The liturgical season of Advent began last Sunday. It is a time of anticipation, of waiting for the birth of a child that the Christian traditions know as a savior. It is also a time of preparation of hearts and minds to receive the Good News of the birth of that savior child.
Unitarian Universalists long ago moved beyond those literal meanings of the Christmas holiday. Our Unitarian faith began with a rejection of the miracles claimed for Jesus, including the virgin birth. Our tradition came, eventually, to speak of the “spark of divinity” within each of us.
We have moved beyond the literal meanings, but we love the rituals of the season. The mitten tree in the lobby of the church. The poinsettias decorating the chancel. The Christmas Pageant. The bells. And singing Silent Night with candles in our hands on Christmas Eve.
Advent, however, is rarely mentioned…except in some of the music we love to sing and hear in this season. Yet, there is resonance in the Advent traditions that I would hold up as we move into this holiday season.
Each of the Sundays of Advent has a particular meaning. Often these Sundays, and their meaning, is represented by a wreath with four candles. One candle is lit the first Sunday, two the second and so on. There are special readings offered with the lighting of each candle.
That first candle would have been lit last Sunday. The readings for last Sunday tell of the old testament patriarchs who came before Jesus. That first candle points to the role of history and tradition in our search for hope.
My own preparation for this season is calling me, first, to remember the many prophets who helped shift our world toward wholeness: Gandhi and King, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk and Chief Seattle. So many.
But also my mother and her mother, my teachers and mentors…people who will never be named in history books but on whose shoulders I stand. My preparation begins with remembering.
If this season is to be something more than an escape from anxiety and fear, the memory of those who survived difficult times in the past may be a needed resource for us as we prepare for the future.
We are building on the past as we build toward the future. We are a community of both memory and hope.
This short piece by Rev. Susan Milnor speaks to the “Advent” task and our human task of holding memory and finding a ground of hope:
We pause this hour to remember
Those whom we have lost,
Those whom we fear losing,
Those from whom we are separated,
Those to whom we need to extend a
a caring heart, the will to live.
We pause this hour also to hope
For life and good living,
For love and kind words,
For the support of family and friends,
For meaning in our struggle,
May our memories and hope renew
Us for the days and nights to come.