Goodness and Light
Readings for Advent and Christmas
This year, November 29th is the first Sunday of Advent. Do you re-adjust your daily rhythms to make room for Advent? For many years I ignored Advent – the season in the Christian church that is intended to help believers prepare spiritually for the holy day of Christmas. I chose to ignore it because it seemed to me that Advent wreaths, candles, prayers, songs and devotions were too time consuming. Observing Advent was just one more thing to do, one more obligation, one more expectation to jam into the family schedule. I felt I could manage the spiritual side of the Christmas-scramble better without trying to get all high church-y. So Advent “went away” in our home.
Then one year, Christmas Eve arrived and I hadn’t spent one minute preparing myself or my family to celebrate Christ’s birth – not one minute. It was a shocking realization. I wondered how such a thing could happen. It didn’t take long to figure out that I had made a mistake when I eliminated Advent from our family’s life, and it became embarrassingly clear that focusing on Jesus during the wildly busy days before Christmas doesn’t happen by itself. Over the years I had gotten sucked into the secular culture’s Christmas style. Christmas was just another holiday to our family, and not a holy day at all. I found I could relate to the discovery of the Grinch in the book by Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” when the Grinch says:
“It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”
I learned my lesson. The following Christmas, and every other Christmas since, has included the observance of Advent. Now the scripture reading that seemed to be time consuming has turned into a time of comfort; the songs that felt like an obligation have become a source of joy; the lighting of the advent candle which I thought of as ‘one more thing to do’ has become the one thing all day that is worth doing.
Here are some book suggestions that might help you to observe the season of Advent:
Goodness and Light – Readings for Advent and Christmas
I like collections of meditations that are taken from various authors, and arranged for use as daily readings throughout Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. New this year and published by Orbis Books out of Maryknoll, NY, is Goodness and Light – Readings for Advent and Christmas.
Some of the authors who are included in this book are: Frederick Buechner, Kathleen Norris, Pope Francis, Maya Angelou, and Brian Doyle. Here is a poem by Mary Oliver:
Says a country legend told every year:
Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see
what the creatures do as that long night tips over.
Down on their knees they will go, the fire
of an old memory whistling through their minds!
I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold
I creaked back the barn door and peered in.
From town the church bells spilled their midnight music,
And the beasts listened–yet they lay in their stalls like stone.
Oh the heretics!
Not to remember Bethlehem,
or the star as bright as the sun,
or the child born on a bed of straw!
To know only of the dissolving Now!
Still they drowsed on–
Citizens of the pure, the physical world,
They loomed in the dark: powerful
of body, peaceful of mind,
innocent of history.
Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas!
And you are no heretics, but a miracle,
immaculate still as when you were thundered forth
on the morning of creation!
As for Bethlehem, that blazing star
still sailed the dark, but only looked for me.
Caught in its light, listening again to its story,
I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled
my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me
the best it could all night.
Another devotional book meant for year round use is called Seeking God’s Face. I mention this book because it is beautifully designed, wonderfully written and the devotional readings begin in Advent, which is the start of the liturgical year. Written and complied by Philip F. Reinders, and with a forward by Eugene Peterson, Seeking God’s Face is a simplified version of the ancient tradition called the “daily office.” It offers a year’s worth of daily readings and prayers. Each day there is a prayer of adoration, a psalm and scripture reading, suggestions for personal prayer, a prayer based on a classic creed or confession, and a closing blessing. Here is the prayer for the second day of Advent from Seeking God’s Face:
Coming Savior, you are the Word, the wisdom and the very image of the Father. Ready my ears to hear your word of truth, my heart to learn the ways of your wisdom, and my eyes to see the beauty of your likeness. Amen.” (Belgic Confession 8)
Another book similar in style to Goodness and Light is called Watch for the Light. Published in 2001 by Plough Publishing House, this book has been a faithful standby for me and favorite choice for reading during Advent for a number of years. Here is a short poem from the 15th Century:
Lo, in the silent night
A child to God is born
And all is brought again
That ere was lost or lorn.
Could but thy soul, O man,
Become a silent night!
God would be born in thee
And set all things aright.
It’s easy to lose your way in the helter-skelter of the Christmas season. It’s easy to get “holiday” mixed up with “holy day.” I know now that making use of the structure which Advent gives to this time of year is a not a rigid high church demand, but an invitation to quiet one’s mind and spirit and in this way filter the distractions coming from every direction. It is the encouragement needed to focus on the who of the season, rather than the what. I think the Christ of Christmas is the “little bit more” that the Grinch is puzzling over in his lament above, but I also believe Christ is not a little thing, but the main thing in Christmas. And Advent helps us remember that.