Advent leaning

Posted Dec 12, 2013 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Christina Braudaway-Bauman


Advent

During the season of Advent, my congregation worships under a makeshift midnight sky. Our deacons hang strings of tiny white Christmas lights underneath a hundred yards of sheer dark blue fabric. Swathed across the ceiling and coming from all four corners, the blue rivers meet in the center over the communion table. Early on Sunday mornings, under our starlit canopy, as the prelude ends and the service starts, we lower the lights, listen for the bell ringing the hour, and sit for a moment in silence and in darkness. Even the youngest child remains hushed as we wait for one of our confirmands to come forward to light the Christ candle. As the dimmers are slowly turned and the room brightens again, the singing begins.

Every year, I look forward to these particular moments of stillness. In the quiet company of my community of faith, I hear this season’s invitation for reflection and the opportunity to consider our need for Advent prayer. Christmas has already come, after all. And yet, the fullness of God’s presence still eludes us. The world is still at war. The poor are still with us. Relationships still need reconciliation. The longing of my own heart for more God joins the ancient mournful chorus pleading, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

If Advent leans first into confession, it then leans further into hope. In the longer notes of the song’s refrain, “Rejoice! Rejoice!,” we linger in this hope. Advent’s deep blue is a sign of hope, too. It’s the color of the waters of creation, a reminder of God’s own ongoing creativity. It’s the color of the night sky just before dawn, the time when darkness begins to give birth to light and a new day begins. Surrounded by the beauty of this blue and the low light softening the faces of kindred spirits, I am completely taken in by the mystery of God’s grace, surrounding and holding us.

If confession is the invitation of Advent, hope is its gift. As I prepare to meet with my clergy peer group today, I’m aware too of how confession and hope sit at the center of our community of practice. As we meet, we offer each other and God our confession. We make room for one another to tell the truth about our lives and our ministries. We reveal our vulnerabilities and uncertainties, our questions, our mistakes, and the places where we feel overwhelmed or stuck. At the end of each person’s sharing, we enter into silence together, praying for the one who has just spoken, sitting in the stillness and the dark for as long as she wants, waiting until she closes the prayer with “Amen.”

After these gracious moments, in the conversations after our prayer, we share experiences in a different way. The focus of our reflection moves to learning, sharing resources, processing congregational dynamics, exploring options, discerning next steps, doing problem solving with each other if that is what’s asked for, or wrestling with the larger issues that don’t have easy answers or quick fixes.

Somewhere along the way, it becomes evident that hope is dawning. Real possibilities become present. If we once felt we were in the dark, we begin to notice the ways that light is entering in and how the mystery of God, unfathomable in its grace, is softening our hearts. After lingering in this hope, we leave our meetings with one another having been renewed in creativity, in love with God again and often with the church too, ready to begin a new day.

The image displayed in this post is "Advent by chrisbulle, on Flickr" and is used in accordance with Creative Commons licensing.

Christina Braudaway-Bauman is the director of the Pastoral Excellence Network at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.

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