Lighten Our Darkness
I took this photo in Nashville last August during the solar eclipse. Even though it is a summer photo, it has become for me this year a symbol of Advent.
Epiphany, the church season after Christmas, is often known as the season of light. Advent, the time of preparation before Christmas, could easily be known as the season of darkness.
We see it in the physical world around us. I confess I hate going out at 6 p.m. to darkness so complete it feels as if it should be midnight.
We see it in our liturgy with the Advent wreath, when each Sunday of the season we light another candle against the darkness, as we await the coming of the light.
We hear it in the prayers of the season. This Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, we will pray “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.”
This Advent I am acutely aware of many in our community who are living in darkness – the darkness of grief and loss, the darkness of serious illness, the darkness of concern and fear about someone we love.
We see darkness in the world around us – in mass murders; in the rise of white supremacy; in the dismantling of protections of this fragile earth, our island home; in policies that reward the rich and take away the hope of the poor.
In the midst of all this darkness, in our own lives and in the world around us, how do we prepare our hearts for Christmas?
It helps me to remember each year that Christ is not born into a world filled with light and warmth and joy. He comes into the darkness, the cold, into a land occupied by a foreign empire. He comes in poverty and vulnerability. He comes to a world filled with violence and evil. He comes bringing light to the darkness.
The central figure for our Advent gospel readings this year is John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, who comes to prepare the way for the Messiah.
The Gospel of John (a different John) says this about John the Baptist, “He came as a witness to testify to the light. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”
Our challenge this Advent is to testify to the light – to see not only the darkness that surrounds us, but the glimpses of light that shine in the darkness.
The acts of kindness to those who mourn or face illness testify to the light. Reaching out to help a stranger is a testimony to the light. The courage of women who speak the truth about sexual abuse testify to the light. When we begin to look for the light we can see it all around us, even in days of deep darkness.
Which brings me back to my photo of the eclipse. It was taken during totality, those 90 seconds or so in which the moon totally eclipsed the sun. The temperature dropped, crickets began chirping, tree frogs began singing. The darkness was real.
But look again at the photo. Even during totality, the sun’s light is there – faint, but visible around the edges.
“And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Listening to Isaiah in Advent:
The Comfort of Repentance
Adult Christian Education for the first two Sundays in Advent (December 3 and 10) will consider the prophet Isaiah’s call for repentance by the nation of Israel, and for us now, our own nation. But God’s word in the writing of the prophet never leaves us bereft and lost. Repentance brings renewal and comfort for all the nations. Come join us in the Founders’ Room at 9:30.
Advent 1 – Sunday, December 3. Join us in making Advent wreaths after the 10:45 service.
Advent 2 – Sunday, December 10. Join us for one of the most beautiful services of the year, Advent Lessons and Carols, at 4 p.m.
Advent 3 – Sunday, December 17. Our annual Christmas pageant and Christmas carol sing-a-long will be in the church, beginning at 9:45.
Advent 4 – Sunday, December 24. We will have ONE service at 10 a.m. for Advent 4, followed by preparing the church for Christmas.
Christmas Eve – Sunday, December 24. Special music begins at 4:30 p.m. with the liturgy beginning at 5 p.m. Attendance at this service grows every year. Be sure to be here for the music and to get a seat.
Christmas Day, Monday, December 25. Service at 10 a.m.
New Year’s Eve, Sunday, December 31. ONE service of Christmas Lessons and Carols, with Eucharist, and blessing of the watches and calendars at 10 a.m.
A Note from Elizabeth
Steve enjoyed and thrived in the decade of being in the community of St. Dunstan’s. It was not long enough. Steve, Connor, and I have all been blessed and enriched by your friendships, laughter, smiles, musicality, and much more. Sharing thoughts from a friend: Steve was a wonderful man and his legacy and his goodness will live on in Connor and in the hearts of everyone he touched whose lives he made better.
This passage speaks to me, and I want to share it with you. “Saints among us who have departed this life and gone to a new adventure have been to us a gift from God. We thank you for giving them to us to know and to love as companions on our earthly pilgrimage.
I repeat Tricia’s appreciation because she says it all: “Thank you to everyone who worked so hard on Steve’s funeral and reception. It was not a service that any of us wanted to do, but since it was necessary so many people put their hearts into making it beautiful. Thanks to all the participants in the service – the choir, the ushers, the lay readers, lectors, acolyte, and bread bakers, to Claudia for preparing a beautiful service bulletin, and to all who helped with the reception, headed up by Michele Smither and Suzanne van de Mark.”
And thank you to Tricia for being there: at the hospital, at our home, in the morning and at night on the other end of the line when I called to talk and ended up sobbing.
I also share a story about another hobby that Steve enjoyed: sailing. He learned on Lake Lanier, and one summer evening under the direction of a seasoned captain sailed a 36-foot boat with a “boatload of friends.” We encountered a heavy but brief storm and the passengers all went below – except for Steve and the captain who remained steadfast to ensure our safety.
Sail on, Steve Mark.
Our condolences to Connor and Elizabeth Wong Mark on the October 25 death of their father and husband, Steve Mark.
Our condolences to Helen Bealer on the October 25 death of her daughter, Susan Bealer Duncan.
Congratulations to our newest Episcopalians – Mary Alice Armstrong, Misty Bentz, Justin Camara, Mike Camara, and Bessie Holland, who were confirmed or received by Bishop Wright on November 19. Congratulations also to those who reaffirmed their faith that day – Gwen Barnett, Hollis Holland, Carson Morris, and Mary Kathryn Wolfson.
We welcome Jessy Hamilton, who has transferred his membership to St. Dunstan’s from St. John’s Cathedral in Denver.
We welcome Peggy Rogers, who has transferred her membership from St. John’s in Montgomery, Alabama.
We welcome Billy DuBose, who has transferred his membership from Church of the Cross in Columbia, South Carolina.
Thanks to all who helped with the reception for Bishop Wright and our new confirmands on November 19, particularly Claudia Gimson who coordinated the festivities.
Thank you to all who helped with Family Promise, providing home for two homeless families the week of November 12: Steve and Susan Hauser, Harriett Smith, Fair Sutherlin, Elise MacIntyre, Mary Kathryn and Bob Wolfson, Shirley Morgan, Lori Westphal and Alexander Changus, Ellen Taratus, Sherri Crawford, John Lloyd, Mary Jane and Bill Kleven, Vivian Siggers, Sandra Dobbs, Jane Blount, Gilda Morris, Nancy Dillon, Keith and Nancy Knight Latimore, Michele Smither, Daria Jones, Gwen Barnett, Charis Bowling, Lucy Kaltenbach, Mary Hunter Rouse and Robert Strange, Cathy and Charlie Leake, Mimi Gold, Jessy Hamilton and Adam Steinke, Pam Week, Jeanne Taylor, Tega Ewubare, Audrey Capp, Bob Longino, Deb Dee, Misty Bentz, and Hollis and Bessie Holland. It truly does take a village!
Thanks to Harriett Smith and Susan Howard for representing St. Dunstan’s at the annual diocesan council, held in Gainesville.
Thanks to Rebecca Parker, of Mary and Martha’s Place, and her husband, Buddy, for the new couch, love seat, and chair in the parish hall. The artwork belongs to Tricia and Joe. The painting about the couch is by Tricia’s mother, Lena Dot Templeton, and the folk art painting of the Last Supper is by Tennessee folk artist SteveS.
I am not interested (unlike most retailers) in rushing toward the coming holidays. But it is also the case that I usually start thinking about the season of Advent in June or July. I especially enjoy planning our annual service of Lessons and Music for Advent. The traditional Advent passages from the lectionary, Advent hymns for the Hymnal 1982, the collects for the four Sundays of the season – all these are guides for Advent music planning. They reveal the richness and breadth of the season.
First, and most obviously, in Advent we recall and anticipate a particular historical event. The infancy stories from Luke remind us that Jesus was a flesh and blood person. He was born of a human mother in a particular time and place. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Jesus’ coming also has an ahistorical aspect. We have the opportunity in Advent to take seriously the matter of the presence of the spirit of Christ in our individual lives. What difference would it make if Jesus came to me now, if he were reborn in me? The renewed gift of the spirit of Christ in my life would make me a new, better, more alive person. “O come to us, abide with us…”
Jesus’ coming also has cosmic implications. Whether it is his “second coming,” “in power and great glory,” or whether the spirit of Christ might transform this world, this time, and this place – the season of Advent is about the renewal of hope, the redemption of the mess that humanity has made of things, the salvation of the planet, and the making of all things new.
Our hymns and anthems during Advent will reflect, in various ways, these Advent themes. Our annual Service of Lessons and Music for Advent will be Sunday, December 10, at 4 p.m. Please plan to make this service a part of your season of Advent.
An Advent Prayer of Confession
by Keith Watkins
God, we confess that ours is still a world
in which Herod seems to rule:
the powerful are revered,
the visions of the wise are ignored,
the poor are afflicted,
and the innocent are killed.
You show us that salvation comes
in the vulnerability of a child,
yet we hunger for the “security” of weapons and walls.
You teach us that freedom comes in loving service,
yet we trample on others in our efforts to be “free.”
Forgive us, God, when we look to the palace
instead of the stable,
when we heed politicians more than prophets.
Renew us with the spirit of Bethlehem,
that we may be better prepared for your coming.