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Finding Harmony in Advent: Day 1

December 1, 2013
Mary, mother of Jesus

Mary, mother of Jesus

Looking for the harmony: take the plunge

Despite this being the most wonderful and magical season of the year leading up to December 25, everyone knows days can end up filled with friction and frustration. We end up frazzled and wanting the preparations to be over. Especially as adults who sometimes get carried away trying to make sure everything is just right for children and family, we overdo, overspend, and of course, eat too much.

Beginning Sunday Dec. 1 and for 22 days in Advent (I’ll take Saturdays off and you can too), I invite you to set aside five or ten minutes for quiet and calm anticipation by lighting a candle (on your advent wreath or any old candle) and waiting, with Mary, for the birth of the Christ child. As my pastor says, even five or ten minutes can bring some tranquility to the rest of your day and allow you to focus on the things that last.

The stories I’ll share from the raucous days of raising three children, mixed in with tales from church family and friends, will remind you (I hope) that you can find harmony even walking through difficult or even sad circumstances. So we look for the harmony: some days we find it, and some days despite best plans, we end up disappointed and looking to tomorrow.

Most days the meditations will be quite brief and include a scripture and suggested prayer. So take the plunge: sign up to follow my blog so you can get them straight to your email as a reminder, and share your favorites with friends. I hope you’ll respond with any thoughts, reflections, or stories the mediations bring to mind for you. And one of these days soon I’ll tell our very own story of our second grandbaby born two days before Thanksgiving this year  (and just two months after the first grandbaby,) which brings extra joy and poignancy during this season of waiting for a special baby. (Which also explains my mini blog vacation for the last week.)

Along these lines, for today’s very brief meditation, I like the words of Elizabeth O’Connor, one of the well known writers and longtime members of Church of the Savior, Washington, D.C., upon whose principles our local congregation was founded. Elizabeth writes:

“It is not what happens to us in any day that gives content to our lives, but whether or not we let its experience sink into us. ” — (Cry Pain, Cry Hope, Servant Leadership School, 1993, p. 33)

The first Psalm puts the above thought this way (one of my dad’s favorite passages and I can hear him reciting it now): “Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on God’s law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

Like Mary, plan to spend time this December reflecting on life and truths deeper than the latest advertising jingle. We’ll have much more on Mary in the days to come.


Some background facts on Advent if you are not very familiar:

Length and timing. The beginning of Advent is determined by St. Andrew’s Day, which falls on November 30. Advent begins the nearest Sunday to November 30.

Advent didn’t become a part of the church’s calendar until after the Festival of Christmas itself had been established, around A.D. 336.

Originally Advent was 40 days long, like Lent, representing the 4000 years of patient waiting by the Hebrews for the Messiah. In some religious groups it is observed as a time of prayer and fasting–like Lent. Many families and individuals reserve daily time to gather in front of a wreath and candles known as the “Advent Wreath,” for a meditation, song, or prayer. Some use purple candles to represent royalty, with a pink candle as the “Mary” candle representing joy. Sometimes the argument is over which candle gets lighted next (my daughters shook their heads in dismay at church many Sundays when someone lit the “wrong” candle. Very worshipful family harmony those days!) But I see we’re not the only one with these debates, and what to call the different candles.

What color the candles? A few years ago my denomination, Presbyterian Church USA went to using blue representing royalty. Of course purple represents royalty too, and it all depends on what kind of berries were available long ago in a king’s country for making various dyes. I love David Hansen’s blog post on this topic, here.

I know in many Mennonite churches (the two denominations I am most familiar with) use red candles, just representing traditional Christmas colors I guess. Since we were first introduced to the purple and pink when our children were small, that’s what we like to stick with.

When to start singing carols? The other new thing for me when I first became part of a Presbyterian church was getting used to not singing carols until Christmas Eve, or at least the last Sunday before Christmas or when we went caroling. In light of the fact that Advent is supposed to be a time of deprivation or fasting, some groups sing only the more somber, minor “carols of waiting” like “O Come, O Come Immanuel” and “Lo How a Rose Er Blooming.”

I chuckled when I read a pastor’s story about his church group on a weekend retreat during December. They were in the mood to sing Christmas carols so sing they did: carol after carol, enjoying the camaraderie and memories the carols stirred. But this minister said he felt “naughty” singing joyful carols during the mournful time of Advent. I thought, only a minister could feel naughty singing a Christmas carol!

Deeper theological meaning? Advent also refers to the “second advent:” the belief in Jesus’ second time of appearing.  Christians have been waiting for that “advent” a long time, too. Thus, the season is a profoundly spiritual time—if we set aside time to soak it in, and not just go through the motions.

Family customs? One more thing: the photos each day feature figures from a handmade advent calendar I picked up long ago at the annual Belmont Community Yard Sale famous in these parts for quality merchandise. It quickly became the kid’s favorite, and a permanent addition to our Advent collection and celebrations. I hope you enjoy watching the parade of characters on this virtual advent calendar. These traditions become a kind of glue for families.


For my regular syndicated weekly newspaper column, Another Way, see   (which can be used in any local paper, email me for details).


From → Faith, Family Life

  1. Caro - Claire Wiles permalink

    Thank you for beginning this series and I will look forward to following along with you. Also congratulations on your newest grandchild and I will look forward to more about it in an upcoming message..

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