05 November 2015

A memory of fire

There are only three more Sundays until the beginning of Advent, and the start of a new church year.

I love Advent and have ever since I can remember. Halloween might be my personal high holy day, but Advent is the church ritual that speaks to me. 

It began when I was an acolyte in my home church in Wyoming. I loved being responsible for lighting the altar candles throughout the year and having a steady progression of additional candles to light just added to my delight in my role. There is something very powerful about being a child entrusted with fire.

The other part of the ritual of advent that drew me in was the element of story-telling, like Lent, each year I experience the same story different ways depending on the readings selected and on the way my own personal experience intersects with that narrative.

I remember the first year I heard the gospel of Luke on the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:(1-7) 8-20) after the birth of my own son. He was three weeks old at the time and the words "But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." hit me like a freight train. I heard (and read) those same words countless times before but this time they spoke to me with a sublime intensity that I have never forgotten.

There is a power in the building narrative of the season of Advent and there is, for me a corresponding intimacy. Perhaps it comes from living in a part of the world where the sun sets in the afternoon and doesn't rise again for 16 hours by the time Christmas rolls around. Advent, for me,  is a time of being indoors with lamplight, of being in small intimate spaces from small-town church sanctuaries to living rooms all with candles lit to show the progression through the weeks from the start of Advent, that Christian New Year, to the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve.

In all the secular hub-bub that is the lead up to Christmas, Advent stands a time of quiet reflection, a time to light a candle and meditate on the long ago and far away story that still speaks to us today.

I'm looking forward to getting my Advent candles and my Nativity sets out the week after Thanksgiving and using them to help me relive the core of my faith, that Jesus was born of a woman to live in this world with us and to show us a way through this life and at this season he speaks to me in the lighting of the flame.


This essay was originally published at The Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul on 4 November 2015.

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