Advent is magical, in the sense of having a mysterious power to transport us. Its power is complex–part nostalgia, part longing for what is coming, part the beauty of its greens and candles and music, part the wonderful feeling of the community coming together, part the eagerness and joy and hope of children, part the snow in the air and stars in the sky, part the parties and festivities, part the contemplative nature and part the activity of giving and serving those in need, part the old stories of the Bible or favorite children’s books or our family.
Sometimes Advent and Christmas lead us to a place of sadness for what is gone, but in the context of all the parts of Advent in the church, even that sadness can work a magic that transforms our place of devastation and moves us into the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome–the grief is real, but so is the light.
The more time we give to Advent, the more magical it is, so I hope you will consider it a blessing that this first Sunday of Advent will be a longer than usual service, with a ritual of the children bringing the greens and holly and poinsettias forward to decorate the sanctuary, and the lighting of the Advent candle of Hope, and the celebration of communion.
We will hear words of the Prophet Isaiah, and a teaching of Jesus about watching and staying awake taken from the apocalyptic 13th Chapter of Mark’s gospel. The sermon title is “Hope in the Power of Light,” and will explore the hope the scriptures hold out to our time and place, and will revisit Isaac Bashevis Singer’s beloved and moving Hanukkah story, “The Power of Light.”
Music is always important to worship, and in Advent and at Christmas it may be what transports us most. Our pianist and choir director Annemieke McLane has chosen gorgeous music for this Sunday. We will know we are in a new place from the very first notes Annemieke plays before the service begins, the gathering music of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
The Choir will sing an Introit that has been sung in monasteries daily during Advent for over a thousand years, as well as the Anthem, “O Virgo Maria,” by the 20th Century Polish composer, Henryk Górecki. The congregation will sing three of the greatest hymns of the season, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and the Bach harmonized “Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying,” and the communion hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Annemieke will play hauntingly beautiful Advent pieces from JS Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” and Handel’s “Messiah.”
A service to savor in a season to savor! And the icing on the cake (literally) will be special refreshments to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the forming of two congregations into the United Church of Strafford on December 2, 1967.