The 2012 Advent Meditation Collection is available here for PDF download.
As the dark and chill of winter descends upon us, we enter the season of Advent, a time for quietly drawing inward and seeking light and warmth in the promise of God. Since 2003, members of the cathedral community have volunteered their creative talents toward the creation of a booklet of meditations for the season of Advent. We offer them to our fellow parishioners and to the wider community via the Internet as a way to engage the Spirit and the season in our daily worship. This year each contributor has written a short meditation based upon the daily lectionary readings from Holy Women Holy Men. (Church Pension Fund, 2010). We hope that you will find it a useful companion on your Advent journey and allow the light of the Word to be born in you this holiday season.
Adam Spencer and Emily Ingalls, editors
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-29
2 Samuel 7:1-16
Luke 1: 67-79
The world waits for a child.
Darkness from inside our souls
and from the worlds woes laps
at what little light we have.
Our bated breath trembles on what,
what will this world become?
Over hymnals, in pews, around fires,
in the freezing cold, and in darkness
we now wait.
It’s a night for turning prophecy into reality,
trying always for the dance
between work and faith
to turn the day into
what we have been waiting for
it’s another blessing, and another chance
to feel forgiven, to be without fear,
and to be fascinated by possibilities, by new hope.
Like children we wait.
Like a child we are blessed
For, dawn breaks from on high.
Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)
Singing the Magnificat
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country. (Luke 1:39)
Advent is a season of waiting: waiting with Mary for the birth of her child, waiting with the church for the advent of Christ at the end of the age. But it is a season of active, not passive waiting. With a world of new possibilities growing within, Mary “set out and went with haste” to visit her sister, Elizabeth. And Mary sings to God:
Your mercy reaches from age to age
for those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.
Mary knows that the birth of her child will turn the world upside down. The powerful will be brought down, the poor lifted up. God will reverse the world’s values, and nothing will ever be the same. Mary proclaims a revolution, knowing it is God’s revolution, not her own. Still, Mary’s waiting is active waiting. She sets out and goes with haste. She rejoices, exults, proclaims.
Today, and every day, the church prays “thy Kingdom come.” Like Mary, we wait for the promised day when injustice vanishes from the earth. But our waiting is active waiting. Praying for “the coming of the kingdom,” Karl Barth wrote, “Christians cannot possibly refrain from a coming of their own. They come by going to meet the coming kingdom of God…. What kind of seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness would that be … what kind of praying that prayer, if we were not motivated thereby to do resolutely what we can here and now on this side with a view to God’s side, to the great there and then of God’s kingdom, and to do this without claim or illusion, not trying to anticipate what only God could begin and only God can finish, but rising up to fight for human justice and order in the midst of disorder and in opposition to it?”
So, like Mary, we don’t stay home and wait. We set out and go with haste. We seek the companionship of others who, like Elizabeth, will share the journey with us, and help us find the courage to sing our own Magnificat. In the midst of a broken world, we know that the new world is already present, waiting to be revealed, waiting to be born.
“Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” (Psalm 15)
“Thus you shall say to … the Israelites: how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself….but you shall be for me … a holy nation.” (Exodus 19: 3-8)
“For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” (Matthew 16: 24-27)
Advent – Waiting, Worrying, Praying, Hoping. This is what we ponder during the season. It is a time of tension, wondering and wandering, and then with God’s will, the burst of joy over life beginning anew. But this year, it seems a metaphor for the world of politics. We waited patiently and then not so patiently for the horrid political ads, phone calls, and outrageous name-calling to be over. And then finally it was over, but there was not the joy we might have hoped for. Everyone said, “Nothing has changed.”
The Psalm asks who shall dwell in the holy hill… of Congress? And will they abide each other and be able to reach important decisions on taxes, immigration, and programs for the poor? Pray that it happens, to create a “holy hill” where the government may meet.
The God of Exodus was an angry one and showed the power of the Lord to Pharaoh, while in gentleness leading the Israelites away. May we Americans become a “holy nation” by moving to assist the immediate concerns of the storm victims and return them to the comforts of heat, food, and a dwelling place. Pray that God grants holy nation status to the many countries of the world now killing their own people through genocide, civil war and laws that oppress individual rights and civil liberties. Hope is not to gain the whole world or even a small part of it, but to receive that joy of new birth that brings Christ to the world of Waiting, Worrying, Praying and Hoping.
As I travel on this road of life, there are two voices that keep me company and keep me balanced. One is the voice of positivity, optimism, and hope, telling me that if I just have enough faith, things will go smoothly. The other is, of course, the voice of doubt, looking at the ways of the world, preparing myself for the worst-case scenario, and doubting that I’ll ever feel successful
enough. Lillian Smith says, “Faith and doubt are both needed-not as antagonists, but working side by side to take us around the unknown curve.” It’s easy to get stuck in thinking patterns that are either ignorant bliss or destructive cynicism. I see that Jesus recognizes both of these tendencies in his disciples. I am often reminded by my spiritual director that God calls us to be faithful, not successful. I hear affirmation of that when Jesus says “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” The way I see it, we are called to find that in-between place that allows us to move around the unknown curves in life, with awareness of the risks but enough faith to keep us walking.
Lift up your heads O ye Gates and be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of Glory may come in!
(Psalm 24: 7)
This is one of my favorite choruses from Handel’s Messiah. For me it is not Christmas unless I listen to this powerful, inspiring Oratorio. I never tire of it. The music foretells the power of the One who is to come.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”, which means God is with us. “And he became flesh and dwelt among us”.
God’s Spirit is in all of us. God is not up “there” somewhere, God is within each and every one of us, right here and now, at all times. This shows how much God loves us. The psalm announces the glory and power of Christ. The King of Glory! Isaiah foretells how God will come among us as a child. In Luke, The Angel’s visit to the Virgin Mary is God’s way of bringing God’s love into the world as Immanuel. The story in Luke is meant to be a revealing of the Old Testament prophecy as told in Isaiah 7:14. The primary focus here is that God is with us. We don’t have to look for God, God is right here among us.
Advent is the traditional way Christians await Jesus’ coming as an infant born in a stable among the animals. This is a signal that Jesus is coming to comfort the lowly and poor, not the high and mighty. The King of Glory is not a powerful ruler with armies and weapons. Jesus is the opposite of what people would expect for the King of Glory. His weapon is Love instead of power and weapons.
Numbers 11:16-17, 24-29
Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.
William Butler Yeats (1916)
Joseph intrigues me. We know so little about him. Why did God choose him to be Jesus’ earthly father? What can we learn from him?
We know he was of the house of David.
We know he was a righteous man, unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace. A righteous man – that seems so quaint in our culture. Who today lives according to what is morally right? We’re more likely to believe that if it feels good it is good, to choose between what we consider the lesser of two evils instead of standing up for what we know in our hearts is right, to do what is in our best interest regardless of the impact on others, to be more concerned with what our neighbors think than what God thinks, and to disparage those who aren’t like us and don’t act like we think they should act – as if we were the voice of God.There is surely a lesson in this.
We know he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife. He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt. He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and returned his family to Israel. He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. It cannot have been easy. He did it regardless of the cost to him, regardless of the hardship he might face, regardless of the opinions of others. There is surely a lesson in this, too.
Our world is a lot more complex than Joseph’s. Our culture is far removed from the Biblical miracles and epic-scale changes wrought by God. I have to remind myself that it is we who have changed, not God. I have to look around and see – there really are people who still try to live righteous lives. I have to observe that God still sends angels to us, and some people still do obey.
It seems to me Joseph is a great role model for us.
Genesis 49:2, 8-10
Matthew 1:1-7, 17
Proof is in the pudding, so they say.
“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” (Matthew 1:17)
14 generations. 7 is supposed to be a Holy number, the Sabbath is on the 7th day, meant to be kept Holy and to keep us in tune with God. Twice 7, I wonder; 3 times twice 7 (3 is the Holy Trinity, eh?) Math is mysterious to me, a visual artist. This is a powerful passage because, like the Apostle Thomas, I am in need of proof.
As a Reform Jewish kid growing up in Cleveland Heights, I was regularly exposed to the Torah; Legend and history were pretty interesting, but the crush of protectionist rhetoric was off-putting to me. I was drawn to Archeology, and was fascinated by the Natural History Museum’s tiny dioramas: they contained Truth. This was a picture of what people could have been LIKE in the times of the Bible and before history. They deeply influenced me visually as I grew in my creativity.
I remember reading this passage in Matthew for the first time in college, and was shocked at the symmetry of it; was it possible that this could have been TRUE? This was instrumental in bringing me to my decision to believe that Jesus was who he said he was. This set of numbers and facts moved the Earth for me, back in 1984.
Facts and history (as it is being forwarded on Facebook these days) is said to be TRUE even if one doesn’t believe it.
Let some numbers speak to you today. Visit the Natural History Museum and peek into the tiny worlds of history, and let your heart be moved.
Canticle 9 (Isaiah 12:2-6)
It was all about singing — and then memories of singing in all those years when you were mute and you couldn’t sing.
Christmas presents are long forgotten — oh yeah, there were those “Little House on the Prairie” books you pretended to like but never read because “long ago and far away” wasn’t very interesting.
The rest — who remembers? Dolls? Clothes? Craft sets? Probably. But every year, there was the Christmas vespers. And I remember that — exactly how it looked, how it sounded, how it felt. All us kids in our red robes, clutching our folders with lemon slices tucked inside with our music, huddled in the darkness of the crypt, waiting for our director’s whispered cue.
There it was. The plainchant began as a soft purr: “Hodie christus natus est; hodie salvator apparuit.” It rose and fell again into the final “alleluia,” which faded away just as the lights blazed in the sanctuary. And we flooded up the stairs as if propelled by our own singing in full voice: “People look east, the time is here, of the crowning of the year.”
I misplaced the gift of singing and found it again, hanging around somewhere, maybe in the shower. Our director gave the gift to hundreds and eventually thousands of other children who themselves passed it on and used it in myriad ways. I still remember the barely audible cue in the dark — the signal to begin.
Psalm 80:1-3, 14-18
Sirach (Ecclesiastics) 48:1-11
“Restore us, O God”
“Restore the tribes of Jacob.”
“Restore all things.”
The hope of restoration unites today’s texts. There are two ways to think of restoration. One has to do with returning to a former state. The other has to do with repair and renovation. I believe that the Advent hope has to do with repair and renovation. There is much in our lives as individuals, as communities, as a nation, and as a world that is need of repair. But I do not believe that means going back to some time in the past when things were better. Advent, after all, points us in the direction of that which is to come, not that which has been.
We are called to the task of tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase that means repairing the world. In Advent, we look toward the birth of One who came to free us for that task and to assist us in it—NOT to do it for us. Each of us has our own unique role in that work of restoration. None of us is exempt from that responsibility, AND none of us can do it alone.
I am grateful to be part of this Trinity congregation where that responsibility is continually emphasized in our worship, in our educational programming and in our community serviceand advocacy. We come together so that we might be prepared and strengthened for the work of tikkun olam.
Matthew 11: 16-19 – “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, ‘We played flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’” For John came neither eating or drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
In the part of this Scripture comparing the actions of John and Christ, neither received praise from their generation for how they lived. Both were judged. How then, can we as average people expect to do the “right” thing all the time, and how can we assume we know who is in the wrong?
“Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds”… this proverb within the Gospel means our actions, the fruits of our labors justify our way of thinking … our insight, and our wisdom. Perhaps what is being said here is it that the intelligent way of behaving is to think about what the outcome will be. Think before you act. Think before you speak. And in going back to the John/Christ comparison, more than just not judging others, we should be as Christians, looking at what will be the outcome of such a comparison.
Finally thoughts from other sources:
“Each man is good in the sight of the Great Spirit. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows.”
“Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right.”
Psalm 145:1-4, 8-13
My thinking and judgments are vertical. I compare this to that: persons and situations are good or bad, higher or lower, darker or lighter, bigger or smaller. Comparisons and compartments are the means by which I understand. Not so with the Spirit. God’s vision is all embracing, complete, horizontal. . .
I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together. Isaiah 41:19
I long for justice, when I should be seeking mercy. I want credit for right actions, and understanding for misdeeds. I do not want to love my enemy; I would prefer to love only my friends. God’s vision is all embracing, complete, horizontal. . .
Among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptizer; yet the least in Heaven’s domain is greater than he. Matthew 11: 11
I am challenged to think horizontally. I want to continue to understand vertically. I am troubled by God’s omniscience. I fear God’s mercy, not in regard to me, but in regard to my neighbor. Fear would force that neighbor into a compartment; a compartment I could understand and accept. A place where justice prevails. God’s vision is all embracing, complete, horizontal. . .
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. Psalm 146:8-9
In his book Proof of Heaven, neurosurgeon Eben Alexander recounts two essential “understandings” which he experienced during his Near Death Experience: we are lovedunconditionally, and there is nothing to fear.
Advent for me is the fulfillment of these two understandings, because I know that God’s vision is all embracing, complete, horizontal. . .
In today’s readings, the Bible tells us that God can lighten your load and can make your life better, and in these readings, Jesus is speaking specifically to poor and oppressed people. During Jesus’ life, he traveled around and made people’s lives better by healing them and giving them hope, and he spoke to people in a way that they could relate to, so that their oppression, their financial status and their problems, came second. He tried to educate people so that they weren’t content with being treated terribly, or being discriminated against, and that is a lot of the reason why he was crucified by the rich, higher class.
All throughout history, when poor, oppressed people become enlightened about their lives and realize that they are being treated badly, it doesn’t go well for the richer, higher-class oppressors. Today’s readings translate well to modern times, specifically this year’s election, when the votes of women, minorities, and the poor, among others, were being suppressed by the rich, high- class oppressors. In response, people went to towns, and door-to-door all across America and educated people about how important their vote was and how they controlled their own destiny. People flocked to the voting booths and waited sometimes four or five hours to vote and showed the oppressors of democracy that telling people that you can’t have something only makes them want it more.
Jesus did the same thing by telling people that if you follow the teachings and morals of Jesus, your problems can come second. So, in this Advent season, I urge you to play the role of Jesus, and make even one person’s problems come second, whether it is a friend or a stranger, whether they are rich or poor, whether it is dinner, a gift, or just a conversation.
“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth.”
Now this is the way to prepare for the new life that is coming into the world with the birth of Jesus. It is truly a time for singing and rejoicing and not just as human beings, but also for all of the creatures and structures of the earth and the universe. The Spirit is in everything throughout the universe and the birth of Jesus is truly the birth of the Cosmic Christ! This is a time of year to look at our own lives and how God is being manifested within us. The birth of Jesus is the birth of a human being, fully human, and fully divine. The incarnation is not just about Jesus; it is also about us, the children of God. This is a time to reignite the spirit of the Divine that is within each and every one of us and look at how that Spirit is leading us to rebirth the gift of God’s grace throughout the earth. Jesus gave us the model of being good shepherds, which also means how to be pastoral. As the sheep of God, let us be fed from many sources – the written word, the spoken word, music, art and creation – just as a shepherd moves the flock from pasture to pasture so that they can be fully nourished in their journeys. We are to share the task of looking after all of the flock, but especially to be with those who have gone astray in some way, those who are suffering in some way, and gently help them experience the community of God’s love. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”