By Steve DeLaney, Asst. Director of Evangelization

The Wreath and Candles

The tradition of the Advent wreath arose in the Middle Ages in Europe, a time of great creativity in the Christian imagination. The medieval mind found God reflected in everything. The evergreen branches seemed to speak of the unchanging nature of God’s love, the circle of the wreath reflected the eternity of God, and candles lit in winter darkness were the image of Christ’s light. Even the holly branches, with their sharp leaves and red berries, drew the mind of the believer to the crown of thorns and the blood of the cross. Pine cones, with their hidden seeds, hinted at the resurrection to come.

The colors of the Advent candles reflect the liturgical colors for the season. Purple, or violet, is the primary color, and is one of preparation and repentance. There are four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent. The third Sunday, called Guadete Sunday (Rejoice!), has a rose colored candle, to symbolize that our waiting during Advent is almost over.

The Advent wreath is a wonderful tradition of prayer and waiting during Advent. The lighting of the candles is often done at dinnertime, along with the reading of a prayer.

Week Two – Promise

We all called her “Miss Eloise.” She had worked at the school for more than fifty years, starting as a young woman in her twenties, and had never left. She did the morning cleaning shift, coming in at 3:30 AM to open up, turn on the lights, make the coffee, sweep up, and do what had to be done so the school was ready for the teachers and students. She called everyone her children, and everyone loved her.

When I was teaching, I would come in early in the morning, and many times it was just the two of us. One day I was prepping for a prayer service which I was supposed to lead. I went to the teacher’s lounge for coffee, and there was Miss Eloise.  She could tell I was nervous about something, and she asked me about it. I told her about the prayer service, and then said, “I am just working so hard to make sure this thing goes right.”

She looked at me and said, “You don’t need to worry about it going right. That’s not your job. That’s HIS job.” I was so surprised by her answer that I almost laughed out loud. Of course, she was right. I was thinking about the whole thing as if it was up to me, and only me. The fact that God might have something to do with it didn’t cross my mind.

Parker Palmer, a Quaker writer and teacher, has a wonderful and devastating critique of many religious people. He says that we can be “functional atheists,” meaning that we profess to believe in God, but we act like the whole world is up to us. We don’t let our belief really impact our lives. Miss Eloise was helping me see that this is what I was doing – I was making the whole thing depend on me, when the whole thing really depends on God.

This Sunday’s readings invite us the consider God’s promises to us. The prophet Baruch consoles the people of Israel during the exile with the promise that Jerusalem will be restored. St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians speaks of his confidence that the work God has started will be completed. And in the Gospel of Luke we hear of the deepest, and most profound promise of God: that every valley will be filled and every rough way made smooth, “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

As humans we often find ourselves making promises to God so that things will work out for us. We forget that the God is the one who has done the promising. God has promised to love us, to save us, to never leave us alone, and there is great comfort in being reminded of this. During Advent, that promise rings in our ears from the voices in the scriptures. The life of faith asks us to trust completely in God’s promise.

Do we? Do we really trust in the dream of salvation? In the promise placed deep within us – the promise that drives us out into the night, looking for the star, listening for the word of God that rises up from our souls? As we prepare for the coming of Christ, let us hold to that promise, and let us trust in the God who is always faithful to His word.

From “To Be A Virgin” by Loretta Ross-Gotta

Jesus observed, “Without me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5).  Yet we act, for the most part, as though without us God can do nothing.  We think we have to make Christmas come, which is to say we think we have to bring about the redemption of the universe on our own.  When all God needs is a willing womb, a place of safety, nourishment, and love.  “Oh, but nothing will get done,” you say.  “If I don’t do it, Christmas won’t happen.”  And we crowd out Christ with our fretful fears.

God asks us to give away everything of ourselves. The gift of greatest efficacy and power that we can offer God and creation is not our skills, gifts, abilities, and possessions.  The wise men had their gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Paul and Peter had their preaching.   Mary offered only space, love, belief.  What is it that delivers Christ into the world — preaching, art, writing, scholarship, social justice?  Those are all gifts well worth sharing.  But preachers lose their charisma, scholarship grows pedantic, social justice alone cannot save us.  In the end, when all other human gifts have met their inevitable limitation, it is the recollected one, the bold virgin with a heart in love with God who makes a sanctuary of her life, who delivers Christ who then delivers us.

Try it.  Leave behind your briefcase and notes and proof texts.  Leave behind your honed skills and knowledge.  Leave the Christmas decorations up in the attic.  Go to someone in need and say, “Here, all I have is Christ.”  And find out that that is enough.

“The Way It Is” by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

“Last Night As I Was Sleeping”  by Antonio Machado

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart. 

Harriet Tubman Series (no. 4) – Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000) was an African-American painter who documented the stories and trials of African-Americans through his work. This painting is the fourth in a series about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad (and is housed at Hampton University). It expresses the incredible sense of hope and celebration of people who had been enslaved and are now on their way to freedom. Their journey is also celebration and dance. They are experiencing, before our eyes, the promise of freedom and salvation. 


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