There is perhaps no busier time of year than the 30ish days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Stores become busier and lines become longer. Traffic picks up. Parties and celebrations become scheduled throughout the week and weekend. End of year reports are due. Finals are rapidly approaching as fall semesters come to an end. Our church calendar becomes filled with an array of activities and meetings and events. It is so easy to become swept away in the hustle and bustle around us, and it is when the “busyness” culture is at its highest. You know busyness culture—it’s when someone asks, “How are you doing?” and the typical response is, “Good. Busy, but good,” or “I’m fine. Life is busy per usual as you know.
Our need to be busy and always respond with our ongoing list of events and activities going on have made this into a cultural phenomenon, which means that finding time and energy to slow down is not only becoming harder but pushing against the busyness-norm that has come to be many of our realities.
The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus” which means “coming” or “arrival.” In fact, it is the beginning of the church liturgical calendar and so, in a sense, it is our “new year.”
So, what is the first thing we do in our new church liturgical year?
No trying new weight loss programs or make new gym memberships.
No space or room within a week to a month to break those resolutions and fall back into old habits that really aren’t that bad anyways.
Nope, all that Advent asks of us is to wait. And in this waiting, we are given the room to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ by marking time with the lighting of the Advent candles of hope, peace, joy, and love. As we mark time, we also reflect on what these words mean, and how they play a role in preparing us for the coming of Christ and the inbreaking of God’s love in the world.
It seems like such a stark contrast, that both the busiest time of year is also the time of year in which we are being called to slow down, prepare ourselves, and wait. Making this mental shift is difficult, if not impossible most of the time. We slow ourselves down for worship, but then as soon as we walk out, it’s back to the to-do list for the day.
So what would it look like, beloved, to be fully immersed in the emotions and experience of Advent, rather than just moving through the motions of the season? What would it look like to intentionally pause, to wait in anticipation with hope, peace, joy, and love by your side preparing you?
This Friday, Williamsburg Presbyterian Church along with other community members of Williamsburg will be hosting our Service of Lessons and Carols. I’ve spoken of this service throughout these blog posts because, ultimately, it has become my ability to carry on my gratitude from Thanksgiving into Christmastide. Lessons & Carols provide this sacred space where there are no expectations of my time or energy, where all I do is soak in the words of scripture and song, reflecting on the heritage that has been gifted to us in this majestic and holy narrative, and the invitation that God has extended to the world to be part of the story. Lessons & Carols invites you to reflect and see how this story is so much larger than you or me, but is the enveloping of community, and witnessing how the light of Christ has spread forth to the world. There are 9 Lessons read by community members from children to adults, and our Carols will be sung through hymns by everyone gathered together, as well as beauty of the William and Mary Women’s Chorus, the purity of William and Mary’s Common Ground all-women’s acapella group, and the joy of the Westminster Ringer handbell choir of William & Mary students.
I hope that you will join us, that you will come for a moment to pause, to prepare, to reflect, to be reminded of the astounding heritage that has been gifted to us and that we are called to participate in and move forward in as a community of love and light.
Thanksgiving is by far my most favorite of all the holidays. I fly home to Texas every year I can manage for Thanksgiving because there is no one I want to be with more than my family and enjoying our traditions. From enjoying cinnamon rolls while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade where my very musical family delights in every Broadway show and missed lip-syncing cues by musical artists on floats, to watching every football game and enjoying an afternoon nap, to mom and dad performing the perfected dance of making Thanksgiving dinner, to washing copious amounts of dishes with my two siblings, and ending with playing a game as a family, you can see why I love and adore this day and am willing to pay whatever necessary for a flight home.
Gratitude is one of my favorite spiritual practices, and with a name like “Thanksgiving,” gratitude is practically built into the holiday. One of my favorite gratitude practices is the one of Examen, where you look back over the day and ask yourself, “What am I most grateful for today, and why? And what am I least grateful for today and why?” By reflecting on your day, you are reminded of the various moments throughout the day—I oftentimes think of it in terms of sifting through my “snapshots” of the day and selecting the picture from one moment that I am most and least grateful for.
The most important part of this practice is not just naming what your favorite part of the day was, but also articulating why that moment in the day was your most grateful and least grateful moment. I am most grateful for the opportunity to go home for Thanksgiving because when I am with my family, I am reminded that I am loved for who I am, without expectations. (I am least grateful to be leaving my beloved 9-month-old kitten behind because I’m always afraid she’s going to forget how much she loves me when I return.)
We need these intentional moments in our days, but also throughout the year. We need these intention moments where we are given room to be reminded and reflect on why we do what we do. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to do this practice, especially in preparation for Advent and Christmas. I don’t know about you, but I already have my calendar filling up with dates and events to come. One of those events is Lessons and Carols, on November 30 at 7:00 p.m. at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, but this isn’t one of those events that expects something of or from me. It’s the one night where I have the space to pause and reflect on why this season is celebrated, and to be reminded that it is not about the commercialization, but instead is a time for internal and communal preparation together to celebrate the light and love of Christ that has come, is here, and will be coming into the world. A Service of Lessons and Carols provides this expectation-free space where all can gather to be reminded and reflect on the love of God throughout time and history and know that this love continues in our lives today.
I’ve been mulling over the word “heritage” for a few weeks now. I recently spent time at an evangelical conference in Montreat, NC called “Evolving Faith,” and found myself soaking in the words of each speaker and basking in every 15-20 minute prayer offered. I then travelled down to Conyers, GA to spend time with Trappist monks (associate with the Roman Catholic Church) at Monastery of the Holy Spirit, and reveled in the vow of silence I took, speaking and chanting the Psalms during the daily hours: Vigils (4:00 a.m.), Lauds (7:00 a.m.), Mid-day Prayer (12:15 p.m.), Vespers (5:20 p.m.), and Compline (7:30 p.m.). These two experiences speak to my heritage, of my mother who was raised in evangelical churches and my father who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. In both places, I felt at home, with freedom to disagree but still be part of these communities.
Heritage has continued to be a word I’ve heard used in our church and world. With the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue, our Head of Staff, John, spoke of our Christian heritage having Jewish roots. Similarly, in the celebration of Veterans Day and the remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, we see the heritage that began in World War I, with women in the workforce and being given the right to vote.
It is this heritage from World War I that the Service of Lessons and Carols comes about. Lessons and Carols was started as a service of healing at Kings’ College in England to mourn the young men who died in WWI. This tradition has carried on for the past 100 years, with 2018 being the 100th anniversary of this service being performed not only by Kings’ College, but around the world. The beauty of Lessons and Carols is that it chronicles the Christmas narrative from Genesis up through the New Testament using both scripture and music. Nine lessons are read, and music is interwoven with each lesson to help provide further interpretation and story telling of this narrative. These carols vary from instrumental music to vocals sung by all who are gathered together and by choirs.
Heritage reminds us of where we have come from, and of the cultural values and traditions that have brought us to where we are today. There is healing in shared communal heritage—in the midst of brokenness, wars that tears countries apart, acts of violence against innocents, we search for healing that can bring a community together to be grounded in something greater than suffering.
If you are looking for a place to be grounded in community and greater heritage that we can claim, I hope that you’ll join community members across Williamsburg for a Service of Lessons and Carols held on Friday, November 30 at 7:00 p.m. at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church. No matter how young or old, how joyful or sorrowful, grounded in love or searching for healing, we hope that you’ll join us.
In late November, 2017, a container holding 285,120 meals was shipped by Rise Against Hunger to its partner, ORPHANetwork an organization that nourishes lives through food assistance and other services in Nicaragua. The 50,112 meals we packaged the previous month were a part of that shipment. This brings the total meals Williamsburg Presbyterian Church has packaged since 2010 to 314,280. On Saturday, October 27, 2018, we will have our ninth opportunity to again contribute to solving the world’s hunger problem.
Rise Against Hunger believes everyone on the planet has the right to the nutrition necessary to live life to his or her full potential. Since its founding in 1998, Rise Against Hunger has grown exponentially — and in ways which not only seek to relieve a crisis, but also to end hunger altogether.
Williamsburg Presbyterian Church has been a partner it Rise Against Hunger’s meal packaging program, but the organization is also involved in implementing sustainable community development projects.
Rise Against Hunger’s long-term projects bolster local agricultural production and incomes through programs promoting improved agricultural methods, business skills, and market access. With training and access to quality seeds and fertilizers, farmers can increase production and harvest a variety of nutritious crops.
By supporting the establishment of fish and livestock production, Rise Against Hunger provides pathways to diversifying diets and improving nutritional outcomes. For those who do not grow their own food, income is a key determinant in being food secure. Through income generating activities Rise Against Hunger help individuals increase their earning potential and thus their consistent access to food.
While its long-term food security projects take root, vulnerable families and individuals still need to meet their basic daily food needs. Rise Against Hunger’s volunteer-packaged meals support children’s attendance at school, incentivize adults to learn a new trade, and bolster recipients’ health.
On Saturday, October 27, Williamsburg Presbyterian Church is again privileged to partner with Rise Against Hunger in its battle against hunger. Click here to learn more.
I stopped into Staples last week to pick up a new printer cartridge and it was a flurry of activity and sales going on. You know this time of year parents are taking their children shopping with a long list from the new teacher: Bic pens, Ticonderoga pencils, three subject notebooks, and Crayola colored markers. There is also the trip to the department store for new jeans, Nike’s, blouses and shirts. It is exciting to get ready for the start of school. College students as well will be buying new sheets for the dorm room, going to Costco to stock up on snack supplies and packing the car for the trip back to college.
After the summer break the best part is always seeing friends you haven’t seen for a few months. It’s great to catch up, hear about summer vacation adventures and finding out what’s new in their lives. You also get to make connections with new students, incoming freshman or a transfer student who may become your new friend. It feels good to get back in the routine of school and study. It is fun to be back with the good friends again.
The same is true for the church. You don’t need to go shopping for school supplies (except for the Sunday School teachers) but it is great to be back to the church in full swing. The best part is always seeing friends who may have been traveling during summer and finding out what is new in their lives. There are always newcomers in the fall who we want to welcome and get to know, including freshman UKirk students.
We are looking forward to a great start of the fall season at WPC with exciting programs, the start of Sunday School, choir, and bells. There will be a new mix for the Dinners for Eight and the church picnic coming up. I’m looking forward to a new Roundtable which will start mid-October. There will be new service opportunities and seminars available as well.
I hope you are as excited to get the fall started as a first-grader with a new backpack. I can’t wait for it all to begin.