Sunday, December 27, 2009

Review of The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister’s book is her love letter to the liturgical year.  The first few chapters engage the reader in the beauty of spiritual development, guiding us toward a more meaningful relationship with God.  Subsequent chapters outline the various seasons of the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, and Easter.  She finishes with an overview of why saints days and Marian feasts are observed.

I’m a bit lukewarm on this selection.  The first 30 pages, explaining the role of the liturgical year, seem repetitive.  I wanted her to come to the point and get on with observing the seasons.

The book appears to be searching for an audience.  The author, a Benedictine nun, is careful to make the book less Roman Catholic centered and more inclusive of Protestant and Orthodox traditions, but ends up being somewhat vague and apologetic.

I did find some gems and kept my highlighter handy as I read. I found myself quoting her chapters on Advent and Christmas and I’m sure I’ll reread the sections on Lent and Easter next spring.

I’d recommend this as a supplemental academic work, but not as an introduction for someone not already familiar with the liturgical year.

I am a member of Thomas Nelson's Book Review Blogger program.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent Adventures: Seek Him

“If you seek this
baby Jesus,
seek the Lord 
with all your might,

you will find him
as the shepherds did
as they searched for him
one starry night.”

--Luke Gambill “One Starry Night”

I have a confession to make: I’m a bit of a Christmas crier.  Every time the people of Bedford Falls unite to help George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, I reach for the tissues.  When Linus cues the lights and recites Luke 2:8-14 to the Peanuts gang, hand me a Kleenex.  The Grinch realizes that Christmas isn’t about presents and feasting?    White Christmas’s Wallace and Davis surprise General Waverly with his old unit singing “We’ll Follow the Old Man”?  Start the waterworks.

A couple of weeks ago I subbed in one of the pre-Kindergarden classes while the children rehearsed their song for the musical One Starry Night.  I sat behind the class as those cherubic voices sang about seeking and finding Jesus.  I was in big trouble.  It was either pull myself together or use the only absorbent surface available, my sleeve.

These simple, yet profound lyrics sum up what we’ve been doing this Advent season, seeking Jesus with all our might.  Our search is not in vain, as scripture reminds us:

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13)

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  (Matthew 7:7)

I’m astounded at the simplicity of this message.  God does not demand that we pass a test, or pay a fee, or make ourselves worthy before entering into a relationship with Him.   There’s no fine print, no levels we must reach first.  He assures us that He will be found if we seek Him with our heart and soul...with all our might.

Have you found Him this Christmas?  He’s not hidden away--but ever present. When the shepherds heard the angels’ proclamation they went to Bethlehem as fast as they could to see for themselves what God had revealed to them.  Seek Him this week, as the shepherds did and see for yourself.  

“For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (Matthew 7:8)

Shalom y'all

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent Adventures: Joy

Poor little pink candle.  Every Advent season she stands alone among the purple candles, ready for this particular Sunday, in which we celebrate the joy of Christ’s coming.  We should be joyful all season--but especially on this day, the third Sunday of Advent.  The candle waits, but every year she’s passed over.

Evangelical churches, in my experience, don’t know what to make of the pink candle.  For many years running I’ve watched believers approach the church’s Advent wreath with hesitation. They light the first two purple candles--but nobody wants to touch the pink one.  Better to keep doing what we’ve been doing so far--lighting purple candles. So a third purple candle is lit and the pink one is left for last, not by design but by default.

It’s not the fault of the candle lighters.  Contemporary worship tends to shun tradition--and the lighting of the pink candle on the third Sunday is an old tradition.  We simply don’t understand and miss out on an important symbol of the season. It’s too bad.  With our emphasis on praise and worship and the Advent Conspiracy movement, this is a tradition Evangelicals could really embrace.

The third Sunday of Advent is about joy.  Not the “joy of toys” or the “big joy” of “lower prices” that the sales circular promised today.  No, this is the time in Advent in which we celebrate our Lord’s coming and our redemption. This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday--gaudete being Latin for “rejoice”.  It takes its name from the first word of the traditional worship introit, which is taken from Philippians 4:4-6:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice; let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.

Have no anxiety?  Pray with thanksgiving?  Throw off the shackles of holiday materialism and let others witness your joy in the real Hope of Christmas?  Sign me up!  What a wonderful kick in the pants as deadlines loom and chores pile high.  We need the bright pink candle to remind us, once again, that Christmas is all about the birth of our Savior.

Just as it’s easy to pass over the pink candle on this third Sunday, it’s easy to miss the joy of Advent by doing what we’ve been doing so far.  No matter the deadlines, no matter your circumstances, stop what you're doing and just rejoice:

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.  (Psalm 118:24)

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. (Psalm 51:12)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2)

Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again : Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

Shalom y'all

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Advent Adventures: Praising

Today begins week 2 of our family’s journey through Advent.  The first Sunday in December is a busy one in our church.  The Christmas Cantata is a big production: adult, children, and college choirs, musicians, pipe organ, and handbells (that’s us). The sanctuary glows with white lights and greenery.  Already we’d had 3 morning services of traditional and contemporary praise and worship with carols and communion. 

It was a wonderful, worshipful time, but I knew we’d all be tired by the evening.  It was tempting to shorten our family night--or even move it--but what a loss that would have been.

Tonight’s theme was “concern for others” and our activity was to make cards for people with whom we want to share the joy and love of Jesus during this Advent season.  My 2-year-old son wanted to make a card for a friend at school.  He scribbled a picture, stuck on some stickers, signed his name, and danced around with his card--singing his friend’s name.  My 5-year-old made his best friend “the best card he’s ever seen.”  Bruce and I chose family members who are facing tough illnesses.

The most beautiful part of the evening was the time when we shared when each of us felt close to God this week.  I wasn’t sure that the boys would understand the question, but DW got very excited.  He called out, “We feel close to Jesus when we praise him!”

I reflected on the joy I’d felt this morning as the choir and congregation sang carols and songs of praise--telling and retelling the Christmas story and offering praise to God for the gift of salvation.  Each song was like a present held out to Jesus--”Master, open this one!” At the time I’d wished I could bottle up that closeness to save for later.  My son reminded me that I don’t have to.  Just praising brings me close to my Lord all over again.

I pray this week that I will have a child-like heart, that I will offer praise to Jesus with the full assurance that he is close.  Emmanuel.  God with us. 

Shalom y'all.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Journey Through Advent--The Cypress Times

Speaking of Advent.....

The following article is featured on the front page of  The Cypress Times today.

Journey Through Advent: Our Family's Adventure

I'm hoping to continue the series this season. 

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Advent Adventures: Waiting

Can it really be Thursday already?  We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent 4 days ago and the week is almost over. Feels like I’m in one of those old movies that shows the passing of time by the flipping (and flying) of pages from a daily calendar.  I’m compiling lists and checking things off; making plans and filling my schedule.  Are there enough days to get everything done before Christmas?

On the other hand, my children feel that time is moving too slowly.  Christmas will never get here.

I want time to slow down and wait.  My boys are tired of waiting.

Advent is a season waiting: not the secular-Xmas waiting in line for Black Friday sales and Santa Claus, but of learning to live in the post-Resurrection time of waiting by revisiting those who anticipated Jesus’ birth. We read Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. We remember the stories of Zechariah and Elizabeth, waiting years to conceive a child. We tell the story of Mary and Joseph, waiting for the fulfillment of the angel’s promise.  We recall the story of Simeon and Anna, who waited for decades in the temple courts for the promised redeemer.

Yet, they weren’t characters in a Christmas pageant, waiting offstage for their cues.  They were full flesh-and-blood participants in the life around them: doing laundry, sewing clothes, preparing meals, shopping, repairing, visiting, consoling. They went about their daily tasks, season by season, anticipating the fulfillment of a promise. Their hands were busy, but their hearts and minds were focused.

In her book, The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister says, “the function of Advent is to remind us what we’re waiting for as we go through life too busy with things that do not matter to remember the things that do.”

I have a million little things to do in the next three weeks.  I pray that, like Zechariah and Mary, Simeon and Anna, I’ll remember the things that matter.  I’ll watch and wait for Jesus, our Messiah.