Advent Week 2 (Year C): Look Up, There's Beauty

Look, I know week 2 of Advent is usually about peace. But the lectionary passages for the day are so strongly themed with beauty, particularly the Apocryphal passage, that I couldn’t resist. Plus, it’s how we’re interpreting it this year at Peace for our Advent sermon series entitled “Look Up". So, a little beauty in your Advent mix this year.

God, it’s easy for us to get bogged down
In our to-do lists,
The problems we must solve,
The needs we must meet,
The expectations we put upon ourselves,
The crises we must manage --
And forget that beneath everything
There is the hum of beauty.

Beneath dust and decay,
There is a sheen of value.
Beneath disease and distress,
There is a sparkle of wisdom.
Beneath the appearance of death,
There is the glimmer of rebirth.
Beneath the cloak of sorrow and affliction,
There is the endless beauty of the glory from God (1).

Awaken us, oh God, to the beauty beneath,
The beauty that confronts us
With your presence and power,
Your plan and purpose.

We know that by the tender mercy of our God,
The dawn from on high will break upon us,
And the beauty of God will overwhelm our senses.
May we be alert, and looking for it.

Amen

1) Baruch 5:1


Advent Year B: Week 2: Litany for Deep Peace

God, we are longing for a silent night --
For a reprieve
From noise and anxiety and hurry;
For a moment
Of space and time, empty yet full.
Gift us the gift of quiet.

This is the Peace:
Of baby’s breath
Of feathered wing
Of rustling leaf
Of sphere’s turn
Of light beam.

The heavenly peace in which we long to rest
To sweetly sleep
In safety and freedom
In certainty and repose.

We can smell the peace
Coming on the wind.
We can feel the peace
Arriving with the morning.
We can taste the peace
In the bread and cup.

We look in your direction, God
The Place from which peace comes;
For you are its Author and the home of its Prince,
And in your peace we dwell.

Amen

Litany for Being of Good Cheer

(See John chapter 16)

God, some of us are bombarded with messages
That tell us we should never feel sad -
We should ignore pain or cover it up.
Some of us are bombarded with messages
That tell us we should only feel sad -
We should give up hope altogether.

We are grateful for your balanced view,
and for your example
Of acknowledging people’s pain and darkness
And companionably entering into it with them;
Of letting death think it won for a hot minute
Then BOOM: resurrection!

Death overcome.
Grief turned to joy.
Weeping turned to laughter.
Pain and travail: a child is born.

Help us to live as faithful Grievers
Of whatever anguish we encounter or experience,
Who are willing to walk among despair.
And help us to live as faithful Hopers:
Courageous People of Good Cheer
Who are certain of our impending joy.

Amen

Being of good cheer is a thing that Jesus says we should do, or be, as it were. At least, the King James translates it that way. Other more contemporary translations give the line as “take courage” or “take heart.” I’m naturally a suspicious, somewhat cynical, glass-half-empty sort of individual; being of good cheer is not really my thing. But this line comes at the tail end of a chapter, John 16, in which Jesus is being really honest with his followers about what it’s going to be like for them to live in the tension of the time between when he leaves and when he comes again. The tension of waiting. The tension, it occurs to me, of Advent.

See, I’m about done with Christmas Cheer by now. Kids are dying in Syria and Yemen, and Standing Rock still isn’t over, and bombings and cancer and melting polar ice caps, and people around the world are grieving a million different losses and hurts. And if you ask me to ignore that and just sing songs and spread cheer I’m probably going to tune you out. I don’t see Jesus ignoring darkness or pain, and I pray we can have the courage to follow his example, roll up our sleeves and be about healing and peacemaking.

The part of the chapter that’s most hopeful to my cynical self is this: Jesus doesn’t sugar coat anything. He doesn’t say, “oh things are going to come up roses for the next few dozen centuries while I’m doing my thing in heaven.” He doesn’t omit the fact that we will experience grief and loss; “you will grieve,” he says baldly, “but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20).*

Instead he gives us this invitation to enter into the darkness of grief and pain - an act in itself of hope and faith - so that we may learn to experience joy. It is both permission and a paradox: this becomes that, but only if we stop faking the one and start doing the other. It’s a place we get to lend our weight to help “bend the arc of justice” as MLK famously said, by becoming willing to see and feel the pain around us, and to work transform it in light of Christ’s example.

In this world you’ll have trouble, says Jesus; but be of good cheer because I have overcome the world and you are free to live as though I have even though the evidence you see around you contradicts me. Part of the tension of Advent is this: how to both grieve authentically and be of good cheer. Always the tension, always the paradox of faith, the waiting that stretches our boundaries. I like Christmas Cheer better this way, with salt alongside light, with real-life darkness to illuminate.

 

*This passage is just another one of the myriad reasons I think grieving is important work, not to be shirked.

Advent Week 3: Litany for Annunciation

Annunciation is an old Christian-y word. It basically just means “announcement” but refers specifically to a particular divine announcement as recounted in Luke 1, when the angel Gabriel announces to the virgin Mary that she would bear the Christ child. After hearing this news Mary gives her beautiful Magnificat, which is one of our Lectionary texts for this Sunday and begins with the line,“My soul magnifies the Lord.”

This week’s Advent litany contains pieces and ideas from several of the Lectionary passages for week 3 (year A) of Advent, hence all the notations. Not included in this week's texts is the angel's strong admonition to Mary: "Do not be afraid!" Yet it echoes in this week's themes. Feel free to omit the notations when projecting or printing this litany. The texts can be found here.

If you or your church are using this Advent series this year, please drop me a line to let me know how its going.


My soul magnifies the Lord.
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For God has looked with favor on the lowly,
The Mighty One has done great things for me. (1)

Until the coming of the Lord,
Be patient, beloved.(2)
His coming has been announced to us.
Be patient, beloved.
He brings justice for the oppressed; (3)
Be patient, beloved.
And gives food to the hungry.
Be patient, beloved.
Blind eyes will be opened, and deaf ears unstopped (4,5).
Be patient, beloved.
He gives good news to the poor (5)
Be patient, beloved.
He scatters the proud and powerful (6)
Be patient, beloved.

To those who are fearful:
Be strong; do not fear! (7)
Strengthen your hearts (8)
Be strong; do not fear!
Strengthen weak hands and feeble knees (9)
Be strong; do not fear!

The Lord will reign forever.
Praise the Lord! (10)

Amen
 


(1) From Luke 1: 46-49
(2) James 5:7
(3) Psalm 146:7
(4) Isaiah 35:5,
(5) Matthew 11:5
(6) Luke 1:51,52
(7) Isaiah 35:4
(8) James 5:8
(9) Isaiah 35:3
(10) Psalm 146:10

 

Litany for Christmas Eve

Creator God, you opened up the heavens and sent part of yourself down in human form.  He was, and is

Immanuel, God-With-Us

You sent your Angel to speak to Mary and Joseph, that she would conceive a miracle child, the Son of God; and that Joseph should take Mary as his wife, and name the child

Immanuel, God-With-Us

This is Jesus Christ, who was born in a stable and laid in a manger, whose life was Spirit-filled and blameless, who healed the sick and opened his arms to sinners, took upon himself the sins of all humankind, was crucified, died, and is risen.  

Blessed be Immanuel, God-With-Us

This Jesus lives, and intercedes for his people at the right hand of the Father-God, and sent his Holy Spirit to remain with us.

Blessed be Holy Spirit, and blessed be Immanuel, God-With-Us

We celebrate and give thanks for Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, and we anticipate his return.  

May your power be perfected in us, may we be a testament to your Great Love, and may our lives reflect your coming Kingdom, Immanuel, God-With-Us.

Amen