Advent, from “adventus” in Latin meaning “coming,” is the season of the four Sundays and weekdays leading up to Christmas. It is a season of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and a preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.
The Advent season reminds us that the church is in its “last days.” As God’s people wait for the return of Christ, the “Second Coming,” the church looks back upon Christ’s First Coming in celebration. This tension of living in anticipation of the return of Christ while at the same time celebrating his incarnation is at the heart of Advent.
To balance both the remembrance and anticipation experience during the season, the first two Sundays in Advent (Dec. 3 to Dec. 10) look forward to Christ’s second coming while the last two Sundays (Dec. 17 to Dec. 24) look backward to remember Christ’s first coming. From Dec. 3 through Dec. 10, the scripture readings focus on prophecies of Christ’s coming and return in judgment, while readings for Dec. 17 through Dec. 24 focus on preparations for the Nativity of the Lord at Christmas, according to Christianity.
The season of Advent affords us many opportunities to reflect and celebrate. Fasting is encouraged throughout Advent as an act of humility and service to God. Abstaining from food or some foods for some period (you choose) is a physical sacrifice; an unavoidable reminder of who we are and to whom we belong.
The third Sunday of Advent (known as Gaudete Sunday) is commonly marked by the use of rose-colored candles and vestments, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
During the holiday season, priests wear purple or blue and churches may include a more modestly decorated altar.
In Church (and you can make or buy one for your home) we add the Advent Wreath to our worship. The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839 when a Lutheran minister working at a mission for children created a wreath using a wheel of a cart. He placed twenty small red candles around the wheel and four large white candles inside the center. The red candles were lit on weekdays and the white candles were lit on Sundays. Not having any spare cart wheels lying around, we have simplified this to four candles: three blue and one rose (pink) representing Advent Sundays, and one white candle at the center for the Birth of Jesus.
With a circle frame to hold them, the Advent Wreath frame is covered by evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. The wreath reminds us of God’s unending love and the gift of eternal life he makes possible. Sometimes additional decorations like holly and berries are added, their red color pointing ahead to Jesus’ sacrifice and death; or pinecones, symbolizing the new life Jesus brings through his resurrection.
The blue candles symbolize the prayer, penance, preparatory sacrifices, and good works undertaken during this time. The rose candle is lit on the Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing, to celebrate the faithful reaching the midpoint of Advent and the proximity of Christmas. Liturgically, the four candles represent hope, faith, joy, and peace and are lit in an order that symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding the lord’s first coming into the world and anticipation of his second coming. The fifth white candle in the middle of the wreath, lit on Christmas Day, celebrates Jesus’ birth.
As a tradition, a display representing the Nativity is placed near the Altar. A Nativity is a wonderful reminder of the harsh reality of the world Jesus was born. It also reminds us of the hope God has for us and the innocence and purity of the love God gives. A Chrismon Tree is also placed near the Altar, the witness of which is described by Mrs. Harry W. Spencer, the creator of this tradition:
“I realized Christmas was the birthday of the Christ Child. Let us honor the Child, the Person He is…it occurred to me that by using these early symbols of our faith to decorate the tree, we would bring out distinctly the real reason we celebrate this day of the year. I hoped such a tree would not only be worthy of being placed in the Lord’s house, but would also contribute to the spirit of worship in this holy seasons.”
“Chrismon” (Kriz’mon) is a combination of parts of two words: CHRISt and MONogram. A Chrismon is just that, a monogram of Christ. Originally all Chrismon were made in a combination of white and gold. White, the liturgical color for Christmas, refers to our Lord’s purity and perfection; the gold, to His majesty and glory. While this full expression is in the Church, you too could dedicate a portion of your Christmas tree to reflect this tradition.
The Advent season invites us to step away from what can be a frenzied time of parties, shopping, and holiday noise to consider how we commemorate the Birth of Jesus and to reflect on the triumphant return of Jesus at the Second Coming.
Anticipating the beautiful Blue of Advent,
Dominican friar, philosopher, scientist, bishop, saint
and Doctor of the Church
“The one who cleaves to God is indeed translated into the light, while the one who clings to the world is in the dark. So our supreme perfection in this life is to be so united to God that all our soul with all its faculties and powers are so gathered into the Lord God that we become one spirit with him, and remember nothing except God, aware of and recognizing nothing but God.”—Saint Albert the Great
Albert was born in Germany in 1206. His family home was a castle and he could afford the best education—even the new universities that were being opened throughout Europe. Albertus was interested in everything. He was fascinated by the relationship between faith and science. He studied astronomy and biology and loved logic and math. He pored over maps and hiked in the mountains to learn more about geography. He was the kind of student who challenged teachers to prepare lessons that satisfied his need to learn. When Albert graduated, he joined the Dominican order over his family’s objections.
This great student became an even greater teacher. He taught at the universities of Paris and Cologne. One of his most famous students was Thomas Aquinas, who was later canonized as a saint. We believe that Thomas’ study of philosophy with Albert helped prepare Thomas to write his famous theology books which are still studied today.
Albert also helped Thomas in another important way. Thomas was a large man and very shy. People called him a “dumb ox,” but Albert said that if Thomas was an ox, he was one whose bellow would be heard throughout the world. Albert helped Thomas to understand that God had given him the gift of intelligence he could use to help others know and love the Catholic faith. Albert built up Thomas’ self-confidence so that he could believe in his own talents.
The people of his time (priests, Church officials, professors, students, and even kings) gave Albert the nickname “the Great” (Magnus), a rare honor among the living. Albert was also referred to as a "doctor universalis," which refers to the extensive knowledge - today we would say encyclopedic, of this Dominican Friar; and “Doctor expertus” for the depth of his knowledge on single topics. An authority on the natural sciences, Albert carried out botanical, mineralogical, and metallurgical studies, becoming known for his systematic descriptions and alchemical experiments, such as the pure representation of arsenic. These achievements established him as one of the most important medieval natural scientists.
No other scholar of the 13th century surpassed Albert in the universality of interests, knowledge, and intellectual output. As a scientist, he strengthened the philosophical foundation of theology and advocated a philosophy independent of theology. As a theologian, he laid the foundations for reconciling Aristotelian philosophy with the Christian faith and illuminated pathways to God through self-awareness.
Albert was made a bishop in Germany, but he resigned after only a few years. He was an adviser to the pope but asked to return to science, to learning, and teaching. Albert died at the age of 74, leaving behind a treasury of 38 books and 70 treatises; about 22,000 printed pages, to help us better understand the world God created for us to care for and to use wisely.
Search “Albert the Great” on YouTube and enjoy one of his many books now in audio form.
The Saints of the church can teach and inspire us to seek a deeper relationship with God. Be inspired.
Learning and growing,
"Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you." - Hebrews 6:14
Dear Creator Family,
I certainly don’t want to start with “fear” in a letter about Thanksgiving and stewardship, but that is, perhaps, a realistic place to begin. In a recent conversation with a colleague, the topic turned (as it does these days) to church attendance. Expressing trepidation and fatigue, my colleague coined a new word: “smallifying.” We shared a bit of a chuckle and also a deeper sorrow at the trends in parish life and participation. Each year, the harvest is smaller.
The trends in our Church are mirrored by churches across the Dioceses and the nation. That being said, though, it does little to change the way we feel. Confusion, trepidation, reticence, fear—all of these emotions have been shared with me in conversations like the one I spoke of. In the face of what we are now calling the “new normal,” how do we rise above and overcome these negative and bewildering thoughts?
As people of faith we are called, not to culture and the fears it fosters, but to the Heavenly realm where the peace of God sustains all. God is not curtailed or discouraged by the fleeting “chances and changes” of this world. God’s presence is eternal and changeless, and God invites us into God’s own changelessness through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Though it’s not always easy, we need not be wearied, but rather filled with joy as we praise God in Christ Jesus for all that we are and all that we have received!
Remember that the earliest stories of the Bible speak of God doing one of two things: multiplying or saving. God multiples our days; doubles our companions; prospers our labors; and numbers our loved ones as the stars. And then, whenever we’ve squandered or hoarded, neglected or idolized, forgotten the promise, or relinquished the birthright, God moves in salvific ways to preserve and protect. Why would it be any different for us?
We ask, what does the world hold in store for Creator? Instead, we can choose to proclaim, “Through whatever comes I will hold fast to my faith and proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor!” There’s a reason we are the Church of the Creator. We are God’s own creation, and we are loved and cared for regardless of worldly circumstances. The shadow of failure, fear, and destruction is obliterated by the blazing Light of Christ, and it is in that light we stand.
We do not know what will happen in the world next year but do know that we will overcome through the love of Christ. Our faith is not dictated by trends or manipulated by opinion; our faith is a gift from the God who is the same today, tomorrow, and forever more. In the face of that which confronts us we proclaim Christ Crucified! Christ Raised! Christ Ascended! Christ with US! We will not trade our faith for fear or compromise our Savior for appeasement.
As we enter the new year our plans have not changed. We are the hands and feet of Christ, and God’s witness of love and life to all who are in need or distress. We give of ourselves, not in response to the world—in hopeless resignation, but as proclamation to God: affirming and in thanksgiving for all that God has blessed us with.
We will be passing out Stewardship Cards this Sunday and will celebrate our new year’s commitment on the First Sunday in Advent, December 3rd at the 10:30 service. A financial commitment to our parish is the way we lay down fear and take an active role in prospering our parish to do what Christ has commanded and commissioned us for: to love and serve in His name. It’s also, literally and frankly speaking, how we operate at all. With the stated promises of its parishioners, a parish finance committee meets and lays out the possibilities for the coming year. It goes without saying that we have a fish- and loaf-multiplying God. It goes without saying that faith as small as a mustard seed moves mountains. But I say in that case, let us give freely and wholeheartedly and with the full expectation that God will multiply even the smallest pledge. If you prefer to make your pledge online, please CLICK HERE.
God’s presence is eternal and changeless, and God invites us into God’s own changelessness. It is from this place of love and promise that we reach out in God’s name. Let there be nothing small about our gratitude. Let there be nothing small in our giving. As you prayerfully consider your Stewardship commitment this year, remember what Jesus told us, “It is I, be not afraid.”
Steadfast in Christ,
What is peace? Where do we find it, and how can we achieve it? These are good questions, but in the asking, we find the answer: nowhere. The peace we are referring to, the peace we think we want, is not peace at all, but simply the absence of conflict. For people of faith, peace is not the absence of conflict, not in the Christian sense. Peace is the actual presence of the Holy, the presence of God in our midst. You see, Jesus doesn’t promise us the peace we understand—that is the lie. He promises us peace beyond our understanding—that is the gift.
Sadly, over time, as we grow to accept the “the lack of conflict is peace” lie, the whole of our lives must compensate. This compensation is an acceptance of something that is not, and the damage it causes spirals out far from the lie that bore it. Like mold or fungus growing in the dark slowly covering and corrupting as it consumes, the lie spreads and demands surrender of any opposing view. As a result, a slow dumbing down of all the words of Christ begins: first as skepticism and in the end, unbelief. Bred by disappointment, the inward disquietude produced by the lie, the words become meaningless. This infection of distrust and disbelief dominates our spiritual life and soon, without realizing it, we are saying to ourselves (and others) that the Gospel is all metaphor or that it simply does not apply to us.
The truth is that Jesus promised us miraculous gifts and they are ours for the taking, but we must be able to recognize them in order to receive them; to be able to read the directions in order to comprehend them; to be willing to follow in trust, not to forge ahead on our own. The “dumbing down” of Jesus—His life and His words—must be fought with everything we have, every fiber of our being.
To accept His peace, we must stop trying to dictate the manner in which we will receive it. The truth is, we want it on our terms and in a manner that pleases us with as little effort as possible, but that is not how God has chosen to give His gifts. If we put as much effort into our lives in Christ as we do into our avoidance techniques; if we expend as much energy in our search for greater depth in God as we do suppressing our emotions during those periods of “lack of conflict,” then we would have all that we so desire—and more, more than we can understand.
What to do? Whether you are faithfully waiting, teetering on the edge, or have fallen to that place of unbelief, “The first step in solving the problem is recognizing it exists” (Zig Zigler). Truly seeking the “Peace which passes all understanding” requires we allow God’s peace to be more than what you know, have read, or experienced. You must accept and embrace your fear and disappointment and acknowledge the lie for what it is. Once you have admitted the slow and subtle misdirection, the usurpation of your hope, and the misdirection of your effort, then you will be free and able to accept what God so freely gives.
C.S. Lewis was fond of saying that if we live a certain way, we will soon be the way we live. The lack of conflict is not peace, and peace is not an effort of will. Seeking to deepen our lives in Christ, living the peace of Christ in the midst of our lives, the days of settling will be a part of the disquieted past, and the rest of His words, no longer regarded as metaphor, will ring with divine truth—and peace.
In the Peace of Christ,
Father Bill Burk†