXIOUS
HEART

Heavenly Father,
May Your presence light up the dark places in my life.
Because in that darkness, there is fear.
It is a fear that grips my heart and consumes my attention.
The darkness is full of unknowns and what-ifs.
It is full of worst-case scenarios and defensive positions.
It is full of mistrust and unforgiveness.
The challenges I face and the ones I worry about facing
make my heart afraid and rob my life of peace.

But in Isaiah 43, You tell me not to fear.
You remind me that You are the One who created me.
You are the One who formed me.
And not only do You have the power to breathe life into me,
but You have purchased my freedom at a costly price.
You have called me out by name
and have declared that I belong to You.
That I belong with You.
You remind me that whatever I face, You will be by my side.
In this life, when I find myself in deep waters,
You will be with me.
When I go through rivers of difficulty,
I will not drown.

When I walk through fires of oppression,
I will not be burned up and the flames will not consume me.
Why?
Because You are the Lord my God.
You are the Holy One.
The utterly transcendent One whose righteousness and
justice never fail.
And You are my refuge. My protection.
My Savior.

Lord Jesus,
draw near to me and drive out the darkness
that I am still holding onto.
Let Your light bring peace to this anxious heart.
Amen.

courtesy of adventconspiracy.org

ct

ADVENT 2020 – What an Adventure!

Orthodox Advent

Over the past 12-years of authoring this blog, I’ve considered Advent to be a great privilege to observe, especially from a multi-religion point of view.

Advent for the Orthodox community began on November 15 with the Feast of the Nativity. Pascha and Advent are two periods of the year that Orthodox place special emphasis upon. Locally we are fortunate to have three branches of the Orthodox faith well represented by churches and clergy: Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox (Antiochian), and Orthodox of America (formerly Russian Orthodox in Alaska). You will find many of their services chronicled in the Tag Cloud on the right-hand side of the desktop version of this blog. Just click on ADVENT.

angels clipart advent

Advent for Western Christianity begins today. One of the traditions I enjoy about its observance is the lighting of a new Advent candle each week, often accompanied by a homily pertaining to that named candle. Todays theme is Hope.

“The Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western church. It is traditionally a Lutheran practice, although it has spread to many other Christian denominations.[1][2][3]

It is an evergreen wreath with four candles, sometimes with a fifth, white candle in the center. Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, the lighting of a candle can be accompanied by a Bible readingdevotional time and prayers.[4][5] An additional candle is lit on each subsequent Sunday until, by the last Sunday of Advent, all four candles are lit. Some Advent wreaths include a fifth, Christ candle which is lit at Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.[6] The custom originated in family settings but has also become widespread in public worship.” Source – Wikipedia

I wish each of my readers a meaningful Advent season and pray that your journey toward Christmas will be filled with insight and joy. Covid has made this Advent journey especially difficult, but I sincerely Hope it draws each of you closer to God. Check back frequently as I’ll be updating the blog with Advent news and readings.

ct

Advent Reflection – Pastor Andy Bartel – St. John UMC

Today is the 4th and final Sunday of Advent, Pastor Andy Bartel has generously offered his Advent Reflection for the season. Thank you to all the pastors who have contributed to this year’s Advent Reflections!

Advent Reflection – Waiting – Pastor Andy Bartel

I don’t like waiting. When purchasing my groceries, I try to spot the fastest checkstand clerk at Costco or Fred Meyer or Carrs (failing more often than not) and mumbling when I’ve made the wrong choice. I don’t speed in my vehicle, but I also don’t like following behind cars driving slower than the posted speed limit on dry clear pavement, giving instructions out loud to a driver who cannot hear me. When streaming a favorite TV show or holiday movie and I get the dreaded “buffering” lag, I am reminded: I. Don’t. Like. Waiting.

And yet, the season of Advent is all about waiting. This is the time of year when we are reminded that the world waited for millenia for the arrival of the Savior, the Christ Child, and we too are now awaiting his Promised return. A very significant aspect of discipleship is engaging in and claiming the spiritual discipline of waiting.

But what if saw waiting in a different light? Rather than striving for the efficiency of time well spent, what if I embraced the time of waiting? Rather than worrying about getting out of this infernal line to get to my next appointment, I took a moment to breathe, thank God for the ability to buy this food, and look around me and notice who God has placed in my presence at that moment? What if I stopped cursing the driver in front of me, and instead used the opportunity of a slower pace to take in the incredible artwork of God all around us in Alaska’s mountainous beauty? What if instead of waiting on a finicky internet connection, I shut off the screen altogether and engaged with family or friends over a puzzle, or board game, or (gasp) conversation…

In a society that values efficiency over most all else, Advent is a reminder that God probably doesn’t care at all about efficiency. But God cares deeply for every living soul in this world and is just waiting for us to spend some time with God. Maybe in our waiting, we can remember that our souls are longing for the same thing.

This Advent season, may we wait upon the Lord as the Lord has so faithfully waited upon us.

Pastor Andy Bartel – St John UMC

Advent Reflection – Bishop Mark Lattime

Immanuel

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
(John 1:9)

As an adult, and more so after my ordination, I have always struggled against the cultural norm to start celebrating Christmas the day after Thanksgiving (I would never have thought the struggle would eventually begin the day after Halloween!). I’ve always preached the importance of honoring Advent.

Prepare ye the way!

As an “Adventophile” (I just made-up that word), I have always asserted that preparing for Christmas did NOT mean putting up Christmas Trees, or decking the halls, or fa-la-la-la-laing. Indeed, in my way of thinking, Advent should be just the opposite and marked by an ascetic restraint from all festivities anticipating Christmas Day. In fact, I had always harbored thoughts of not putting up the Christmas Tree until Christmas Eve. Becoming a parish priest with Christmas Eve worship responsibilities that did not get me home until well after 1 o’clock Christmas Morning, disabused me of that little bit of “Adventodox” fantasy. Nevertheless, in my estimation, Advent is supposed to be DARK! Broodingly so.

Advent is a Purple season.

Maybe it’s age; maybe it’s living in Alaska and entering into my 8th winter; or maybe it is my hope that we as the bearers of the Light of Christ become more and more people of that Light–Communities of Recovery that shine light into the darkness that hangs around so persistently in this world and in people’s lives; but I am starting to see that LIGHT is what every season is about—even, or especially, the season of Advent.

Sure, if you turn off all the lights and brood in darkness and despair, any light, even the weakest little flame, will hit your eyes like the brightest flash. But Christmas isn’t about a weak little flame. Christmas is the light of the world! The brightest and best of the stars of the morning! The dawn from on high! The Light of God incarnate: God with us!

A little light is adequate in the dark. Growing light, Holy light, is much better.

Advent is a season to prepare for the dawning of the true light. And while I’m still not ready to give-up entirely my vain claims of “Adventodoxy” (I did it again) and my resistance to getting caught-up in the sweep of the world’s pre-Christmas hype, nevertheless, I do see the light that shines through all of it. Light is a good thing in darkness. And if I am truly to claim the light of Christ as my own, it makes much better sense to spread light rather than to grieve or give honor to the of darkness.

Better to spend Advent being converted to light.

Howard Thurman described conversion as an act of loyalty. What one is loyal to converts that person into a “living for instance” of one’s loyalty. Even in Advent, and most brightly at Christmas, I pray that your loyalty to Christ will convert you and make you a living for instance of the Light of the Gospel. Prepare for the Light by being light, even if only a flickering flame. Trust me, there’s enough darkness out there that yours will not be missed. Embrace the light of Christ in this and every season and send the darkness fumbling away.

“Kindle Thy light within me, O God, that Thy glow may be spread over all of my life; yea indeed, that Thy glow may be spread over all of my life. More and more, may Thy light give radiance to my flickering candle, fresh vigor to my struggling intent, and renewal to my flagging spirit. Without Thy light within me, I must spend my years fumbling in my darkness. Kindle Thy light within me, O God!” (Excerpt from: Thurman, Howard. “Meditations of the Heart.” New York: Harper, 1953

I bid you and yours a Blessed Advent, a Merry Christmas, and a New Year full of Light.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Lattime
Episcopal Bishop of Alaska

Bishop David’s Reflections upon the Nativity

During Advent, many Christians who do not observe Advent practices, go immediately to consumer spending binges, and begin singing Christmas carols as if the nativity was already being observed.  The Rt. Rev. Bishop David (Mahaffey, Orthodox Bishop of Sitka and Alaska has kindly consented to share his thoughts on these practices and what we’re losing in the process.

The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ
Rt. Rev. Bishop David (Mahaffey), Bishop of Sitka and Alaska

It seems every year, as we approach the Christmas Holiday, we find it less and less a celebration of the coming of our Savior and more a commercial enterprise. This is not to say that I have a “bah, humbug!” attitude, not at all, but I seek a Spiritual meaning for this time of year.

Aye, there’s the rub! I want to be “Spiritual”, but not religious. But what do I mean by being Spiritual and not being religious? How can I say such a thing, when I am the leader of the largest body of (Orthodox) Christians in Alaska? Aren’t we supposed to be “religious”? Again, it depends on what you mean by religious. Merriam Webster defines it basically as “the service and worship of God or the supernatural (1).” If that is all I was seeking, that is easily completed by attending services, and at Christmas time, there are many. There are Christmas Cantatas, Live Nativity Scenes, Candlelight Vigils, roaming carolers and singers; there’s Midnight Mass for some Faiths, Christmas Eve Vigils and Divine Liturgy for others (I still can’t get over the fact that some churches don’t even have services on Christmas Day unless it falls on a Sunday, but I digress). So, if I want to “satisfy” my religious experience, lots of things will fill the bill. Once done, I can go on with my other “needs” at shopping malls, and all.

There are many people today who say they are “Spiritual” but not “religious”. I want to say here that while I agree with what they are thinking, I disagree that it is something I can fulfill on my own. For me, there is always the need for “the Other” in a spiritual equation. So, whether I am talking about Christmas, or any other major celebration of an event related to Christ, I am always seeking my involvement with the Other.

So being spiritual means that I am meditating or contemplating on what it means to have God become a human being, to be incarnated in the flesh and blood that I am also clothed with, along with every other human being who was, is and ever will exist. I am not just interested in feeding my own soul but with joining in a nourishing “meal” with as many other persons as I can. I want to feed my Spirit and join with others who have the same or a similar understanding of the same motive.

Let me offer a few reasons why this is so important to me. First, very few religions have ever even allowed that God could become a human being, he is simply God qua God, above and beyond everything and anything else that is involved with matter, with “stuff” that exists in our world. It is incomprehensible to those who hold to such an idea (ancient Greek philosophers, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, even some Jewish sects, etc.) that we could associate God with our world because it is a perishing world, finite, and surely God could not be a part of that. But in Christianity, not only to we believe this, we celebrate it and say our Salvation depends on it!

Second, related to the first Christian notion, we Orthodox Christians have no less than
four Major (and three minor Feasts spread throughout the calendar year related to the
Incarnation of Christ (2), not to mention Christmas, itself. In other words, we are preparing
for the coming of Christ throughout the year, not just on December 25. We gather
together in prayer and Liturgy at each event, knowing we are making ready our hearts
for the coming Incarnation.

Third, while many others celebrate the fasting season before Christmas as a “Four-
Sunday Advent” event, this fast for we Orthodox is a full forty days. Beginning on
November 15 (Nov. 28, Julian calendar with Jan. 7 being Christmas) until December 25,
we practice fasting from certain foods, pleasures and entertainment, and increase our
prayer life accordingly. This also helps us direct our attention to the contemplation of the
coming of Christ and of His Theophany as well.

All this is not to find any inadequacy with anyone else’s enjoyment of Christmas, but it is
to say that I need all of these things to enter into my own “Spiritual” celebration of
Christmas. A Spiritual Joy only possible when I join into this celebration with others who
share similar love for the Incarnation of our Lord, and are thankful for His love for us.
I wish all those who are celebrating this Holy Season the Peace of Christ and the Joy of
the Lord!

1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion#other-words
2. Major: Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, March 25; Nativity of the Virgin Mary, September 8; Entry of theTheotokos into the Temple, November 21; and Meeting of the Lord in the Temple, February 2 (Nativity ofour Lord – Christmas – is a given). Minor: Conception of St. Anne, December 9; Conception of St John the Baptist by Elizabeth, September 24; Nativity of St John the Baptist, September 23.

Orthodox Advent Underway – Fr Vasili Hillhouse Reflects on this Journey

November 15, most Orthodox Christians began their Advent journey to the Feast of the Nativity. In contrast, Western Christianity begins its Advent journey on December 2 this year.  A nativity fast is observed by Orthodox, but is less severe than that of Lent. I’ve asked several pastors in our community to share their reflections about  Advent. Fr Vasili Hillhouse, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, has graciously agreed to take the lead this year with his thoughts about Advent.

Advent: Preparing to Receive the King of Glory
Fr. Vasili Hillhouse

In this season of Advent, which is our preparation before the Feast of the Nativity of
Christ, it is helpful for us to take the time to consider what we are truly preparing to
celebrate in the first place. If you are reading this, I would imagine that you have already
decided that what you will be celebrating has little to do with the rampant consumerism
that can taint this time of year. I would imagine that you, as a reader of a religion blog,
are preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ. So what do we know about this Child and
the reason for His coming into the world? This Child is the Son and Word of God – the
very same Word of God Who was revealed in the Old Testament. This is the same Divine
Logos Who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and who wrestled with Jacob. This
Second Person of the Holy Trinity was revealed in the Old Testament without flesh,
without human nature; He appeared sometimes as an angel and other times as fire. He
Who’s voice was heard by the righteous prophets now comes to earth, clothed in flesh.
This child is the very same God; the very same Divine Logos Who is begotten of the
Father before all time. There never was a time when He did not exist, but He was always
with the Father, eternally begotten of Him and sharing His one essence, together with the
Holy Spirit. This Child that we are preparing to behold – so defenseless, and so dependent
on others to care for Him – is the same Person Who was transfigured in Divine glory on
Mt Tabor. When we speak of “the baby Jesus,” This is Who we are referring to: The
eternal and divine Logos of God, and it is His birth into this world that we will celebrate
on Christmas.
If the Twelve Days of Christmas (originally the days between the birth of Christ and
Epiphany) has been given to us in order to celebrate the birth of Christ, then the forty
days of Advent that come before it are meant to prepare us to celebrate properly. Think of
it this way, if it was announced that a king was coming to your house for dinner in a
month’s time, wouldn’t you begin right away with all of the preparations to receive such
a guest? And wouldn’t you even complain that one month was not enough time to do all
that would need to be done? Well, on Christmas, in a spiritual manner of speaking, we
will be receiving a king – the King of Glory. How much more should we prepare the
room of our heart to receive the Master of All? This is what Advent is: a time to prepare
the “cave” or “manger” of our heart to receive the Savior. To do this we abstain from
certain foods, while increasing our prayer life and almsgiving – not because God needs it
– but because we do! These practices are pleasing to God, when they are done in His
Name, and collectively they purify our hearts of self-centeredness, pride, and all the other
things that separate us from Him. So I wish you all a good and profitable Advent! May
the King of Glory, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and Son of God, make each of
us worthy to receive Him into our heart and celebrate His birth in a manner that is worthy of His Glory. Amen.

Merry Christmas Church Visits Readers

The stores are closing or will be shortly.  Services all over town are starting. Another Christmas/Advent season will soon be a distant memory.  As we close out Advent and begin Christmas, I’d like to share a quote from my favorite theologian, Walter Brueggemann. In his new book, Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent, sharing thoughts about Christmas Eve he writes, “The gift of Christmas contradicts everything we sense about our own life. Our world feels unsavable, and here is the baby named Jesus, “Save.” Our world and our lives often feel abandoned and here is the baby named Immanuel, “God with us.” Be ready to have your sense of the world contradicted by this gift from God. Rest on the new promise from the angel that you may be safe and whole and generous.”

May the blessings of this wonderful gift attend your Christmas celebrations and continue into the new year.

Merry Christmas!

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com
churchvisits.com