Written by the Rev. Jemonde Taylor
Happy New Year! This greeting sounds a bit premature to our ears. We just finished Thanksgiving dinner. Some of us are putting up our Christmas decorations. We are not used to hearing a new year greeting in December. Sunday, November 29th marked the beginning of the Christian new year. We are in Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. The word Advent means “to come” and is a season where we wait for Jesus’ birth. This is a bit out of step with the larger culture that started putting up Christmas decorations in stores before Halloween.
Two themes for the Advent season are waiting and watching. There is a Christian spiritual practice called watchfulness that is appropriate during Advent. Watchfulness is akin to Buddhist mindfulness. The African Christian spirit brings insight to watchfulness through the years. It was the 7th century Egyptian monk who cast watchfulness of bringing the head, our thoughts, into our heart, the center of our feelings. This monk wrote that watchfulness is the halting of thought at the entrance of the heart, which means freeing the heart from all thought by keeping is silent and still. The constant burning lamp symbolizes uninterrupted watchfulness to the Ethiopian Orthodox by keeping our hearts dwelling in the Holy Spirit’s action. The black Episcopal saint Blessed Henry Beard Delany described watchfulness as spiritually not accepting the shining brass for the glittering gold. Watchfulness practically means combining Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God” with the Jesus Prayer in Mark 10:47, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Advent is a penitential season, a time of confessing our sins, those things that separate us from God. Advent is a shorter version of Lent. Sin simply means “missing the mark.” The image of a dart board and bullseye are helpful. The goal is to “hit the mark” which is the will of God. Sometimes we “miss the mark,” which is the misalignment of our will with God’s will. One spiritual practice that is useful during Advent is confession, which will help watchfulness. There are four primary relationships we can examine during confession: our relationships with God, other people, ourselves, and nature. Our worship service each Sunday is Morning Prayer, which begins with confession. Morning Prayer is a service anyone can do each day. Websites like Mission St. Clare and Daily Office West are helpful in guiding through the scripture and prayers for each day.
Prepare your heart for Christ to be born this Advent by praying each day. This can mean doing Morning Prayer each day, reading the Forward Movement daily devotional, praying the Lord’s Prayer, taking a walk and giving thanks to God for creation and nature, or praying the confession. As you pray the confession ask God, “What is it that separates me from you, God (the time I spend with God), other people (how I treat other people), myself (how I treat myself), and nature (how I treat the environment)?” Ask God to mend and close that separation by helping you align your will and desire with God’s will. This will keep you watchful, waiting for our Savior Jesus Christ. Our ancestors sang the Spiritual, “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning, for the time in drawing nigh.” Jesus is drawing nigh. Are you ready?