As we continue through the season of Advent, PS Portions asked students, staff, and alumni to share their reflections on the season. Here are several, and you’ll find Dr. Erik Heen’s in this month’s Faculty Reflection. Feel free to add your own in the Comments area.
I love Advent!
by The Rev. Jay Mitchell, MDiv 2014
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Advent.
I mean, I love it! Love, love, love it! The chillier air (for which I’m grateful under all those layers of polyester), the brighter mornings, the growing glow of the Advent wreath, the rich hymnody, the blue paraments.
And I recognize the preparations to be made, plans to be confirmed, bulletins to print, hymns to choose, worship assistants to schedule, candles to trim, heaters to control, organs and pianos to tune, choirs to rehearse. Sure there is anxiety about dinners and receptions and Christmas cards. Sure there are mountains of bulletins to craft, proof, print, fold, stuff — 10 from the First Sunday of Advent to the Second Sunday of Christmas here at Christ Ascension. Sure there seem to be never ending distractions for this time.
But I love Advent. A whole list of reasons and none of them have ever quite put a finger on exactly why. And then. Then, this year as our altar guild prepared the altar for Advent after Christ the King worship, it struck me. Emblazoned across our altar — on fabulous blue paraments — is the refrain of Advent. And it struck me: just why I love Advent.
Advent is the most honest of our liturgical seasons. It gets to the very heart of what it means to be a Jesus-follower, just what our call is as Christians. Advent has as its refrain the deepest prayer of the heart, the most treasured pleading of the heart: Come, Lord Jesus…and quickly! And there it was emblazoned across the altar.
Come, Lord Jesus…
That is why I love Advent. As I look around me in this low valley, on this crooked path, in this shadowy wilderness: Come, Lord Jesus. The shadows take shape: millions of people shredding their bodies on barbed wire and whitecaps just to be able to live and being greeted with xenophobia and hatred. And the shadows grow darker stained with the blood of people abused and killed for the color of their skin or the ways in which they worship. The wilderness seems to get more expansive: people turning away from one another, seeking their own good, distances themselves for their neighbors. The valley gets deeper, or maybe it just seems that way as the bodies pile higher from senseless violence and unchecked arms ownership. The path gets more crooked and confusing as we wend between rhetoric and ideology, between rights and responsibilities, between compassion and self-centeredness. And here in this low valley on this crooked path, in this shadowy wilderness: Come, Lord Jesus.
It is the deepest, most honest prayer of our hearts. And for good reason.
When we lift our heads, when we look to the coming dawn, when we steal glimpses of that wretched stable in that forgotten town, when we expect that God has worked, is at work, will work to fulfill the promises of time, we cannot help but plead again, Come, Lord Jesus. Because we are just making a mess of it. Even our best laid plans to prepare the way, to live in your promises, to share the light and warmth and love you bring to this dark shadowy valley fall short.
I love Advent. It’s a chance once again to deliberately, intentionally, prayerfully, deeply repeat the refrain of our hearts: Come, Lord Jesus…and if at all possible, hurry it up!
The Rev. Jay Mitchell, MDiv 2015, is Pastor at Christ Ascension Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Clinging to Advent Hope
by Seminarian Lindsey Beukelman
Although it is the beginning of a new church year, it is the end of another semester at LTSP. Even as I outwardly proclaim the beautiful waiting and longing of Advent, I find it hard to quiet my soul from the frantic pace of final exams, projects, and papers. In the swirling of expectations, deadlines, and self-doubt, I find it easiest to cling to the hope that the semester will soon be done.
It is with this restless heart that I walked into chapel on a recent Monday evening to do my sacristan duties and prepare for Holden Evening Prayer. I rearranged chairs for our smaller expected crowd. I made sure the musician and the student boldly leading for the first time felt comfortable and had what they needed. I greeted people as they began to arrive to the darkened sanctuary. As we began worship, I carried in the light hearing the sung prayer.
Let your light scatter the darkness
and shine within your people here.
We continued to sing about our longing to encounter God and I noticed the chairs steadily filling, with more being added to accommodate all those seeking some Advent quiet for their soul. Surrounded by the flickering candlelight, I heard the strong, gentle voices of my classmates and professors singing and hoping alongside me. As we reached the Magnificat, I felt Mary’s powerful words wash over me.
My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices with you,
You have looked with love on your servant here,
and blessed me all my life through.
It felt like a prayer of thankful defiance. In the midst of the darkness of our world and our lives, we stood together to claim God’s love actively lighting our surroundings. Darkness will not win. In the slow, sung prayers of Advent longing, God again spoke peace into my fearful heart. This doesn’t magically complete my papers or end the cycle of stress over my projects. But I am reminded of God’s faithful presence within me and around me as I work carry the light of love found swaddled in a manger to a dark world. Now, that is a hope worth clinging to!
Seminarian Lindsey Beukelman is a student in the MDiv program and anticipates graduation in 2018. She serves as a sacristan for LTSP’s Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel.
It is not the end of the world
“It is not the end of the world.” What a great phrase. We toss these words around during those moments when things just aren’t going our way.
“It is not the end of the world” is what I said when I received my summons for jury duty.
“It is not the end of the world” is what I said when I accidentally booked a flight with a 15-hour layover.
“It is not the end of the world” is what I said when my one-year old son put an entire roll of toilet paper in the toilet.
We use this phrase at moments in life that really annoy us but ultimately aren’t that bad. The “End of the World” is viewed as the worst thing that could possibly happen and so daylong layovers, and wasted toilet paper just aren’t that bad comparatively. Reminding ourselves “It is not the end of the world” can be a very helpful mantra that allows us to keep life’s annoyances in perspective.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this popular phrase because many of the Gospel readings assigned during the Advent season deal with the end of the world. During Advent we read about the sun being darkened, the moon not giving off light, and stars falling from the sky.
Obviously, these readings create a stark contrast with the commercial side of the holiday season with all its upbeat songs and twinkling lights. Long ago these merry, jolly, commercial elements of the holiday season usurped the more subdued and contemplative nature of Advent, but that’s not the end of the world, right?
Right. The secular, commercialized understanding of this time of year does not see the upcoming holiday as the end of the world. For most people Christmas is nothing more than Santa, elves, reindeer, jingle bells, and egg nog.
Unless, of course, you’re a Christian.
If you’re a Christian than Christmas is a holiday that’s meant to celebrate God becoming human for our sake. It’s a holiday that celebrates the world as we know it ending and a new way of life being born. God is coming to be with us in the person of Jesus and this is a bold, world-changing claim that is powerful enough to change our current reality.
As I think through the events of this past year I am quickly filled with despair. The terrorist attacks and mass shootings; the racially fueled violence and riots; the injustice towards minorities both domestic and abroad; it all leaves me feeling hopeless. But this year, more than ever, I have embraced this Advent season and the invitation to look towards the future with hope. I’ve been looking ahead toward Christmas hoping that in some way, we (myself included) might catch a fuller picture of Christ’s incarnation and be inspired to not only bring about an end to the current ways of the world, but also to usher in a new reality where Christ’s ways of peace, acceptance, and love guide us each day.
The Rev. Nate Preisinger is Associate Director of Admissions at LTSP.