For the liturgical (church)
calendar, Advent is the beginning of the year. And since Advent begins on
December 1 this year, Happy New Year!
The word “advent” means “arrival” and is typically used in English to refer to the arrival of an important person, thing, or event. In the liturgical calendar, Advent is a whole season that starts four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve.
During Advent, we prepare for
and anticipate the coming of Christ. For many, this means preparing for the
celebration of Christmas, the celebration of the birth (coming) of Christ. For
many others, this means preparing our hearts for Jesus to be born again within
us so that all Jesus promised in his first coming can be fulfilled in us.
Our worship begins around the
Advent wreath (a relatively recent addition of the liturgy of the season) as we
light a candle. Each candle has a theme – hope, peace, love, and joy. The color
for Advent is traditionally purple, though some churches use royal blue. We
tend to alternate colors, so this year, we will be using blue during Advent.
You will also notice a new
liturgical art installation. The banners are connected to the Advent theme,
“Following Your Guiding Star.” You can read more about the liturgical art
installation on page _.
There are some additional
changes to the order of worship that we’re making – beyond starting our worship
service around the Advent wreath. Some of these have to do with responses to
the changes we’ve be experimenting with in our prayer time.
In the survey we conducted at the end of October and beginning of November, some people noted that the most recent style of praying invites them into the quiet, and encourages them look within and see what is truly on their hearts. Several people said that the fact that prayers are not being repeated makes them feel more comfortable praying aloud and that the prayers (silent and aloud) feel more directly connected to God.
People also noted in the
survey that they missed being able to hear what others were praying. I
interpret this to mean that people are missing the sense of intimacy our prayer
time has built in our community in the prayer style when Pastor Brenda or I
would repeat the prayer.
I found it interesting that
several people noted both of these things, that they appreciate the intimacy
with God the quieter way we’ve been praying together lately and that they miss the intimacy with the
community the repeated prayers brought. Upon reflection this doesn’t surprise
me. Both intimacies are important for our journeys. In fact, they are both in
the same line of our mission statement: “growing in our relationships with God
and each other.”
Though the survey comments
coalesced around these to ideas, there were several other comments that I think
are worth sharing. For instance, a few appreciated how the more recent format
for prayer has kept them from becoming announcements. Some noted that the more
recent format takes less time (repeating prayers essentially takes twice as
long). A couple people said they missed saying, “O God, hear our prayer,”
Pastor Brenda and I have
talked about how to meet both of these desires for intimacy. We think the “echo
chamber” (as we call the repeating of prayers) gets in the way of intimacy with
God and the quiet murmuring of prayers (what we’re doing now) gets in the way
of intimacy with each other. We’re hoping that the format for prayer we’re
going to try out starting in Advent does something for both desire for
Here’s how we hope it will
work: Everyone will be invited to pray, aloud and silently. Prayers that are
offered aloud won’t be repeated. This means that some people may hear you and
others won’t if you’re praying aloud, and it means that you won’t hear
everything others pray aloud. That’s okay because the prayer is primarily
addressed to God. Trusting one another, we will respond to each prayer, whether
we understand what was said or not, with “O God, hear our prayer.” We will
conclude with the Lord’s prayer.
This prayer format does ask
two additional things of you: (1) If you want people to know the content of
your prayer, write it on the green attendance sheet and check the box that asks
for the prayer to be included in the weekly prayer requests email. (2) If you
want to know the content someone’s prayer that you didn’t hear, you can ask
them directly and/or sign up for the weekly prayer requests email.
Finally, there is one other
change you will notice starting in Advent. The prayers will come before the
offering. Practically, this change will allow the children to return from
Sunday School for communion during the offertory (rather than needing to add a
hymn to the liturgy). The change also allows us to embrace an ancient Christian
practice when the communion elements were
the gifts brought from the congregation to the table.
Justin Martyr (who died around
165), describing second-century Christian worship, wrote, “When our prayer is
ended, bread and wine with water are brought forth, and the president offers
prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability.” Worship at that time was
typically held in someone’s home. This act of bringing the communion elements
to the table eventually would lead to people bringing additional gifts to the
communion table during worship. Their gifts included bread and wine and food stuffs for the clergy and the
poor. Later, donations of money were collected during worship to assist the
poor and the Church, rather than food and other items.
Thank you for reading all the
way through this column. I know it was longer than my typical column. Sharing
all this information with you necessitated it.
Now, let’s get into the
celebration of Advent, a time filled with hope, peace, joy, and love.
See you in church,