Silent Night, Holy Night – Advent Reflections

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Council of Elders

Advent Reflections

by Rev. Elder Dr. Candace R. Shultis

Second Sunday of Advent

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so
long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home.

The Birth of John the Baptist
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her
neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they
shared her joy.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the
child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His
name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he
began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

Luke’s Gospel contains an interesting story about Zechariah and the birth of his son John. (Luke 1: 5-23; 57-80). While serving at the Temple in Jerusalem the angel Gabriel appeared and told him that despite his age and the age of his wife Elizabeth, they were to have a son and were to name him John. Because Zechariah found this news to be unbelievable, he was made mute, unable to speak until what was prophesied came to be. Elizabeth did conceive and did bear a son. When they came to have him circumcised, Elizabeth declared that his name would be John. Not believing her, those present asked Zechariah and he wrote on a tablet that his name was John. Zechariah was now able to speak and gave his own prophesy for what would become of John: that he would be the forerunner of One who would give knowledge of salvation, would forgive sins, would be light to those who sit in night and who would guide people’s feet in the way of peace.

I wonder if we, too, sometimes find the Good News of the Gospel unbelievable? Or are we afraid of what others might think if we go about proclaiming salvation, forgiveness, light and peace? The season of Advent is about getting ready for the greatest gift ever given. Maybe it’s also about finding our own voice of prophesy or proclamation. Do we believe that we are also called to be forerunners who point others to Jesus?

Council of Elders

Advent Reflections

by Rev. Elder Mona West, Ph.D.

First Sunday of Advent

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
(Luke 21: 25-28)

Advent: The End or the Beginning?

My mother, who became a staunch Pentecostal in the last half of her life, was always known to comment on disturbing world events by saying “Jesus is nigh unto the door.” For her, these signs of the times were an indication that the world was about to end, in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ, complete with the destruction of evil, and the triumph of the righteous.

In the 21st chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus outlines three signs that signal the end: the appearance of false messiahs; wars and international conflicts; and natural disasters. Not much has changed since the first century. In every age since Jesus has been “nigh unto the door.” In the 21st century, with the election and appointment of immoral leaders, mass shootings and bombings, and the effects of climate change, we seem to be on the threshold of that door into the end.

Advent is a threshold. On this first Sunday of the Christian liturgical year, we hold the end and the beginning in creative tension. That is why this season has always had an apocalyptic element to it. Apocalypse is a Greek word, which means, “uncovering” or “unveiling.” Nadia Bolz-Weber defines it as “a big hope filled idea” exposing the fact that dominant powers are not ultimate powers.

Focus on the doom and gloom of apocalypse, as well as preoccupation with calculating the exact time when the world will end, overshadow its hopeful intent. Apocalyptic writing in the Bible was not meant to scare people into belief, but to encourage their belief in a God who is bigger than the world’s dominant powers.

Movements such as # BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the Migrant Caravans are a “lifting of the veil,” an exposing, of the heresy of domination. The apocalyptic message of Advent is that Jesus as the only begotten has “unveiled God.” God’s advent into our world and into our lives provides a way of transformation—everything is shaken up, laid bare. Old ways of being and the status quo are brought to an end so that something radically new will take its place.

Apocalypse is always with us. Not only does it invite us to have belief in a God who is bigger than the world’s powers, it also invites us to daily transformation as we let go of old habits and attitudes and lift the veil on the racism, sexism, and xenophobia in our personal lives and the lives of the institutions to which we belong.

Thomas Merton has said Advent is “the beginning of the end of all, in us, that is not yet Christ.” Amen. May it be so.