Monday, December 24, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Christmas Eve

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

The house is quiet. And full. Everyone is reading. One on the couch, one in the coveted comfy chair, one on the stairs, one in her room, another somewhere else. The contentment of solitary pursuit settles over the house like a favorite quilt.

There is a difference between enjoying alone time and being lonely. I remember feeling completely alone once in the midst of a group of close friends. Their laughter surrounded me, yet I was exiled from it. I don’t remember why. I don’t know what interior or exterior drama left me in that barren space. But the ache was familiar.

Ordinary and extraordinary incidents can hold us captive, can push us into the isolation of disconnection. We encounter personal demons and real life tragedy. We are brought to our knees by the aching absence of one we cherish. Or sometimes we just feel left out, or left behind, or out of sync with the world around us.

Yet I also know the quiet and the solitude to overflow with grace. To contain moments in which I let go of all pretense and find myself immersed in the flow of creation. To offer the pleasure of serenity. To be a place of meeting, where I encounter my savior and know myself beloved.

I welcome this day’s quiet, which heralds the end of one path of waiting and the beginning of new expectation.

O come Emmanuel! Come God with us! Restore us and remind us once again that there is no landscape bereft of your love.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of humankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

The doll stands atop the bookshelf in our family room. She seems oddly out of place, in her Vietnamese elegance, amongst the family photos, scattered papers and DVDs. She is neither cute nor cuddly nor worn with love like the Velveteen Rabbit. Nevertheless she stands there, an icon of passionate childhood devotion. My father bought her just for me. My father brought her back with him from Vietnam.

Or maybe he sent her. Was she a birthday or Christmas or homecoming gift? I don’t remember. I remember that he was away at war, that I read my first book aloud to him on a reel-to-reel tape, that I kept a picture of him pinned to the bulletin board in my room. More than his absence, it is these moments of connection I recall. This must be the result of the power of love and faith. My mother, my church, and the military community in which we lived kept us focused on connections.

I never named this doll, never snuggled with her, never employed her in my many games of house or school. Yet she holds a place of honor in my house. She is a tribute. To a father’s love which procured a gift for a little girl out of a war zone.

There are many sad divisions in our lives. Some are caused by war. Some are caused by hurts we inflict within our families. Some are caused by stupid arguments we refuse to mend. Some are minor; some are cataclysmic. None are beyond the healing grace of Christ. Come desire of every nation. Come desire of every household. Come desire of every heart. Come and bind us together. Come and bind us to you.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Friday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

The rain is pounding as I wake. At least it is not snow, I think. But it is snow in the Midwest that closed an airport and delayed the arrival of an eagerly expected guest in our house. The waiting continues.

I sit in the rain-dark morning, illumined by the lights on the Christmas tree. My oldest daughter is packing her lunch for school—one more day before break. The waiting continues.

One more day before we can give ourselves over completely to holy other time.  I yearn now for the release that comes with immersing myself fully in the rhythm of ritual and play and prayer and festival.

Three more days of Advent. Three more days of the waiting.

Three more days that are lengthening, even as we reach to light the fourth candle, revealing that the waiting strengthens rather than depletes our hope. The light grows brighter, closer; the wild star is already piercing the heavens as the fullness of time draws nigh.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

The tree occupies a significant amount of space in our small living room. Because we have travelled at Christmas time in recent years, it has been some time since we brought a tree into our house. But this year we are staying home, and I find myself eager to gather up once again traditions that have been set aside.

And what will they look like now, these rituals and activities that have lain in the wings while our family life has moved on? We have changed, as individuals, and as the complicated dance that represents us as some kind of whole.

What furniture will need to be displaced, what patterns of living rearranged, what spaces opened to allow for our joyful preparations? What will we discover about who we are and about the one for whom we prepare?

The coming of Christ opens a new way. Every time. At all times. This time.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree,
free them from Satan’s tyranny
that trust thy mighty power to save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

I notice the new sign as I drive by and wonder how long it has been there. The well-crafted, attractive new marker for the inn occupies the place vacated by a once proud beech.  The tree had stood there strong and tall, majestically arching over a vast space. Until a storm last year took it down.

Now a bed-and-breakfast, the inn inhabits the former grand home of a family that a century and a half ago invited neighbors into their living room for evening prayer—and started a church. A church that grew into the cathedral congregation now occupying the block across the street, a beacon of life in its urban setting.

The destruction of that beech tree gave way for other signs as well.

I recently traveled to South Sudan on a mission of friendship. Out of an amazing set of circumstances, a relationship has been engendered between the Diocese of Bethlehem in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Kajo-Keji in South Sudan. I carried with me greetings from one Bishop to another, teaching tools to share with the children I would visit in the schools we have built together, and an important gift. Carefully wrapped in tissue paper, a wooden cup and plate, chalice and paten. A faithful craftsman of the cathedral congregation in Bethlehem turned two sets of these vessels. One I placed in the hands of the Dean of Emmanuel Cathedral in Kajo-Keji. Its twin resides at Nativity Cathedral in Bethlehem. Both were crafted from the very branches of that beech tree.

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots,” writes the Prophet Isaiah.

From the roots of a family, from the roots of a beech tree, from the roots of a war-torn country, from the stump of Jesse, hope continues to flourish. O come, Emmanuel.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

(from The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 56)

“Do you know what a messiah is?” the teacher asks a group of preschoolers. This takes a certain amount of courage. Anyone who has worked with young children knows a question like this is just begging for a show-stopper answer. My friend Henry, age four, does not disappoint.

“It’s a wild animal with white and black spots!”

His mother tells me she inwardly rolled her eyes and wondered what the teacher was thinking. Of course this group of young children have no idea what a messiah is. What kind of a question is that? What kind of an answer is that? Then she reconsidered. Perhaps his answer is right on the mark.

Our messiah is decidedly wild. After all, that was one of the problems Jesus’ followers had with him. He didn’t act in predictable ways.  He couldn’t be counted on to keep the Sabbath in a respectable manner or to avoid hanging out with the wrong kinds of people. He challenged authority, stormed market places, and cursed fig trees.

We do not have a tame messiah. And I am thankful. When the world around me is a tempestuous storm, I need a God of might and strength and beauty. A tame messiah just won’t do.

I think it is very gutsy of us to pray the collect for the third Sunday of Advent and mean it: Stir up your power O Lord, and with great might come among us. Do we really want God’s power stirred up? Are we ready for God to sweep into our lives full of might? Are we ready for the messiah, The Wild Beast of God?

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Monday of the Third Week of Advent

O Come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

(from The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 56)

It turns out to be a spool of thread. Actually, it’s an empty spool and a plastic one at that, which explains the volume of my yelp as my bare foot encounters it. “This is why I ask you not to leave things on the stairs!” I fling in the general direction of my younger daughter’s room. She likes to collect such items. Of course carrying an empty spool all the way up the stairs to her bedroom is a bit much to expect.

It is so easy to create stumbling blocks for one another, I reflect. Like to one I laid before my other daughter a few days ago. She was actually cleaning the house, dusting just as I had asked. Yet when I watched her give one cluttered surface a less than thorough treatment the first words out of my mouth were, “not like that!”

I saw her trip over my tone of disapproval and land in a pool of adolescent angst. It’s not that guidance about how to do a job well was out of place. But there are many ways to speak respectfully and I had chosen to ignore them all. I know better. As a person and as a parent, I know better. I hugged my daughter and apologized, “I’m sorry I spoke harshly. I know you were doing just what I asked you to do.”

They say that wisdom comes with age. But as they say in this neck of the woods, we grow “too soon old and too late smart.” I am always wishing I knew yesterday what I leaned today. I do not always know the way, and even when I am on the right path, I seem to only stumble along.

We need Christ Sophia. We need to be shown the path, and be taught as we walk it. We need her guidance continually.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Saturday of the Second Week of Advent

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,
   and bring me to your holy hill
   and to your dwelling.
  Psalm 43:3

“Why is one of them pink?”

“It’s not pink, it’s rose.”

“Ok, so why is one of them rose?”

“It’s for Rose Sunday,” I say with a sense of incredulity. How can he not know that on the third Sunday of Advent we light a rose candle?

“Well, where is the white one?” My husband queries.

“What white one?”

“The one that goes in the center…”

The conversation surrounded the creation of our first mutual Advent wreath, many years ago. It was not the first difference of practice we had encountered as we endeavored to build a household together. I was mystified by his continued practice of putting the milk on the wrong shelf in the refrigerator. After all, everyone knows where the milk belongs.

And everyone knows what a proper Advent wreath looks like. Except everyone doesn’t. I grew up with three purple and one rose candle. He grew up with the white Christ candle in the center. Neither of us had ever encountered the other. A white candle in the middle? Really? Could that work? Apparently so.  It can even work circled by three purple and one rose candle.

As we prepare to light the rose candle this year, more than twenty Advent wreaths later, I pause to consider how little I know about what really matters. Our life together continues to be a series of new discoveries, negotiations and encounters with the other. We offer surprising illuminations to one another. And there remains mystery that invites exploration. Like the mystery surrounding the one whose coming this season heralds. After all, encountering the other is what we are preparing for as we light these candles.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Friday of the Second Week of Advent

In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame;
   deliver me in your righteousness
Incline your ear to me,
   make haste to deliver me.
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold;
   for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
   Psalm 31:1-3

“Mom, you’re embarrassing me!”

“That’s my job. It’s in the Mom Handbook.” We are both only partly joking.

I am grateful for the conversation. I am thankful for the humor that we can each inject into what could be a tense moment, and I am keenly aware of the importance of us staying connected. I sense a window of opportunity closing. There is so much I want to tell my daughter as she seeks wisdom and guidance farther and farther from home. She is moving beyond the sphere of my influence—and protection.

When I was new to this city, I became completely lost one night. Sixth months pregnant, with my two-year-old in the back seat of the car, I discovered that the way home was not simply a matter of reversing my route. There was a specific moment when I realized that nothing was familiar along the dimly lit urban streets. How far astray had I gone?

My husband was the only other person I knew in town; he was unreachable. My sense of urgency was heightened by the two young lives in my care and my need to protect them. Why is it that parenting makes one feel so vulnerable? I tried to retrace my route and to keep my panic at bay.  Finally I crossed a street with a name I recognized. I had never been that far along that particular road, but I was able to get my bearings.

It occurs to me that I want to feel protected just as much as I want to protect those I love. As I go about my life, I reach out for familiar touchstones and signposts. No wonder the image of God as a rock is such an enduring one. I have not traveled this far down the road of parenting before. And the way forward is not always as straightforward as it seems. I often go astray. But when I look at the person my daughter is becoming, I realize I recognize her. I know who she is, and I can get my bearings.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Take delight in the Lord,
   and he shall give you your heart's desire. 
   Psalm 37:4

“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” my friend queries as she begins her homily. I am arrested by this question and don’t hear what she says next. Is that what I am supposed to do in the wilderness, I wonder? To look for something? I don’t perceive of my excursions into the wilderness as fact-finding missions, I realize. When I intentionally seek out the wilderness, I am usually in flight mode. I flee to the wilderness to escape the noise and chaos of my life. I yearn for the desert island without cell tower, meetings or homework assignments. I am not planning to look for or at anything.

Then there are the times I find myself cast into a wilderness not of my own choosing, a place of loneliness and deprivation. My stance at these times is usually one of endurance. I simply need to survive this dry spell and then I will be all right.

I’m not sure I have ever gone out into the desert to look for something. But now I wonder. Perhaps the desert isn’t “other,” but part of one whole.

What if my heart’s desire resides in the wilderness? What might I find in the wilderness if I go seeking?

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless;
   give me life in your ways. 
  Psalm 119:37

I have an hour before dinner. Just enough time to run to the bookstore and buy that book for my sister-in-law. If I get it today, then it is just possible I can manage to assemble that particular package and get it mailed in time to arrive for Christmas. The book, and those beautiful candles I saw in the shop window next to the bookstore. These are the last items on my list.

“Yes, we have one copy of that book,” the young man informs me. Except it is nowhere to be found. Not on the shelf where it is supposed to be. Not on any shelf it might be. I regroup. I might be able to get it elsewhere, if I have time. I head down the street to get the candles. Only on closer inspection I see that they just won’t do. My hour is running out. My sense of urgency is rising. My brain begins to catalogue all the things I have yet to do.

I know something about the power of lists. Especially repeated ones. They create grooves and habits in our psyches. Organizational gurus tell us that writing a “to do” list gets our worries out of our minds and into an action plan. Except what about those things I don’t want in an action plan? Do I really need to make a list of my worries and keep repeating it? And what about making a litany out of my failures? How does that lead me on the path of God’s truth and love?

It doesn’t.

I think I will make a  “To Don’t” list. On it I will put all the things that distract me from the grace of God. And it’s not even going to be a real list. I am not going to write those distractions down. I am not going to give them that much space in my life or soul.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
   my heart trusts in him, and I have been helped;
Therefore my heart dances for joy,
   and in my song will I praise him.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
   a safe refuge for his anointed. 
  Psalm 28:8-10

“Ok, today I am in my calm mode.”

“That’s because you are not picking up perfection from the floor,” my friend quips.

I look at him quizzically. Then I realize he means Perfection, a children’s game that comes with a lot of small pieces. He knows all about the “game-falling-out-of-my-coat-closet” incident that occurred the other day. And he is correct. The name of the game that played havoc with my morning last week is Perfection.

I am arrested by the image he has invoked. Yes, life is much less stressful when I leave perfection alone, and do not attempt to pick it up once I drop it. Of course the very idea that I am able to uphold perfection in the first place is flawed. My humanity is showing.

I sometimes believe I can measure my level of stress by the number of balls I am dropping. What would life look like if I only juggled as many balls as I could handle? What if I allowed myself to focus on the task at hand and employ the time necessary to complete it? What if I remember that the number of balls I can juggle has no real effect upon the salvation of the world? What if I remember to rely on God?  After all, the work of salvation has been completed, has been perfected, by the one who holds the job title of Savior.

I think leaving perfection on the floor and walking away is a good idea.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Show me your ways, O LORD,
   and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
   for you are the God of my salvation;
   in you have I trusted all the day long. 
   Psalm 25:3-4

It is chaos.  I had volunteered to bring the cake. This will be easy, I think. I order the cake from the grocery store. I pick it up. I bring it along with the necessary paper plates, plastic forks, and cutting knife. I drop it off. Then, I prepare to leave.

“Aren’t you going to stay and cut the cake?” the other mother asks. She has organized this party for 80 some kids. She is much braver than I am. I had been planning to contribute, and then escape. After all, several other parents have volunteered to work the party.

“I’m no good at cutting cake,” I explain. This is actually true. It would seem that cutting a sheet cake into reasonably sized, beautifully rectangular portions is a straightforward task. I’ve seen it done. But somehow I missed the parenting class on proper cake cutting. Nevertheless, I find myself stationed at the cake table surrounded by excessively eager children. “Those are big slices,” another parent observes as I awkwardly attack my task. I cannot keep up and begin to lose my confidence and composure. I spy another parent across the room, one of the calmest and most good-natured people I know. Bordering on desperation, I beckon to him, surrender the knife, and escape.

In the middle of the wildness and wilderness of the party, I want to cry out, “Make a path, clear the way, get me out of here!” Where is John the Baptist when you need him? But the way of God is not made smooth for our escape. The way is made smooth to welcome our salvation. Show me the way, O God. Teach me to walk in the wildness of my everyday life, and discover the path that leads to the Messiah I await.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Saturday of the First Week of Advent

Turn again to your rest, O my soul,
   for the Lord has treated you well.
   Psalm 116:6

I sink into the unhurried moment. Finally. It is easier to breath from here. Although I got up at my usual hour, the morning caught me by surprise and it is noon before I can seem to get my bearings. Why am I rushing about?

My body begins to soak up the quietude, and I consciously relax into the richness of the fare here. Then, with the briefest of nods to the tranquility on offer, I pick up my to-do list once again. But I have moved away from the respite too soon and the stress jumps at the opportunity to constrict me.  Like days I attempt a workout at the gym without being thoroughly warmed up, I have no flexibility or stamina.

Why is it I resist the pull to linger in the unhurried moment? Why am I content to take a fast-food approach with my soul, grabbing a quick prayer on the go as if that will sustain me?

The two hemispheres of our brain control different functions, popular psychology often preaches. Yet neuroscientists tell us it is the integration of these two hemispheres that bring to the fore our greatest resources. The brain has the ability to reorganize itself to form new neural connections throughout our life. The more intentional we are about keeping these two hemispheres connected and communicating, the more access we have to our brain’s resources. Creating and maintaining this connectivity takes practice, and is something that cannot be hurried.

Perhaps there is a reason that “hurried” looks so much like “harried.”

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Friday of the First Week of Advent

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
   I have said to the LORD, "You are my Lord, my good above all other."
   Psalm 16:1

Of course it was one of those board games with a thousand small parts. I hear them clatter to the floor followed by the game board as I struggle to rescue a warmer coat from the tightly packed hall closet.

"The spiritual life is a stern choice,” writes Evelyn Underhill,  “It is not a consoling retreat from the difficulties of existence; but an invitation to enter fully into that difficult existence, and there apply the Charity of God to bear the cost." As I stoop to pick up the pieces, I reflect that the family life is also a stern choice. Having already resolved during my morning prayer to keep a spiritual focus for the day, to take the time needed to prepare for my upcoming meeting, to be prayerful and attentive to God during what promises to be a hectic day, the tumbling pieces of the children’s game abruptly shatter my tranquility. This isn’t even a game they play anymore, I mutter to myself with a sense of injustice.

Nevertheless, all of this is part of one cloth. In choosing to be faithful to the married life, in following a vocation of parenting, I also choose the cluttered closet. And the complicated schedule. And difficult negotiations. And raucous conversation around the dinner table. And shyly offered confidences about newly discovered friendships. And forgiveness offered and accepted. None of this is separate from the spiritual life.

(excerpt from Advent with Evelyn Underhill, edited by Christopher L. Webber. Morehouse 2006, p.7)

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Thursday of the First Week of Advent

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion
   slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Lord is loving to everyone
   and his compassion is over all his works.
   Psalm 145:8-9

I awake with a sense of pleasant anticipation. I get to practice a delight this morning--putting chocolate gold coins into my daughters’ shoes.  Today is the feast of St. Nicholas.

In earlier years, this gambit required a certain amount of stealth. Not any more. For one thing, my girls know it is me and not the 4th century Bishop of Myra who puts the chocolate in their shoes. For another, I know I won’t get caught. I can count on being awake before the teenagers.

And they are teenagers. Too old for make-believe and sandboxes and bedtime stories. But not too old for ritual. Or the small things I do to show my love.

“Thanks for the chocolate, Mom,” my youngest says as she heads out the door for school. I am not too old to soak up the small things she does to show her love. Nor for the rituals that point to the Holy One who is gracious, full of compassion, and of great kindness.

Read more about St. Nicholas

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012   

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

Oh, that my ways were made so direct
   that I might keep your statutes! 
  Psalm 119:5

“We all get distracted praying the psalms,” I heard the monk say. I am surprised. After all, he is a monk, and not a new one either. He is no novice, trying out the monastic life and discipline to see if it fits. This gentle soul, who was instructing our retreat group about prayer, has been intentional about his Christian vocation for a long time.  Apparently, even mature Christians get distracted. “When you find your mind wandering during the recitation of the psalm, do not berate yourself. Rather, think back, find the place where you lost your way. Often the verse you were praying has something to tell you.”

This morning his words come back to me. Because as I pray psalm 119, I rewrite one verse. “Oh that your ways were made so direct,” I pray. There it is. That one little slip. Just a word. And a world of difference.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I think, if God’s ways were so clearly delineated that there was no chance for me to stray off the path? Perhaps the way of God’s statutes could be more like those lines at amusement parks and airports that snake between ropes, the people carefully corralled into obedience.

But that’s not how God works. I am responsible for my ways, the psalm reminds me. In fact, my ways are the only ones to which I can be held accountable. Huh.

I still have some work to do. I begin to pray the psalm again.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

In the morning Lord, your hear my voice;
  early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.   Psalm 5:3

The package greets me as I arrive home after a long drive. It is unexpected; not something I ordered and not an early Christmas arrival from a family member. I look at the return address and a smile warms my face and seeps into my travel weary limbs.

I unwrap the carefully packaged friendship and find my hands cradling a carved wooden figure. The weight and texture bring pleasure as I finger a fine statue of a bearded man with kind eyes holding a book and a quill. “Saint Paul—Patron  Saint of Writers,” the attached card reads.

This figure has traveled to me from the desk of a colleague and friend. It carries with it years of writing and vision and expectancy. It embodies her grace and friendship. And as I place it where it will now reside in my prayer space, it conveys her works of faith, and labor of love, and steadfastness of hope. These gifts arrive and replenish my own store of faith and love and hope. That’s how generosity works.

I began the day with the practice of prayer, pledging myself to watch for God.  And here, now, is Saint Paul who will keep me company through this year’s Advent adventure. Saint Paul, and my friend, and all those who appear along the way, as I am attentive to the grace of God.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Monday of the First Week of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.     The Book of Common Prayer, p. 211

The boy practically prances down the aisle, his toddler tennis shoes lighting up as he goes. I remember when my children were young enough to wear "light-up" shoes. It is the First Sunday of Advent and the boy is in procession, following the cross on his way to Children's Chapel. He grins at me as he passes, and my attention is caught by those shoes. I am reminded of the psalm, Your word is a lantern to my feet, and a light upon my path (Psalm 119:105). He literally has lanterns on his feet and is shedding light on the path as he goes.

During Advent we intentionally arm ourselves with light. In my town many follow a cultural tradition of putting one lighted candle in each window. As I drive home from work on these early winter evenings, I pass through streets where the windows of every business and house boast this one light. It has become part of my Advent discipline to enjoy this path home. These are not the riotous Christmas lights that cover houses and lawns on other streets offering a different kind of cheer. Rather these simple candles hearken back to another time, when a single flame in the window would combat the darkness of long winter nights and offer beacons to lead the traveler safely home.

"Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness," we pray during this first week of Advent. It dawns on me that casting away the works of darkness is not always a herculean task; even one small flame or one pair of light-up shoes has the power to dispel the darkness. I would like to follow this boy and his light-up shoes. I am sure he could lead me safely home.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012