Advent is only a month away. You get a special gift this Sunday if you love Advent—you get to immerse in the themes and some of the beautiful traditional hymns of the season in advance. You also get a special gift this Sunday if you do not love Advent as you usually experience it, because it can be dramatically better if we prepare ourselves for it.
This Advent Preparation Sunday we will reflect on the coming season to form intentions about the experience we want to have. Intentionality is all-important because the benefits Advent offers are exactly what we need in a rapidly deteriorating and increasingly challenging world. We need what Advent offers for both our personal and communal well being. We need to be intentional about seeking those benefits because our culture does not recognize them and fills December with so many distracting emotions, expectations and events.
What are the benefits? Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. Light. The birth of Christ into our hearts and into the world. We pray that this year the world will heed and make Christ’s wisdom and laws of love the measure of all our human laws and ways, putting an end to a way of life that has proven unsustainable, and providing a solution to poverty, racism, the refugee crisis, oppressive, world-destroying greed, mass extinction and the erosion of freedom and democracy.
Two hundred people or more come to church on Christmas Eve. Many would probably describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” It seems important to translate Advent into terms that they can relate to, describing the practical meaning and benefits in a way that people can appreciate who are turned off by traditional religious language.
For instance, when we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” the word Emmanuel means literally “God with us,” but what does that mean we are asking to have happen? We sing, “And ransom captive Israel,” but we are no longer slaves in Egypt or Babylon, so in what sense are we captive, and how can we be ransomed?
If spiritual but not religious people who come on Christmas Eve understand things like this, perhaps they will find church useful during Advent as well. If those of us who come during Advent understand the practical benefits, perhaps we will prepare for Advent by carving out time for increased spiritual practice at home and acts of compassion in the world.
We will be reading a sampling of Advent scriptures and singing a sampling of Advent carols, and we will sing and reflect on the quintessential Advent carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
The choir will sing as the Introit one of the movements of J. S. Bach’s Wachet Auf Cantata BWV 140, which is the Advent carol, “Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying.” The Anthem will be “Little Drop of Heaven” by P. Choplin. Pianist Annemieke McLane will play a piece by Purcell and two from Handel’s Messiah.
Here is a favorite Advent carol that we will sample this Sunday. This recording is much slower than we usually sing it (and much, much slower than when Jeremiah McLane and Timothy Cummings rock out on it), but at this tempo and in the candlelit sanctuary you can immerse in the Advent feeling.