This is the third and probably last in a short series of Advent posts, collecting some of the best writing from around the world to fuel your Advent journey. You can find the first two posts here and here.
Rachel Held Evans
American blogger and writer extraordinaire Rachel Held Evans is blogging through the lectionary this year, weekly, and her reflection on the idea of Jubilee running through Isaiah and Luke is well worth a read.
Actually, she hooked me initially with this insight into the life of a pastor:
Blogging with the lectionary has given me a new appreciation for pastors, let me tell you.
If I’m struggling to make sense of the lectionary text, if I get to the end of the week and I’m “just not feeling it,” I can simply skip a post and few people will notice, even fewer care. But a pastor can’t exactly approach the lectern on a Sunday morning, shrug her shoulders, and declare to the congregation, “You know what guys? I’m just not feeling this one.” (Well, I suppose she could but someone might throw a hymnal in response.)
…Nor can she wait until the following Tuesday afternoon to share her insights, as I have done here.
But back to Advent and Jubilee:
Jesus reads Isaiah 61 from a scroll, rolls it up with dramatic flare, and declares that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
It’s an exciting moment in the text.
But here’s the thing that tripped me up more than any other: I don’t see this Scripture fulfilled. I don’t see any Year of Jubilee.
Jesus purportedly rose from the dead more than 2,000 years ago and yet inequities still persist. Injustice remains. Slavery, in the words of songwriter Brett Dennen, is “stitched into fabric of my clothes” and more than 140 Pakistani children were gunned down for going to school today. Eric Garner is still dead, our prisons are still overcrowded, and I can’t seem to let go of that stupid grudge or my excess stuff or my idolatrous conviction that the most important thing in the whole world is to be right, to stay on top. The Empire economy doesn’t seem to be budging one bit…in the world or in my heart.
I suppose this is all part of the here-but-not-yet, inaugurated-but-not-consummated nature of the Kingdom, which we talk about a lot during Advent but which, let’s face it, doesn’t seem like enough for Ferguson right now, or for Sandy Hook and Peshawar.
Here’s Brueggeman’s take on things:
“What [Jesus] meant was, ‘I am Jubilee. Isaiah wrote about it. I am going to enact it.’ And he set about giving social power and social access and social goods to the poor and excluded. And says Luke, ‘They were filled with rage.’…They did not want to hear about the Jubilee that would curb their accumulation, not even for Jesus. It is a hard command…
[Read more at Rachel Held Evans.]
Spiritual Direction 101
Changing gear a little, here’s a helpful how-to-pray-for-five-minutes spiritual exercise from Teresa Blythe (adapting a Russian Orthodox Archbishop’s method):
Resolve to be in prayer for at least five minutes. Do not answer the phone or allow yourself to be distracted from your goal.
- Be seated and say to yourself “Here I am seated, doing nothing. I will do nothing for five minutes” (or longer, depending on the time you set for yourself).
- Begin noticing your own bodily presence. How your body feels next to the chair. How your feet feel against the floor. Relax your body. Notice what you feel inside.
- Now notice the presence of all that is around you. Say to yourself, “Here I am in the presence of the room (garden, chapel, wherever you are).” Be aware of the furniture, walls, any pets or people in the room. Just be present and silent in your environment. Relax even more.
- Now say to yourself, “Here I am in the presence of God.” Repeat silently to God, “Here I am.” Bask in the presence of the Holy One until your time goal has been reached.
[Head to Spiritual Direction 101 for more resources.]
Thanks to Nathan for this link.
Internet Monk and Henri Nouwen
Internet Monk is a fantastic spiritual resource site – thanks to Evan for the reminder and the link to this post.
In this Advent reflection on the idea of waiting, the writer quotes Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen, on waiting as an act of patience:
A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb.
If you’re interested in following a different kind of theme through Advent, here’s an excellent online Advent calendar (from the Diocese of Durham, where NT Wright used to be Bishop).
It gives a different reflection each day on the experiences of various people in the church who often feel excluded: single people, children, gay people, women, people with disabilities – they’ve got a really good list, and thoughtful, short, reflections for each day.
Here’s an example from the other day:
15th December – Isolated elderly
You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old; and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace: your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people; A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
When Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the Temple, the aged Simeon took the child in his arms and recognised him as God’s Messiah. Anna was there too, and praised God. She spoke about the child to all who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem. Their wisdom and faithfulness opened their eyes to recognise the Christ-child. They knew who Jesus was, and spoke to people about him.
Our churches are full of elderly people, often isolated, often – like Anna – long widowed. The last in their generations, now that everyone else who remembers has gone. Then there are those we don’t see at all – who don’t venture out in winter for fear of cold winds, icy pavements, and hostile neighbours. Who close their curtains against the falling dark, and huddle indoors with no human contact. Do we give these people our time, and attention, and the warmth of our love and touch? Do we listen as they tell us their lifetime of learning to live and love, to watch and pray? In our bid to include others, do we sometimes exclude them as we make it too noisy, too busy, change too much? How would we have included Anna and Simeon in our churches?
Written by a priest in Durham diocese
God of Simeon and Anna,
God who comes to us as a tiny baby,
teach us to welcome the wisdom of both old and young,
teach us to welcome them as we long to welcome you.
[See more at Inclusive Advent.]
You can see the first post, on a painting of the Annunciation by He Qi, here, and the second, based on a surprising He Qi painting of Mary and Elizabeth, here. The third painting, Nativity, is below (the post is here), and the fourth comes out on Sunday morning.
In He Qi’s painting fractured painting of the night, the baby is central, surrounded by and separated from a cast of other characters. Mary is cuddling her baby, but half in, half out of the central frame. Joseph is further out, holding a light, and watching, watching.
The manger, the shepherds, the star, an angel, the resident and visiting animals are all swirled around Jesus, spanning different sections and bringing different perspectives.
All the bodies are turned towards Jesus but not all the faces. Who is watching what?
Everyone here is an outsider – had you noticed? Mary is an unmarried mother, Jesus a child born in irregular circumstances. Joseph has probably lost friends over his decision to stand by them…
Shepherds were considered low-class people, but an angel has let them in on the secret of tonight’s special event.
I’m glad Mary is sitting, and cuddling Jesus, rather than kneeling in worship, as in so many traditional depictions of this scene. For heaven’s sake, she’s just given birth…
[Read more here.]
I’m expecting a baby (not just Baby Jesus!) soon, so this web round-up is probably the last one for this year. But I’ve written the fourth and fifth Advent in Art posts ahead of time so they’ll be up on schedule no matter what!
Please keep adding your favourite resources as comments on this post over the next week or so until Christmas.
Happy Advent, everyone!
You can keep in touch with Sacraparental throughout Advent by following Sacraparental on Facebook (daily extras of all kinds), signing up for email updates (the box at the top right) and/or following me on Pinterest (the Advent board will be particularly relevant just now.)
And please leave your ideas, recommendations and links in the comments below. Or just say hi :).