What Does Advent Mean?


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, December 1, 2019, the 1st Sunday in Advent (Year A). I will be taking a brief sabbatical and allowing others to share their thoughts for Advent on the back page. I plan to return for January 5, 2020.

First, my thanks to Pam, Tom, Herb, and Jane for helping with the “Back Page” for this Advent season.  When I was asked what one should write, I just said, look to the Scriptures and tell others what they mean to you.  For me, Advent is the time of certainty in a time of darkness and fear.

Advent is always about preparation, preparing for the coming of Christ.  The thing is that we know how the story begins and how the story ends.  But what about those who have never heard the story?  What about those who came to the stable where Jesus lay that First Night?  The shepherds knew because the angels told them what to expect. 

Did the innkeeper know who that husband and wife seeking shelter were?  All he knew was he had no room, except for a space in his stable.

Did those who came to help Mary with the delivery of her first child know who this Child would become?  They only knew that this young mother needed their help.

There is, perhaps, a certain degree of uncertainty in our lives.  The times we live in almost guarantee that.  It seems to me that when we seek only certainty in our lives, we cannot move forward.  But with the certainty that Christ is coming into our lives, the fear that keeps us from moving disappears.

So, as we begin Advent, we begin preparing for Christ’s coming into our lives and the certainty that comes from his presence in our lives.

~~Tony Mitchell

Understanding Advent in the 21st Century


You are invited to join us during the four Sundays in October (October 5, 12, 19, and 26), from 5 to 7 pm, in the tradition of the early United Methodist Church, at the home of Tony Mitchell and Ann Walker for a four week Bible study to prepare for Advent.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us read the Scriptures for each week of Advent and consider the following questions:

  1. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  2. What is the meaning of Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

You are welcome to come for one, two, three, or all four sessions. Please let Ann and me know that you are coming.

“A Pre-Advent Bible Study”


All the details haven’t been worked out yet but we are thinking of hosting a pre-Advent Bible study at our place in October.

#1 Yes, I know Advent doesn’t start until November 30th but weather issues suggest having the study in October.

#2 I have come up with the following questions/thoughts:

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us consider the following questions:

  1. What is the meaning of Advent?
  2. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

#3 What questions would you cover during such a study? (For those reading this on Facebook, I would appreciate it if you would also add your comments on the blog page as well. Thanks!)

“A Single Light – The Light of Hope”


Here are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Advent (Year A), 1 December 2013.

I am doing something different during Advent. Back in 2005 and re-posted it in 2011 (“The Candles of Advent”) I wrote a liturgy but never got to use it. I had hoped to write another liturgy that was a little more complete for this Advent season but that fell through. It’s not that I don’t have anything against the traditional liturgy that we use but when you use the same stuff every year, it loses its freshness and, sometimes, its meaning.

So, I am including my thoughts about the lighting of the Advent Candles with my thoughts for the lectionary readings for this year’s Advent. I do think that the lectionary readings for this 1st Sunday of Advent (Isaiah 2: 1 – 5, Romans 13: 11 – 14, and Matthew 24: 36 – 44) speak to the hope that Christmas gives us, hope that reaches all and not just a select few.

We begin with an reading from the Old Testament, Proverbs 23: 18,

There is surely a future hope for you and your hope will not be cut off.”

In this world of darkness we light the single candle of hope.

The Advent Candles (Tune: Away in a Manger)

On the First Sunday of Advent

A candle is burning, a flame warm and bright;

A candle of Hope in December’s dark night.

While angels sing blessings from heav’n’s starry sky

Our hearts we prepare now, for Jesus is nigh.

A second reading about hope, from Jeremiah 29: 10 – 11,

This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

Prayer – O God of Life and Hope and Promise, help us to remember that in lighting this candle, we begin to take away the darkness of our life. Help us to remember that in this little glimmer of life springs a new hope, a new promise that we are not alone and forgotten in this world. Help us to find ways to make the light of hope even brighter. Help us to see the path that leads to Christ, the true hope of the world. AMEN

It is always interesting reading the passages from the Bible that some say announce the “End Times”. As one interested in cosmology, I know that there will come a time when this world and this universe will end; it is a matter of the fuel supplying the sun running out. And this is far enough away in time to not matter much to me.

But there are those who see the “End Times” as coming in our own lifetime and coming as some cataclysmic event with death and destruction prevalent and only those select few with this viewpoint being the survivors.

I don’t doubt that the world could end in our lifetime in such a way but I don’t see it as the penultimate act of God as they do. And while there are no B-52 bombers loaded with nuclear weapons sitting at the end of the runways of various Air Force Bases ready to take off at a moment’s notice, I still think that we have the capability and the desire to destroy this world.

The passage from Isaiah for the 1st Sunday in Advent is not about war, death and destruction but rather the opposite, of peace, life and rebuilding. It is about a new life, one in which all the people of this planet live in peace and, perhaps, harmony.

In Matthew, Jesus speaks of being vigilant. Again, those who want the end of the world use this as a notion for being armed and ready. But if we were to work as hard on building the peace as we seem to be preparing for war, wouldn’t the outcome be a little bit better?

What is it that Paul says? We can’t afford to waste a minute in frivolity and indulgence but rather working for Christ.

That’s why there is hope in this world today. Granted, in terms of the lights of the Advent wreath, it is a little bit on the dim side but there is still hope. We know that Christ is coming, not in final victory but to begin working towards that new life, that life that is filled with hope and promise. It is a life of peace, of joy, and of happiness, not war, death, and destruction.

Our challenge is much like the challenge Paul put before the Romans, to work to make it a possibility. We have lit one candle this day but if we all carried that light with us, the world would be ablaze with the hope found in Christ. That is the challenge we have, to take and multiply the light of hope in a world of darkness.

“In Preparation”


This is the devotion I presented this morning (Saturday, December 1, 2012) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. I used the lectionary Scriptures (Jeremiah 33: 14 – 16, 1 Thessalonians 3: 9 – 13, and Luke 21: 25 – 36) as the basis for this devotional.

What was it that Simon and Garfunkel sang, “Look around, leaves are brown, it’s a hazy shade of winter.” Clearly when we woke up this morning, every side pointed to the coming of winter.

In the Gospel reading from Luke for this morning, Jesus speaks of the fig tree and how one can see the coming of summer from the changing of the leaves. Our first understanding of time came from our observations of the changing of the seasons, from spring to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter, and winter to spring again. The signs of change are always there for us to see.

There are some, of course, who see the signs that Jesus spoke about, earthquakes, fire, war and destruction, as the signs of the end times. These individuals see in the happenings of the world the destruction of the world by God, not by man. And they cheer and celebrate because they are convinced that they will be the ones to survive and prosper. Never mind that there will be no world for them to inhabit; they will be the ones who win the battle and so they celebrate.

But any celebration that focuses on the now is one without a vision of tomorrow. And if there is no vision for tomorrow, how can there be a promise of hope. And if there is no hope, Christmas loses its meaning.

Somewhere along the line we have forgotten why we have Christmas. It is lost in the commercial hustle and bustle, of the desire to make sure that everyone has a gift that will insure that the gift giver gets something of equal or greater value in return. We fail to remember that the wisemen and shepherds brought gifts to the Baby Jesus but Mary and Joseph did not give them any gifts. And when Christmas is over, the decorations are quickly put away and life returns to normal.

But life after Christmas can never be normal, if we understand what it is about and why we even think about it. And that is why we have Advent, the seaon of preparation. If life after Christmas is supposed to be something different, then we have to prepare for the change. We see the signs; we know that there is a change taking place and we can either ignore the change or prepare for what is to come.

The other day I wondered why God sent Jesus to live with us as a child. Why didn’t he just select someone else? But, God had selected someone else; we call them the prophets and the people have this nasty tendency to dismiss the words and call of a prophet. Besides, the words and call of a prophet are for today, not tomorrow. They may speak of tomorrow but they are speaking to us today. The prophets spoke of the child that would be born and would lead the people.

In a child we see the promise of tomorrow, the promise of hope. In Jesus, the child, we know that there will be a tomorrow, that these are not the end times but the beginning times. Our celebration is not for today but for tomorrow and the tomorrows that will come.

Paul asked the Thessalonians what would be an adequate thanksgiving to offer God for the joy we experience before him because of you. For Paul, it is what the people in Thessalonika are doing that speaks of the world of Christ in this world.

So too is it for us this morning? How can we show the joy and peace found in Christ to the world? Do we speak of the end times and the destruction of the world? I really don’t see how that can ever be.

There is a different story, it is one symbolized by the first candle on the Advent wreath, the light of hope. For if there is hope in this world, there is a tomorrow. For everyone who seeks a way out of the darkness of the world in which they live, a world that perhaps seems headed towards finality and destruction, the light of Christ offers hope.

The story does not end with the coming of Christ; the story begins. And on this 1st Sunday of Advent, we begin to prepare for the coming of Christ and the child who brings hope.

The Candles of Advent


I first published this on 24 November 2005. As I was preparing some thoughts for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, I thought about this piece. In looking at it, I saw a number of errors that I didn’t realize were in the post. So I have cleaned it up and am reposting it for this season.

This is the season of Advent, a time of preparation for the birth and coming of Jesus Christ. To celebrate each week of Advent, we light a candle on the Advent wreath. But what do the candles mean? There are a number of reasons but here is something to consider.

Lighting the 1st Candle

Advent begins in the darkness of the year. It is darkness both in terms of sunlight and in terms of our own lives. We see violence, poverty and oppression all around us and we wonder if there ever will be sunlight again. We wonder if the world is meant to ever see sunshine or whether we will always be trapped in the darkness that we experience. But we are reminded that

The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Genesis 1: 2 – 4)

And John reminds us that

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1: 1 -3)

We light the first candle of Advent, not so much to relieve the darkness but to bring light into the world. We light the first candle not so God can find us but so we can find our way to God. It may only be one light in the vast expanse of darkness but it cannot be hidden in the darkness. We are able to begin Advent because we have the light and in the light we find God.

Lighting the 2nd Candle

We light the second candle of Advent first out of fear but then out of joy. We are fearful because it is still dark and we are still uncomfortable being in the darkness. Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, the beginnings of Advent bring fear.

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1: 26 – 38)

Mary was fearful because she knew how society would react upon hearing that she was pregnant. Joseph, soon to be Mary’s husband, was also worried because society would not approve of Mary being pregnant before the completion of the marriage vows. But angels told both that everything was going to be alright and that there was nothing to fear. Joseph understood and stood by his wife to be. Mary exalted in her joy and said

Mary’s Song

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1: 46 – 55)

Mary and Joseph were not the only ones to first fear and then rejoice in the announcement of Jesus’ birth. The first to hear of Jesus’ birth that night in Bethlehem were the shepherds in fields outside the town.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 1But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2: 8 – 20)

So just like before the angels told Mary and Joseph about the birth of Jesus and they proclaimed the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, so too do we experience fear in the darkness of the times. But our fear turns to joy because we know that Christ is being born in Bethlehem. Like the angels, we exclaim our joy in this event. So we light the second candle in joy.

Lighting the 3rd Candle

The third candle is the light of discovery. The shepherds left the manger and went to tell others. And while they were doing so, there were others who sought the new-born child.

The Visit of the Magi

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2: 1 – 2)

We light the third candle because we know others, like the wise men of the east still seek the Christ child. They have heard the Good News first told by the shepherds and they seek to find the child, just as the wise men did. But discovery is never easy, especially in the darkness of the world. So we light the third candle to bring light into the world, knowing that in the light truth will shine and in the truth, people will be set free.

Lighting the 4th Candle

We light the fourth candle in celebration. Now the light, once so feeble and perhaps overwhelmed by the darkness, glows brightly. We remember the words of John, who wrote

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (John 1: 5 – 9)

Like John the Baptist, we now go forth proclaiming the coming of Christ. In lighting the fourth candle, we now proclaim the birth of Jesus the Christ child is soon to be. We have completed our four week journey and preparation, so we can begin celebrating. With the light of the fourth candle, we can see much clearer than we could a few weeks ago. Like Mary and Joseph, we began this journey in darkness with fear, but our fear turned to joy because we know what the birth of Christ really means. Like the wise men who were guided by the star in the east so too have we been guided by the light of the candles. We come seeking to find the Christ child. So we light the fourth candle in celebration.

Lighting the Christ Candle

Over the past four weeks, we have lit the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Each week the light of the Advent Wreath has grown brighter. And now the circle is complete. The four candles of Advent remind us and direct us towards the center candle, the Christ Candle. Just as the Christ Candle is the center of the Advent Wreath, so too should we make Christ the center of our lives. In lighting the Christ Candle, we are bringing forth a light that is so bright that it cannot be extinguished. As we celebrate the birth of Christ, we bring light into a world of darkness; no longer is the world a place of fear and darkness because fear and darkness cannot survive in a world of light. As we celebrate Advent and Christmas this year, let us take the light of Christ, that light that abides in our hearts and allows us to light the four candles of Advent, out into the world. We take the Light of Christ out into the world to bring the Good News that the sick will be healed, the lame will walk, the deaf will hear and the oppressed will be set free.

What Season Is This?


Here are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Advent, 28 November 2010. The scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 2: 1 – 5, Romans 13: 11 – 14, and Matthew 24: 36 – 44.

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I should have posted this late last week or early this week but things have been rough lately and my focus has been on other things. Maybe I am doing what Paul warned the Romans about; focusing on my day-to-day obligations instead of by obligations to God and Christ.

But lately I have found some of my obligations being what I feel I am being called to do with my ministry. In the most recent issue of Connections, Barbara Wendland speaks of her new book, “Misfits: The Church’s Hidden Strength”. (And by the way, if you are not subscribing to Connections, you are missing some great thoughts about the nature of the church!) It could be that because I see what is happening in this world in such a different light that I am a misfit.

I see what is happening in the world and I wonder if I am seeing the same thing as everyone else. When you look at this planet on which we live; when you look at the society in which we live, and the place of the church on this planet and in this society, you have to wonder what season this is. I have no doubt that winter is coming and that we have entered into the Advent Season. But I also wonder if we understand what this season is about.

Is it the season in which we prepare for the Prince of Peace? Or is this to be another season of war and violence, not just in places where we would rather not be but in places that we once were? How can we, when we now the circumstances that forced Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem, live in a world where we are slowly taking on the characteristics of the Roman Empire and not the Kingdom of Heaven hear on earth?

How do we justify a world of military power, continued warfare, and the possibility of other countries going to war with the passage in Isaiah for this week that tells us that nations will no longer go to war and people will come together with one common view?

Maybe it is because of my own situation but I wonder what happened to Thanksgiving this year. It was as if the only reason for Thanksgiving this year was so that we can have “Black Friday”, to spend our money on items and materials for ourselves. We hear that the economy is going great but why are there still people without jobs or working in multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet. Why is the discussion about making the minimum wage equal to a living wage always made out to be a bad idea, one that will destroy business? If people can’t earn enough to live (and that is what a living wage determines), how can they buy anything?

Is it possible that we have so misconstrued the words of the Bible that we think it is perfectly acceptable in God’s eyes to ignore the poor, the hungry, the sick and homeless because the Coming of Christ means the end of the world? We don’t mind having food drives at Thanksgiving and Christmas so that families and individuals will not go hungry one or two days a year. But why do we even have to discuss food drives, food closets, and similar drives when we say that we are the richest country in the world? Isn’t Christianity a day-to-day thing instead of once or twice a year?

The passage from Matthew speaks of that moment in time that has, I believed, become known as “The Rapture”. I think that Paul’s warning is predicated on that same notion. Too many people today are focused on a point in time that may or may not be coming. If I am not mistaken, Paul spent as much time telling the people to quit thinking about the anticipated Second Coming as he did mending fences and relationships within the various congregations that he helped start.

How can Christians have been motivated to work against slavery, for civil rights, for women’s rights and against war but cannot seemed to be motivated to do anything about these issues today? Is it because we don’t know what season it is?

Our ministry is found, not in the pews or the sanctuary, but in the fields and valleys of our cities and countryside. There are too many unanswered questions that demand a Gospel response for us to be worried about the 2nd Coming.

Let’s face it. We need to be focused right now on His 1st Coming, Christmas. We live in a society that seems more interested politically and socially on our cares than we are to what happens to others in the world. And if we don’t start focusing on what happened in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago, if we don’t start focusing on what transpired over the course of the next thirty some years in that area of the country, and if we don’t start focusing on the impact those activities had on the world then and now, this season will have no meaning.

Advent is about changing the course of one’s life. It is about being a misfit in a world that changes the words of the Bible and makes them the words of the uncaring and powerful. It is about being with the weak and the defenseless, the hungry and the poor, the places we often times don’t to be. It is about being with the young baby, born in less than ideal circumstances, certainly not in palace.

As much as we would like to use Advent as a season of preparation for what we want Christmas to be, it is more about how we can prepare for Christ to come into our hearts. Yes, if we do that, the odds are that we will be labeled a misfit in today’s society but it will be a badge of honor, much in the tradition of Paul.

Is this the season in which you continue your life as it has been? Or is this the season in which your life changes? Shall your life be one in which you fit in? Or shall you be a misfit in society but at home with Christ? These are the questions that I leave with you today. I cannot give you the answers but you will find them in your mind and your heart.