November 28, 2021 | Sunday Worship
Shadow and Light: Advent 2021
Advent Week I: Waiting in Shadow, Holding the Light
Lighting the Advent Candle—
We light a candle of hope.
And we imagine:
God’s righteousness, God’s steadfast love, God’s justice.
We light the candle to see God’s goodness in us, among us.
Imagine that . . . light and love being born in, around, among us.
Adapted from Advent 2021 in Leader
Welcome & Call to Worship— Good morning and welcome here on this first Sunday of Advent 2021. Although most of us didn’t grow up celebrating Advent, I know it has become a very meaningful time of the year for many of us. The invitation in this season is to intentionally make space for a holy pause in these set aside weeks. It is a season for waiting, for preparing our hearts and minds, and for reflecting on the Mystery of the incarnation – the ultimate divine and human endeavor: Jesus’ birth and the ongoing Light of Christ in the world. During Advent the last few years, my mind goes back to Christmas Eve 2013, the most difficult day of my chaplain residency at Lancaster General. I believe we had seven deaths that day, which was very unusual and the most deaths in any shift I’d ever worked. That day, the hospital felt like a tiny microcosm of the world’s suffering. In the midst of it all, I was struck by the many nurses and doctors and other staff who showed up – leaning into those difficult moments to tenderly care for patients and their families who were, in turn, tenderly loving and caring for one another. In stark relief, I saw the Light of Christ’s love in the midst of darkness in a way I had never so vividly seen it before. With the memories of that day in mind, I want read the following poem—
Carrying a Candle by Jan Sutch Pickard (Candles & Conifers, 168) – as our call to worship this morning.
Carrying a candle
from one little place of shelter
is an act of love.
To move through the huge
and hungry darkness, step by step,
against the invisible wind
that blows for ever around the world,
carrying a candle,
is an act of foolhardy hope.
Surely it will be blown out:
the wind is contemptuous,
the darkness cannot comprehend it.
How much light can this tiny flame shed
on all the great issues of the day?
It is as helpless as a newborn child.
Look how the human hand,
that cradles it, has become translucent:
fragile and beautiful; foolish and loving.
Step by step.
The wind is stronger than this hand,
and the darkness infinite around this tiny here-and-now flame
that wavers, but keeps burning:
carried with such care through an uncaring world
from one little place of shelter to another.
An act of love.
The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness can never put it out.
Gathering Hymn—O Come, O Come, Immanuel, VT #210
Children’s Time Invitation—Come and see, HWB #20
Children’s Time— John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens,Live over Zoom only
Offering— Thank you for your continued support of your congregation. Our budget supports our staff, our building, our congregational care, and our outreach commitments. We are grateful that this community can be a place to seek and give mutual aid and to reach out beyond our community, too. Thanks so much for being the church and giving to the work of the church.
O God of Light,
We bring these gifts to you.
Use them to help shine the candle of your hope
in us and beyond us
– to our neighbors across the street and around the world.
Scripture— Psalm 147:1-22 (Inclusive Bible)
How good it is to praise our God!
[It is a pleasure to make beautiful praise!] (a)
YHWH rebuilds Jerusalem,
and gathers Israel’s exiles.
God heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
God knows the number of the stars
and calls each one by name.
Great is YHWH, and mighty in power;
there is no limit to God’s wisdom.
YHWH lifts up the oppressed,
and casts the corrupt to the ground.
Sing to our God with thanksgiving;
sing praise with the harp to our God—
who covers the heavens with clouds,
who provides rain for the earth,
who makes grass sprout on the mountains
and herbs for the service of the people,
who gives food to the cattle,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
God does not thrill to the strength of the horse,
or revel in the fleetness of humans.
YHWH delights in those who worship with reverence.
and put their hope in divine love.
And there was darkness, and there was light — the first Day of Creation.
And there was shadow and there was light — the first Day of Advent.
Advent is the church’s new year, and the countdown to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, the Incarnation.
Advent is, in a way, a marking of Mary’s maternity leave — when Jesus, the Christ-child, was still in shadow, perceiving the world through the walls of his mother’s womb. If Christmas is the birth of Christ, then Advent is the nesting. Though, ironically, Mary didn’t get to do much nesting — or if she did, she left it behind when she and Joseph left their home in Nazareth to return to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem for the census.
I’m guessing her midwife did not recommend the journey, but bureaucracy has rarely been built around, or made room for, the calendars of human bodies. Especially bodies that bleed — bodies that prepare every month, getting readyjust in case …then clean out to gear up again next month. Over and over.
And to say “month” is to make it sound much more calendar-aligned than it is. Because months were built around the sun, or our best approximation at earth’s yearly cycles around it. And about half the population, humans of the female sex, spend life cycling much more closely around the moon, whose months do not line up conveniently with our Gregorian calendars, (introduced by Pope Gregory the XIII, a human of the male sex who, if he was as celibate as he ought to have been, would likely not have had menstruation much on his mind at the time).
By December each year, we western Hemispherans are fully immersed in the drawn-out drama of the sun, whose angles bring our hemisphere fewer hours of sunlight, and less warmth. The moon has her own seasons, every 29½ days she makes the journey from darkness to shadow to light to shadow, with her waxing and fullness, her waning and newness. Powerful enough to tug at the oceans, though most of us only notice her when our headlights are pointed toward her when she rises at dusk, full and golden and magnified by her proximity to the horizon.
Advent is a season that marks 22 to 28 days, depending on the year (this year it’s 27 days), which is neither a lunar nor a Gregorian month. But it’s the season of the Christian calendar closest in length to a lunar month. And it, too, is marked by watching light move through darkness. Rather than observing a light in four phases, in Advent we light four waiting candles: one candle every night for the first week, two candles every night for the second week, three candles every night for the third week, and three candles for the remaining days until Christmas Eve. And then at midnight on Christmas Eve, or on Christmas morning, a center Christ candle is lit in the midst of the four shining waiting candles.
They’re not actually called “waiting candles” but it seems to me that that’s what they are, and I love that Advent externalizes hopeful waiting. I never really resonated with lighting candles each Sunday for “hope, faith, joy and love.” Perhaps it’s just that I relate to them better as adverbs — hopeful, faithful, joyful, loving …
For lighting candles reminds us that waiting can be an act of hopefulness, an act of faithfulness, an act of joyfulness, an admission of love. Lighting candles is a kind of waiting that is not just a surreptitious peek through a curtain or a glance in an empty mailbox. Lighting a candle is a signal of expectation; a communication to the waited-for.
Sometimes it might feel like a message in a bottle, tossed in vast ocean, or a blinked out, morse code SOS. But to wait with light in darkness, is to allow yourself to be seen waiting. What a vulnerable, hopeful thing to do: it indicates that you are home. It indicates that you are expecting someone. It puts your heart on your sleeve, so that the waited-for knows that they areexpectedandanticipated.Like luminaries on a walkway or candles in a window, lighting the four Advent waiting candles is declaring that you’re trying to keep your heart, that most sacred inn you keep, open for divine visitation.
And what Advent waits for, what the miracle of Christmas is, is that divine visitation can bein personthat God is coming to be with us: that God (the Love, Creativity & Wisdom out of which all Life is Built) recognizes and honors that the physical, tangible, bodily realities of life are real, and vital, and important and worthy of divine attention and intervention. And that God desires that Love, Hope, Peace, Joy, Faith are present not just in the night- and day-dreams to which we escape, not just a voice interrupting our inner monologue, but in the real, moment-to-moment, behind-the-curtains, un-curated for Instagram realities of life.
God knows that many of the miracles we long for are in our real life moments: we long to be met amidst our dishes and chores, our carlines and checkout lines, our credit lines and our frown lines. We long to be met in our dysfunctional relationships and our longing for relationships; to be met in our complicated relationships with our bodies, with our identities and place and power. We long to be met in the little things thatactuallymake up our quality of life: the routines of comfort, and the staples of cupboard.
And while our culture fixates more on the desire tobeloved, what we really desire is mutual, requited, reciprocated love. I think our desire is just as strong to be the subject of love — to have our love be joyfully received and seen as the precious and vulnerable offering that it is — as it is to be the object of love.
In rituals like Advent, our tradition reminds us that the God of theinfinitegalaxies is also the God of theinfant, skin-to-skin, and we are invited to put the light on, to light the candle that says,”Love is expected here.”
So, this week, I invite you to set up some Advent candles. They can be a motley crew of tea lights and votives, tapers and column, they can be wax-dripped and half burned-down from previous occasions. They can be plug-in or battery-powered. Heck, they can be app on your phone. However you do it this Advent, I invite you to practice lighting a candle every day, allowing yourself to wait in hopefulness.
The Advent wreath in our sanctuary, is a simple one this year.
None of the candles are new. Each candle is a deep color, contrasting the flame that will be lit there — Light and Shadow. A trail of purple cloth winds through the circle of candles, a reminder that when we last met altogether in the four walls of 328 West Orange Street it was the season of Lent, marked by purple. The golden Christ candle sits in the center on a cross section of wood, light and life arising from a stump once cut down — warmth and Light amidst Shadow.
Next Sunday our sanctuary doors will be open again for those who are ready to do so, to worship together in-person, and those who prefer or need, can still join in from home. The Advent candles will be waiting: lit for you, lit for Love, lit for the God we dare to expect.
Light rising from Shadow
Hymn of Response—There’s a Wild Hope in the Wind, VT #828
Sharing Time—Please email your prayer requests or reflections this morning firstname.lastname@example.org. They will be sent out by email by Monday.Christ, as a light
Illumine and guide us.
Christ, as a shield
Christ under us;
Christ over us;
Christ beside us
on our left and on our right.
This day be within and around us,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom we speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto us.
This day be within and around us,
lowly and meek, yet all powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside us
on our left and our right.
Amen.“Morning Prayer: Canticle”, Celtic Daily Prayer, 18-19, adapted
Closing Hymn—Hope is a Candle, VT#211
Go now in peace…
May the candle of Hope burn brightly in you
– and through you in the world this week.
Sermon: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Song Leader: Jay Martin & Susan Gascho-Cooke
Children’s Time: John Cotignola-Pickens
Zoom host: Drew Brubaker