Real Possibility in Advent

Two weeks ago, I sat in the chapel of my seminary. I worshiped in that sacred space with other alumni. I don’t know if this sacred space has the same meaning for them. In fact, I heard from at least one alum that the space had been stripped of its holiness when the pews were removed and the stained glass window was hidden behind an organ and blocked by a new structure from Columbia University. That makes me sad — because this particular sacred space was the space that allowed me to dream about worship could be. It captured my imagination. It allowed me to push boundaries. 

Worship in James Memorial Chapel at Union Theological Seminary.

Of course, it wasn’t just the space.  It was the people in the space.  It was the fantastic people that pushed me to go even further than it seemed was possible. 
I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to expand that conversation beyond the walls of my seminary. With other alumnae and our own Janet Walton, we’re asking those questions that we asked in seminary over the phone. We share in a monthly conference call organized by a new friend that I met through The Young Clergy Women Project. Of course, now, we’re asking those conversations while we’re serving churches, loving the people in the pews and still dreaming of what more can be done in our praise of God.

Today, we explored the themes of Advent. Our conversation centered around the wreath with its five candles. We dared to ask what these flames mean for a community of faith that hopes for change. Really, that’s what Advent is about. The story of the little child coming into the world is one that we repeat every year to recall our shared salvation. It’s a good story. It’s a sweet story but it only has legs if we can fully grasp how we’re living in the hope, joy, peace and love of Jesus Christ right now. The texts from Isaiah that we read throughout the season indicate that something is coming. (I will resist singing from West Side Story, but it is something good.) Something is literally blooming. Something is growing. Something is pushing through the ground of our being demanding for us to pay attention.

Worship invites us into this awareness. We don’t always want to go there. Most of the time, we’d rather stay right where we are but I believe worship captures our imaginations of what God’s Realm could be. Like children playing dress-up, we use images to evoke our hopes. We draw pictures with our words. We try to make this wondrous possibility tangible. That’s the hardest part. For most of us, it’s OK to have these stories live in history. It’s even OK if these texts are recited to us — but it is entirely scary if we’re asked to live into those words. When we’re asked to embody these concepts with our very flesh, we start to tremble. 

Tremble though you might, I want you to be invited into the experience. Yes, you. I don’t want to be the only one that feels the warmth of the candles and imagines the possibility that illumination. I want us all to be able to feel that little candle — to hold it in our hands, to feel its warmth, to yearn to pass it on — but our Advent wreath is so small. It’s so far away from most of the congregation. That little candle is so far removed from the power of that little light might have in each of our lives. 

So, I wonder how we hold it. I wonder how we make it our own. Last year, in the church that I serve, we invited the “families” that lit these candles to tell stories about their experience of that light. This year, I wonder if we challenge ourselves to wonder about what is blossoming. That seems so hard to imagine in December. We adorn our wreath with evergreens — but what if those greens were interspersed with tulips or lilies or roses? What if we talked about the impossibility of things blooming during winter?  What if we named those things that seem like they will never grow?  What if we really used our imaginations to coax those possibilities into being? Isn’t that what Advent is all about? It’s not just about how we wait. It’s about how we feel called into action.  It’s about how we will face another day where justice and love might reign.  I do believe that is our light.  That’s the power of lighting each one of those tiny candles that no one can see from the balcony, but we want to to see it.  We want to feel it.  We want it to be real.  So, what if it’s not just the things that we say or the images that we use?  What if it’s the very proximity of that hope?  What if we need to bring that light closer so we can feel its warmth on our own skin?  What if those candles on that wreath were carried around the sanctuary during the hymn so that everyone can feel their warmth? What if we found a way to really make that light shine so brightly that hope seems real?

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