Last year I wrote a piece for Next-Wave on the theme of Advent. We talked a lot about Advent themes last year as I completed my book, That You Might Believe: Praying Advent with the Gospel of John. I’m not sure yet if there are any synchroblogs planned for Advent this year, but I thought I would start taking up the topic a little eary so it doesn’t catch me off-guard like it so often does. Usually the season sneaks up on me before I know it, but this year I’m trying to think ahead. Unless you’re celebrating by the Celtic calendar, of course. In this vein, I thought I’d reprint last year’s Next-Wave article.
There’s a lot of talk this year about Advent. I might think it’s not so much more than usual, except that I keep finding people who are new to the observance of Advent. One of the primary reasons has to do, I believe, with the growing hunger in the evangelical (and post-evangelical) church to rediscover some or her lost habits and practices. Liturgical traditions have long carried on in many of these practices, but some of the traditions that have previously eschewed such “rigidity” are now discovering what has been to them a depth and wisdom unsuspected. In short, they are part of the rhythms and patterns that contribute to our spiritual formation. They are part, as Eugene Peterson put it so beautifully, of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
Advent is one of these. My own experience of Advent is admittedly not a lengthy one, but I’ve been making an effort to allow it to become a deep one. In college as Christmas approached, I used to light Advent candles in my dorm room and sit and read in front of the electric fireplace I had scrounged from somewhere-or-other. It wasn’t a deep commitment to an Advent tradition so much as it was an expression of hunger — which is fitting to the season, actually. I have been much more intentional about engaging with the Advent season over the past few years, stepping into it together with my family as we explored.
Another tradition that is much more recent for us as a family is the praying together of the daily office. We began this fall using the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Office, praying it together twice daily as a family. Overall it’s been a rich experience for us and has led to some irreplaceable family teaching-moments as we talk about the prayers and some of the theology inherent in them.
Perhaps it was only natural to merge these newly-rediscovered traditions with my longstanding love of John’s Gospel, but the result was a new book of Advent prayers That You Might Believe: Praying Advent with the Gospel of John, and an Advent-long synchroblog project to go with it. When I was asked if I had an excerpt for the December Next-Wave ‘zine, I wasn’t quite sure what to say… one favorite prayer? As the first week of Advent draws to a close, I think about our use of the prayers thus far. Maybe I have a favorite moment… like when my six-year-old daughter asked me if we could do the “night-time” office (compline) together at bedtime. We’d already done the morning and evening ones that day. She’s waiting for Christmas break so she’ll be home to “try” some of the mid-day prayers as well.
This first week of Advent we prayed morning and evening blessings from Luther’s Catechism, but I particularly like the opening prayer from the morning office this week:
This I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
A lot of the prayers are adapted from scriptures, like this one from Lamentations 3:21-26 (ESV). We recited the first part of the Nicene Creed together as an affirmation of faith. We prayed from Psalms, Hebrews, and Matthew as well, and as I finished the compline with my youngest daughter one evening, we prayed a Celtic together:
Spirit, give me of Thine abundance,
Father, give me of Thy wisdom,
Son, give me in my need,
Jesus beneath the shelter of Thy shield.
I lie down to-night,
With the Triune of my strength,
With the Father, with Jesus,
With the Spirit of might.
As I look ahead to the coming week, we will use a blessing from Romans 15:
As Isaiah foretold,
“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
We’ll also be praying from Psalm 131, from Isaiah, and from Thomas A Kempis, and from St. Augustine. Perhaps I’ll pray with my daughters at bedtime,
In name of the Lord Jesus
And of the Spirit of healing balm,
In name of the Father of Israel,
I lay me down to rest.
If there be evil threat or quirk,
Or covert act intent on me,
God free me and encompass me,
And drive from me mine enemy.
In name of the Father precious,
And of the Spirit of healing balm,
In name of the Lord Jesus,
I lay me down to rest.
Part of the reason we do this is to insert a deliberate pause — a countercultural pause — in the rhythms of our lives before Christmas. Now at the beginning of the year in the church calendar, we have to fight to create space for reflection, space in which to pause. Jamie Howison, priest at the local Anglican church to which we’ve loosely attached ourselves, warns strongly against filling the season with business that crashes headlong into Christmas. By engaging fully in the Advent season of waiting, watching, and preparing, we ready our hearts for the coming of our Messiah. Celebration is for Christmas, and there are twelve whole days set aside for feasting and celebrating… but for now we resist diving in too early. The anticipation is building, and for the coming week: Peace.