In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
~ John 1: 1-5
Alleluia! Christ is come! Bells are ringing this day! This is the day we raise our voices with shouts of joy, “For unto us is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord!” This is the day that unites and renews us. We join in our favorite traditions, so familiar and yet new again as if for the first time this year.
This past year we have known about despair. We have known about deep loss and about dark, endless nights. We have known about being so afraid that we have sometimes forgotten how to breathe. And it is into this place, this tender and vulnerable place that Christ enters. It is here into this darkest place that Christ’s light come: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Here in John’s gospel the One who has been long awaited, the One promised is not born in some far away land, in a long ago time. This Word-made-Flesh is born in us this day. This day is celebrated all around the world, lest we ever forget, because the love that is come is here, is now with us and in us. And so we sing this day, a song that resonates through the centuries and is born in us this day: “Hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as (human) with (all) to dwell Jesus, our Emmanuel. Hark! The herald angels sing: "Glory to the newborn King!"
Breath prayer: "Our light is shining" "Alleluia"
Prayer: Alleluia! We give thanks this day for your loving-kindness. May this light shine in and through us this day and always. In your glorious name we pray, Amen.
Season of Love
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.
~ (full reading Isaiah 9:2-7)
This is truly a night of song. Alleluias surround and hold us. Love is in the air, as close as our next breaths.
Christmas caroling has always been one of my favorite holiday traditions. Growing up in Illinois on Christmas Eve there would be a group of us, young ones and older ones gathering to carol. Friends and family would gather at somebody’s house and we’d traipse out together. We would be bundled up and we’d go crunching out through the snow. We’d go door-to-door, walking up to someone’s porch and somebody would start singing and time would stand still:
“Silent night, holy night all is calm all is bright;”
“It came upon a midnight clear that glorious song of old, with angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold;”
“Hark the Herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king!”
“O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie.”
No songbooks, we just sang the verses we knew. And the harmonies…the harmonies set me free. It was usually so cold you could see one another’s breath and everything was so quiet except for the singing. I’d look up at the starry night and know that this was what love felt like.
Isaiah’s words ring true on this holy night: “the people walked in darkness have seen a great light…” Somehow on this night the stars shine a bit brighter. On this night the harmony of the singing brings hope for a greater harmony living on. On this night as we listen out for a baby’s cry we feel God’s lovingkindness and believe again.
Breath prayer: “Unto us” “a child is born”
Prayer: On this holy night, O loving God, our hearts turn with great joy to you. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us, we pray. O holy One we are so very thankful. Amen.
One of the gifts of following the moon for her 29 day journey is the recognition of grace along the way. As we turn from the evenings with the lost light toward the darker nights, we are reminded to hold on. These nights are individual and particular in their lessons. These nights take us to places where we fear we may be lost. And so we journey on, continuing to be taught and reminded of what we may already know.
Relying on the Moon: Companioning Grief for 29 Days (adapted) by Lesley Brogan
On this Eve of Christmas Eve my heart feels like it’s settling in. I feel as though I’m coming to understand the gifts of this waiting time. It’s like being on a train ride. Back at the station when we started there was beginning words and feelings: “Am I ready?” “Do I have everything I need?” “Shouldn’t I wait and finish this and that and those first?” All those beginning distractions accompanied us back at Advent’s beginning. But this day feels different. Almost, almost.
Of the four quarters of the moon, the Waning Moon is my most challenging. It is the quarter moon that tells us that the nights are growing darker, that there will be less light to guide us along the way. Our eyes and minds tell us one thing, but our hearts yearn for something else, long for something else. We are seeking more light along the way to guide us.
And maybe that’s part of the truth about the Eve of Christmas Eve. It’s not yet here. It's easy for us to forget that there was a time centuries ago, before Christ’s birth when every day and every night felt like this. When will life change? When will God’s promise come? And will I recognize it? Or will I miss it?
This Eve of is such a holy day. The train left the station weeks ago. We have journeyed through words and stories reminding us of God’s intention for peace, God’s hope for us, God’s great plan for joy, the promise of God’s loving presence…prayers all along the way have led us here. And now, this day we begin to sense it. There is a knowing in our hearts that the train’s slowing down, as if we’re nearing our destination.
And here on this day we are reminded that this has been the promise of the entire season. Almost, almost.
Breath prayer: “Come” “holy-day”
Prayer: God of Light, we give you thanks for guiding us each day on this journey. Your loving presence is always with us, called or not. Your faithful care for us is always with us. You call us by name and we are thankful. Amen.
Thanks to Susie for the pictures
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.
~ Isaiah 7: 4 (full reading 10-16)
There is something about the birth of a baby that brings everything else to a halt. Perhaps it’s the miracle of it all. Perhaps it’s the recognition of a new human being arriving here with us. There is the promise of hope and joy swaddled around this new one. The tiny fingers will one day hold onto wonder and possibility. The tiny toes will no doubt step out and travel to places we can only imagine. There is something about the birth of a newborn that whispers an angel’s “alleluia.” It is in this birthing moment that we are reminded of God’s continual YES for God’s children.
These age-old words from Isaiah carry us to a manger in Bethlehem. Throughout this Advent season we have been praying for the One who is to come. For we have been blind and pray to see. We have grown deaf and long to hear the singing of a familiar carol being sung. We have been so very lost, and long for the One who will lead us on.
Emmanuel. This name is above all names. This name we have had on our lips since our first breath. Emmanuel ~ God with us. The One who is coming, whose name is our saving grace. What’s in a name? In this name well, everything.
Breath prayer: “God” “with us”
Prayer: Emmanuel who was, is and will be we give you thanks this day. You are always with us, Alleluia! Amen.
Thanks to Susie (again) for these pictures ~ beautiful
The longest night
noun: winter solstice; plural noun: winter solstices
The solstice marks the onset of winter, at the time of the shortest day, about December 22 in the northern hemisphere and June 21 in the southern hemisphere.
Our friend Gay loved the Winter Solstice. She circled it with a big heart each year on her calendar. For her this day spoke most honestly to her places of hardship and pain. Over her life she’d lost a son and a grandson, had experienced damaged and broken relationships, and had lived in and through many long, long nights. And perhaps that’s why the Solstice held her heart so well.
Years and years ago on this night she gathered friends in a barn, lit candles, and sang all the carols they knew. They sang until they couldn’t sing anymore. On this holy-day Gay wanted her friends close and the candles burning brightly. She knew deep in her bones that tomorrow would come and it would bring more light with it. For this was the darkest night, the longest of the year. Sharing it reminded her that she wasn’t alone. She knew that others carried their own burdens and that together they could light more candles and not curse the (“darn”) darkness. This became an annual event for many of us, a tradition year after year. Many would gather in that little barn, sitting on bales of hay, praying prayers, singing carols and lighting as many candles as we could. And I can still hear the melody and our words echoing down the years:
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Breath prayer: “light” “one candle”
Prayer: Holy God, teach us to pray. Teach us to light a candle or two and to sing until we’ve sung every verse we know. Even on this shortest day, gather us to you, we pray. Amen.
(Here's Susie, how old? I'm guessing 3)
Tenderly, deeply, lovingly tucked in my favorite Christmas memories was the early Christmas morning tradition of waiting. My two sisters and I were instructed to sit at the top of the stairs and wait. And wait. And wait. We were to wait until Mom and Dad said we could come downstairs. Our stairs were in two sections, so we couldn’t (even after many ingenious attempts), we couldn’t see down into the living room from the top of the steps. In the living room, you see were the Christmas tree and the fireplace. In the living room would be the empty plate and milk glass that Santa had shared before jumping back in his sleigh and hurrying off to the next house. Down the stairs and in the living room would be where Santa left his presents for each of us. But there we were every Christmas morning, my sisters and I at the top of the stairs ~ waiting.
For many of us Advent continues to hold that childlike place of waiting at the top of the stairs.
Over the years though, we find that what we are waiting for has shifted. Now we are waiting for things not so much for ourselves, but for others. Often it is the joy we experience when we watch someone open the present we’ve given them. But truth be told, it is so much more than that.
This year it is a cup of cold water for our sisters and brothers in the Philippines and in Sandy Hook; it is a peaceful night with no bombs or bloodshed in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, in Gaza and Bethlehem; and it is a safe place to sleep and something warm to eat for those who are homeless. This year we remember that we are linked arm and arm around the world with those who are younger and older, richer and poorer, darker and lighter- skinned ~ then, then our waiting means so much more. We await the Promised One who will bring us, all of us, we pray peace, joy and love.
Breath prayer: “Come, Jesus” “Come”
Prayer: Loving and life-giving God, we await the One who has been promised. We stand with brothers and sisters who are hurting in the season and we call for your loving-kindness. Come soon, we pray. Come soon. Amen.
Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us
let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation
hope of all the earth Thou art.
Dear desire of every nation
joy of every longing heart.
~ Charles Wesley
Its's hard to get my head around the fact that Charles Wesley’s birthday was yesterday and he would have been 306. And still this year, this day his hymn sings in many of our hearts. "Come Thou long expected Jesus" was first published in 1744. Don’t you wonder what his days and our days share? These words passed down through the centuries continue to somehow come alive with deep understanding. This has always been one of my favorite Advent carols, its words residing deep inside me. From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee. Whether singing these words in community or while walking the dogs around the neighborhood, these words continue to come alive for me. I know them. I know this yearning for release from fear and from my broken places. Even after all this time, these words are my own. Hope of all the earth Thou art. In these words I feel the heartbeat of the Advent season. The One who is coming is One for whom we are all waiting. Not just you or me, but all of us.
There are so many broken places in our institutions and the Church is certainly one. But there is so much life yet in the church. There is hope yet. Nowhere else can we stand together shoulder-to-shoulder and sing life-known songs from a shared hymnal. And when we listen for one another’s voices so that we can together sing harmony….ah, then….then the angels join in singing with us.
Wesley’s words point us toward the One who is coming. In this hymn is the promise found in these final words of the verse, with Christ’s coming there will be joy. Joy found not just for one, but for every longing heart. Alleluia.
Breath Prayer: “Come thou” “long expected Jesus”
Prayer: Holy God, we lift our voices to you this day. As we listen out for the melodies of our sisters and brothers, direct and lead us closer each day to you. And we are ever thankful. Amen.
~ this is another beautiful picture taken by my pre
Now comes the mystery.
~ Henry Ward Beecher
Even on this night after the full moon, we recognize December's darkness that comes, as our nights grow longer. Here at the end of the year, we find ourselves growing nostalgic and tenderly looking over the previous twelve months. Holding on and letting go.
God’s grace enters in here. Advent’s time of listening and watching for what is coming next warms us from the inside out. Now comes the mystery proclaims the message that our hearts long for.
How will we recognize the One who is coming? Will we miss it or will we be able to see? Will it be the biggest and fanciest gift wrapped under the tree? Will it enter with the sound of a mighty trumpet? Or will it be heard in the cooing of doves? Will it be heard in the rustling of a blanket against the hay? Or the blessed whisper of a mother’s song? O come, Emmanuel, come.
Breath prayer: “enter” “in”
Prayer: Eternal God awaken our spirits. As we give thanks for what has been this past year, open our hearts to what is yet to be. Amen.
There are times when we need to get to the heart of the matter, to say what we truly believe. From my years in the church I know one of those times is preaching the Children’s sermon on Sunday mornings. These 3, 4 and 5 year olds taught me that I had to get to the heart of the matter in 38 seconds, or my time was up. Pick a parable, any parable, and try to imagine getting to the heart of the message in 38 seconds. I found it could be done, because I had very emphatic teachers. These young ones were most hungry for the meat, and not at all interested in the buffet portion of the feast.
~ from Relying on the Moon: Companioning Grief for 29 Days
Perhaps faith can best be explained on a Full Moon night. You can see~ even in the dark. This was always an interesting thing to say with my boys as they grew up. They would look at me like I was nutty and say, “Seeing in the dark? No way!” With faith, all things are possible.
Especially in this season children can teach us, if we are paying attention. We have to be clear, succinct, and truthful when talking with them. Young children can tell right away otherwise, at least I know our boys could. They could always tell if I knew what I was talking about, or if I was stalling. Somehow they could always tell.
What are you seeking this Advent? What are you waiting for, looking for even in the dark? Maybe it would be helpful to return to our teachers, our children to find words for this yearning? One who will seek after and find the lost? One who will honor laughter and tears alike? One who will heal our broken places and will promise never to leave us?
Remember those words written by the prophet Isaiah centuries ago? They are still true today. Remember? Sure you do, it went something like this… “and a little child shall lead them…”
Breath prayers: “seeing” “in the dark”
Prayer: Loving God, who brings light to the darkness and love to our most fearful places, remind us we pray to watch, to trust, to live into your promise. Amen.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
~ Christmas Poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
There’s something about the ringing of bells that brings me joy. Always. Always. And somehow it’s a shared appreciation, because our Advent into Christmas season seems to resound with bells ringing. You can hear them at church (thank you, you sweet souls who practice and practice to bring that music alive in the most unique and beautiful ways) and you can hear them on street corners. All ‘round us these bells are ringing out with joy.
Lord Tennyson’s words from the 19th century were familiar to me, but I’d never read the whole Christmas poem until recently. In his verses he speaks today’s truths and longings of today’s hearts. For this Poet Laureate one way to bring all the needed change was to ring out the bells.
Perhaps there’s a lesson for us in this. What can bring needed change brings joy at the same time. What’s stopping us, you and me from trying it out? With joy in our hearts and a resounding gong or a tinkling, a twinkling of what’s possible and next!
Breath prayer: “ringing in” “ringing out”
Prayers: Almighty and everlasting God, teach us this day to join what brings joy with what will bring life-giving change. Teach us delight as you have been delighting in us all our lives. Amen.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.