Advent Vespers Update
Most years Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but this year not. It is later. This coming Sunday, December 3, is the First Sunday of Advent, Advent I. Which means that the last Sunday of Advent is Christmas Eve, thus taking Advent right to the brink.
This Sunday I begin an “Advent Vespers” series at 4:00 p.m. (PST) on Zoom. You will find the link on the right hand side of this page.
Advent is not the season we want. But it is the season we need. We want an upbeat run-up to Christmas filled with lights, parties and good cheer — all of which is great in its way. But we need a season that doesn’t require us to also deny the darkness, but lets us tell the truth of it. With at least two major wars raging in the world, and countless little and not so little intra and inter-personal wars raging closer to home, Advent tells its truth: we are desperate, desperate for help, desperate for God.
Advent is the original counter-cultural season. I look forward to sharing it with you.
I had imagined these “Advent Vespers” as simple services of worship. They have become simpler than I first thought. That’s partly because I am tech-impaired. I thought that I could kind of just play music in the background and you’d get it over Zoom. Turns out it doesn’t work that way. And besides, just plucking the work of musicians from here and there happens to be a violation of copyright laws. So no music, unless we want to hum together.
We’re down to prayer, reading of Scripture, my reflection on the same, and more prayer. Oh yeah, we will light candles. I’ll have our Advent wreath at hand. Bring yours along if that works for you.
A word about the Scripture readings for Advent I (and really all of Advent). As those of you who have been hanging around church for a time well know, the Advent readings have nearly nothing to do with Mary and Joseph, a manger, or a birth in Bethlehem. That is for the 12 day festival of Christmas, which is often missed because we’ve been doing Christmas all throughout December (and Advent), and are by December 26 ready to be done with it and to pack it all back in boxes for another year.
The Scripture readings during Advent have more to do with the second coming (second Advent) of Jesus than with the first. Why? Well, we’ll talk about that this Sunday. For now, suffice it to say that Advent looks beyond the present moment to history’s culmination and consummation. Where is this all going? Is there any hope?
What’s more, as the season of Advent unfolds, the spotlight isn’t on Joseph or Mary or baby Jesus, but on the original hairy man, John the Baptist, the ragged prophet of the one who is to come. In the wilderness, John sets up his pulpit on a stone and his font at the riverbed, perhaps because God can’t get a word in edgewise in religion’s more established precincts and among the official God-talkers back in Jerusalem.
So the Scripture readings for Advent I, and our vespers on Sunday, are as follows: Isaiah 64: 1 -9, I Corinthians 1: 3 – 9 and Mark 13: 24 – 37. The reading from Isaiah is a passionate, desperate cry from a prophet and for a people who have hit bottom and hope against hope that God won’t desert them but will show up there. It’s kind of like AA’s first step: I need help!
The reading from Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth is a somewhat deceptive word of thanksgiving for the folks at First Church Corinth. That’s a church that Paul had helped get going a year or two earlier, before traveling on. Now the congregation in the midst of all sorts of conflict and confusion. “Deceptive” because our reading is the very warm opener of a letter to a congregation that has sort of lost its way. It is, as they say, good to begin on a positive note!
The Mark reading might make you wonder about the general notion that Jesus is a really nice guy who said sensible and compassionate things that inspire us all. This Jesus is, well, different. He starts off saying that the stuff we’re so sure is stable and enduring is actually pretty flimsy and soon to collapse. Along the way he throws shade on everyone, and there have been a lot of folks in this category, who think they have the key to what God is up and know exactly when it will happen.
Don’t know if I/ we will include all three readings. But I do suggest reading them beforehand, along with getting your Advent Wreath up and ready. So, sans music, a simple service will be a simpler service. After welcoming you, I’ll mute f0lks so that we don’t get to listen to you banging around at home or wondering aloud to your spouse, “what’s Tony talking about?” But after a benediction we’ll restore your voices so that you can say hi and offer yours thought if some part of the experience has spoken to you.
As my old friend Lincoln Reed, of blessed memory, would always say when he saw a member of his congregation during the week, “See you Sunday!”