May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
The season of Advent, the first season of the church year, began this past Sunday, November 28. The season of Advent encompasses the four Sundays and weekdays leading up to the celebration of Christmas. Advent is the season of preparation as we open our hearts and minds to embrace anew the meaning of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem of Judea.
As we enter into Advent or any church season, we are called to meditate on the meaning of the season and apply our findings to our lives. In Lent, for example, I realize as I meditate on Christ’s amazing patience in the face of persecution and betrayal, that I am not a patient person. Staying true to my meditation and the intention of Lent, I would then need to commit myself to cultivating patience. More often than not, to initiate change in our lives we require special tools and a break in the regular pattern of life. Advent is the change in the pattern and the tools of change are the images of Scripture, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the depth of my relationship with Christ, the practices of the church, and my willingness to grow and change.
One very meaningful symbol (tool) of Advent, to help with this process of growth and spiritual development is the Advent Wreath. The use of the wreath and candles during Advent is a longstanding Christian tradition originally adopted by Christians in the Middle Ages as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. The wreath and candles are full of symbolism tied to the Christmas season. The wreath itself, a ring of various evergreens, signifies continuous life. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life we find in Christ.
Even the individual evergreens that may make up the wreath have their own meanings on which we can draw significance. The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering. The pine, holly, and yew signify immortality and the cedar signifies strength and healing. The pine cones that decorate the wreath symbolize life and resurrection. The wreath as a whole is meant to remind us of both the immortality of our souls and of God’s promise of everlasting life through Christ.
The candles also have their own special significance. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent with one new candle lit each Sunday. At present in our parish, all four candles are royal blue. Royal Blue is the color of royalty to welcome the coming of a King. It also symbolizes the vast night sky filled with stars, yet punctuated by a new star to herald in the new creation. If you’ve ever seen an authentically painted ceiling in one of the French medieval churches (The Cathedral at Chartres or la Sainte Chapelle come to mind), then the vibrant blue is even punctuated with gold stars. The color further symbolizes the waters of Genesis 1, over which the Holy Spirit moved and the Word spoke all things into being. Aren’t we blessed to have this extra meaningful color behind our altar at Advent this year?
The first candle symbolizes hope. It is sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, especially Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. It represents the expectation and anticipation of the coming Messiah.
The second candle represents faith and love. It is called the “Bethlehem Candle” as a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
The third candle symbolizes joy. It is called the “Shepherd’s Candle,” and may be rose-colored because rose is a liturgical color for joy. The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday and is meant to remind us of the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus, as well as the joy that the faithful have reached the midpoint of Advent.
On the fourth week of Advent, we light the final blue candle to mark the final week of prayer and anticipation as we wait for the birth of our Savior. This final candle, the “Angel’s Candle,” symbolizes peace. It reminds us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
On Christmas Eve, the candle at the center of the wreath is lit. This candle is white and is called the “Christ Candle.” White represents the life of Christ, pure and holy because Christ is our sinless, pure Savior.
The light of the flickering candle flames reminds us who Jesus is: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all human kind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).
Far from simply a decoration or a simple liturgical tradition, the Advent Wreath is a tool designed to dig us out of our ‘comfortable state’. This year, in Church and at home, meditate on the wreath—all the parts of the wreath. Allow God to illumine your heart and brighten your soul with hope, love, joy, and peace, so that the symbolism of the wreath will lead you into a deeper understanding and love of our incarnate Lord.
Hope in Christ,
“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1Thes. 5:18)
The famous landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1621 was followed by a celebratory meal, Thanksgiving, in which new friends were made and hope was restored. This feast lasted three days, and as recounted by pilgrim Edward Winslow, who said it “was attended by 90 Wampanoag Indians and 53 Pilgrims.” Most Americans recall this “first Thanksgiving” with pride, as an icon of where-with-all and the example of working together in peace. After a tragic winter of death and fear, the kindness and generosity of the native peoples made this thanksgiving a true salvation meal.
But there was another “First Thanksgiving”!
In the 1600s, every nationally sponsored ship of exploration and discovery bore the responsibility to honor God when success was at hand and petition God when trouble was near. The Christian faith was as much a staple of colonization as the sails were a part of the ship. Our some-time tragic history of forced conversions and purges bears the sad witness that our faith was often proclaimed by those who had little understanding of what Christianity is truly about. Still, no matter what came next, every ship’s landing was inaugurated by a liturgical moment of prayer and proclamation, a thanksgiving for God’s divine provision.
It was on December 4, 1619, that the Good Ship Margaret landed at what is now Berkeley Plantation with 35 settlers-to-be. Upon landing, Captain John Woodlief, the crew, and passengers, per instructions from the Virginia Company, “immediately conducted a religious ceremony of Thanksgiving.” This was not a feast, there was no cornucopia overflowing with fruits and vegetables, no fat turkey or bowl of cranberry sauce, this was a simple and (hopefully) sincere liturgical moment of devotion and praise. This event is recorded as the “Site of First Thanksgiving” on the historic placard that marks the location of the landing, but was this really the First Thanksgiving?
On April 26, 1907, Captain Gabrill Archer and 105 settlers touched ground at “First Landing” and named it Cape Henry, in honor of King James' eldest son, Prince Henry. Before leaving the Cape for their next landing (what would become Jamestown), the Reverend Robert Hunt conducted a service of ‘thanksgiving to God for deliverance and divine providence. Settler George Percy, wrote, "The nine and twentieth day we set up a Crosse at Chesupioc Bay, and named the place Cape Henry." A copy of that Cross remains there to this day. For no other reason than to give thanks, this was First Thanksgiving. Or was it?
There is no doubt that we have room for all three of these Thanksgiving accounts. The simple beauty and directness of the Virginia landing Thanksgiving speaks to faith responding directly to God from a gathered community. The celebration Thanksgiving of Plymouth tells of faith in action reaching beyond itself to embrace the possibility yet unhoped-for. The common thread that binds these two is the belief that God is sovereign and present, caring, and leading, ever guiding us for the good.
Thanksgiving has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, with a proclamation by President George Washington after a request by Congress. It was Abraham Lincoln who, in 1863, proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," calling on the American people to also, "with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience ... fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation...". Lincoln declared it to take place on the last Thursday in November.
However your family chooses to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, with turkey or order-out-Chinese, surrounded by loved ones or blissfully binging on Netflix, this national holiday with all its accumulation should ever be first and foremost a celebration of God’s divine provision. Every day is thanksgiving day to God; Thanksgiving Day is no exception.
“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1Thes. 5:18)
Dear Creator Family,
This past year we have had to make some sad adjustments to long-held plans. Variations in worship, restrictions to meetings, precautions when gathering, and canceling the Yard Sale have all taken a toll on our collective joy and maybe even our optimism about what comes next. It is natural when in the midst of a crisis, to focus on the crisis; in fact, one could say that that is the only way to meet a crisis—head-on! But in truth, the answer to any crisis is not found in the crisis at all, but outside of it, and it takes looking outside to clearly see the answer.
When we canceled the Yard Sale for COVID precautions, we had to turn outside to deal with our stockpile of items. This led us to partner with Redeemer Roman Catholic Church to strengthen their fundraising Yard Sale supporting Christian relief for the people of Haiti. We were also led to an organization called Fix Ministry, which runs a thrift shop for battered woman’s support; a vital and underappreciated need. In reality, our “crisis of stuff” has been used by God to relieve pain and suffering and provide hope and promise to more people than we can imagine. Looking outside of our Parish Family, through the lens of our disappointment, we find God clearly guiding and directing the outcome. Has this not been so for all the disappointments and crises of the past year? Look closely. Do you see that God has always been there, waiting for us to look outside ourselves to find his presence and peace?
The Parish Hall clean-out has taken much longer than we hoped (remember the old saying, “Everything takes longer than it takes!”), but God has taken the glory from failure and used this time to help others in ways we couldn’t imagine. And God has also helped us redeem and transform our loss into a new direction for our own parish. Now is the time for us to rally behind this good fortune and complete the work we started before the pandemic, a time when God was calling us to large actions and bold living!
Several months ago, the Vision Committee met and proposed bold actions to match the opportunity we have been given, now is the time to start the next phase. First step? It’s very tangible and very big: We need to restore and repurpose our Parish Hall (pre-yard sale stuff) as you would your own home, starting with a final clearing of the remainders of yard sale goods (small by comparison if you witnessed the “mountain” accruing over the past two seasons), and a deep clean of a place we care deeply about. We need to prepare our building for use: a place of hospitality and welcome for outside groups; for our congregation’s fellowship, ministries, parish administration, and educational purposes; for God’s yet-to-be-realized plans already moving in our midst. There are other ministry opportunities for our Parish Hall and God is calling us to make these opportunities a reality! Will you help to further this work, this ministry? Can we learn from the unexpected blessings God has given us through others to anticipate—no, expect those blessings again and again?
Out of one ending, we find a new beginning: an opportunity to be a co-Creator with God, looking outside while working inside as we live in God’s plan. Please pray for the efforts ahead, and most importantly, find your niche within them.
Faithfully in Christ,
This letter is from Jenny Burk. Fr. Bill's+ continuing series on the Eucharist will return next week.
Dear Creator Family -
In our alternating Bible Study this fall, the Sunday morning class is studying Hebrews, as fine a book as any for building our faith and bringing us closer to God during troubled and unpredictable times. Part letter, part sermon, the exhortation to “keep the faith” was likely written by someone versed in Hebrew scriptures and deeply invested in keeping a first-century community from falling away from the new Gospel of Jesus. Though scholars cannot pinpoint the authorship of this book, they are pretty sure from textual clues that it was written before the destruction of the Temple occurring in 70 AD to a community that was suffering a crisis of the faith, likely on account of rampant persecution of Christians at that time.
Throughout the Book, much of the spotlight stays on Jesus and his work on the Cross. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation, the great high priest whose oblation (pouring out) has reunited God to God’s people. In so doing Christ has made obsolete the legal system of atonement that had been in place for thousands of years: instead of ritual sacrifices meted out for tallied sins according to very specific laws (try reading through Leviticus if you like!), Jesus—God’s only begotten son and incarnation, against a spectacular imbalance (perfect sinlessness for a fallen world), gave his life willingly (and not only willingly but in love) for the sins of all for all time.
This is an unimaginable equation. More offensive to the human psyche is the perfect completion of that which was promised: God’s work is finished in Christ. The atonement is not ongoing. It is finished, said Christ from the Cross. He is risen, proclaim we on Easter morning. I used to tell the Sunday school kids the reason we worship beneath an empty cross (rather than a crucifix of the martyred savior) is because we are people of the empty tomb. He is risen. It is a done deed. Nothing more can be added to the salvation promised by God and effected in his son, Jesus Christ. My favorite lines in all of scripture: (The “two men” to Mary and other women at the vacant tomb; Luke 24:5): Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen, just as he said.... The verb tense used in these beloved and theologically significant lines of scripture? Present perfect.
That’s an important base point for the theology of Hebrews to the individual believer. It means, for you and me, that you are forgiven through Christ, literally, essentially, and eternally. When we die with Christ in baptism, we are united with Christ and made one (at-one-ment) with God. When we live by faithful weeks, days, months, and moments, we activate that salvation to take effect in our hearts and thereby usher in the Kingdom one little life at a time. As Christian believers and liv-ers, we are in the world but not of the world. We are not “here,” so to speak, because we have been remade.
So, Hebrews is a good one to study if you want to know who Christ is. We used to air a VeggieTales video in the church nursery called “God is Bigger than the Boogieman.” In Hebrews, Jesus is superior to the angels, superior to Moses (a biggie in the Jewish faith and tradition), more permanent and effective than any of the former prophets for spelling out God’s Revelation. Jesus, the Word made flesh, both deliver the message of salvation and ushers it in. The book of Hebrews thus deals intimately in the mystery of the Incarnation (how God can, actually, “be” enfleshed) and has been used through the centuries to hammer out that theology (and hammer on those who wouldn’t agree). The take-home once again lies in this book’s stress on the completed act of salvation: having accomplished that which no other leader/teacher/priest or prophet could do, Jesus then “sat down,” demonstrating that the work of salvation was complete. Moreover, where he sat was at the right hand of God, restoring to the godhead Christ’s place of honor and authority.
Finally, the book is a good one if you want to know who you are—in the eyes of Christ and the heart of God. You are his beloved, the one on whose behalf this unimaginable satisfaction was made. You are the “ones who are made holy” by Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice. In this way, you/we have been set apart, “saved,” if you will, not for later but for right here and now—to live into our salvation by accepting its great impossibility and mystery, and by trusting in the Lord who has done this work for us and in us. You have all the faith you’re ever going to get. You’re not going to earn or acquire more of your own effort or initiative. We’re certainly not going to merit more (Thank you, Pelagius). We may, throughout life’s stations, feel weaker or stronger in the faith, closer or further away from God, but it is not God who has failed, for we are filled with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own. Forever. That’s our one-way ticket right there. And it is fully and already given in Christ. Freed from the old covenant and baptized into the new, we like Christ are dead to sin and alive to the ever-present hope and glory of God. Take it, says the writer in the book of Hebrews. For goodness’ sake, take it and live it!
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†